Chances are you’ve seen a TikTok posted to the “Overheard at GW” Facebook page where the user prompts “Tell me you’ve never touched a woman without telling me you’ve never touched a woman.”
Kamau Louis (@realkamau), a junior studying international affairs, sarcastically replies “I’m a junior at George Washington University and I’m majoring in international affairs.” The TikTok amassed nearly 20,000 likes on the app and more than 170,000 views.
Louis, who uses the platform to showcase his comedy skills, is one of a handful of students who are gaining notoriety on TikTok for their accounts known for social commentary, impersonations, self-love and music. Four students who have gained large followings on TikTok said they originally used the app to pass time or showcase their hobbies but now have a responsibility to keep in touch with their followers through daily content.
He said his most popular videos address GW, D.C. and internship culture, like this one captioned “I worked 60 plus hours at my unpaid internship,” and looped with music that repeats the word “victim,” and this video calling American University the “band kid school” of D.C. in a comedic slideshow.
But the app hasn’t just served as a destination for self-expression. Louis said he met his now-girlfriend on the platform after she commented on one of his videos.
“I looked at her comment and was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is pretty funny,’’’ Louis said. “Then, you know, one thing led to another and we’ve been dating for the past two months.”
Sam Andrews (@samueljeffersonandrews), a freshman studying political communication, said he likes using the app to make people laugh. Andrews said he has been a creator on YouTube since eighth grade and started using TikTok for fun in fall 2019.
But after a TikTok he made impersonating “White girls on a tropical vacation” blew up, he began to gain a large following. Now, he boasts 2.1 million followers and more than 120 million likes across all of his videos on the app.
Andrews said TikTok has an instantaneous nature, in contrast to his work on YouTube.
“It’s like a giant adrenaline game,” Andrews said. “You don’t need to spend hours shooting and editing. It can be a thrill when you start and you see that people like certain things and that you can do it in a minute.”
Andrews said some of the most meaningful milestones he’s reached on the platform were when he reached 100,000 followers and designed a line of merchandise based on his TikTok persona, like a sweatshirt with an outline of his face that reads “POV King.”
Jump-starting a music career
For junior Eliza McLamb (@elizamclamb), TikTok has been instrumental in launching her career as a singer-songwriter. She said the app has helped her focus on her music and distribute it to the public.
“I wouldn’t have put my music down any other avenue,” McLamb said. “I’ve been writing songs for a long time, but I always saw it as a side project, like nothing to ever pursue in a serious way.”
McLamb started gaining a mass following last spring after posting herself singing original songs and taking requests from followers for personalized songs. She said she had more time to write while she was traveling cross country during the pandemic and working at farms in Kansas and North Carolina.
More than 300,000 people now follow McLamb on the app, and she released an EP in December that has racked up more than 1 million streams. McLamb said she worked short hours while in Kansas and was able to dedicate most of her time to songwriting and creating TikTok content.
“I posted every day, and every one of those videos hit like a million views or more,” she said. “It was just like a really good week for the algorithm, I guess.”
McLamb also posts social commentary about feminism, the Black Lives Matter movement and casual videos about her life experiences. One video, in which McLamb discusses how the porn industry traumatizes young women, was reposted by activist and former porn star Mia Khalifa on her Instagram. Another one of her TikToks, which discusses 1950s housewife culture, was reposted on the Instagram account @girlboss.
Promoting messages of self-love and wellness
Isabella Attianese (@isabella.lauren), a junior majoring in marketing and sports management, said she uses the platform to promote messages of self-love, empowerment and living a healthy lifestyle through fitness.
One of her most popular videos, which garnered 2.2 million views, includes audio with the message “treat yourself like someone you loved.” Other videos include commentary on dating, gym and style tips and college life.
Attianese said she likes to address the “unattainable” beauty standards set by social media and how it presents an alternate reality through her content.
“It is really essential to discuss and highlight the fact that we all have flaws,” she said in an email. “Social media has altered the way we perceive one another by making way for endless filters and Photoshop and creating this highlight reel of perfection.”
Today, Attianese has almost 300,000 followers on the app and more than 6 million likes. She said her biggest accomplishments as a creator on TikTok are landing brand deals with small businesses, like These Glasses and Aqua Pura Bracelets, and hearing from her followers that she’s making a difference in their lives and how they view themselves.
“I also have had a few people reach out to me and tell me how much of a difference my content has made in their life, which is the most significant and meaningful accomplishment I could ask for,” Attianese said.