Dear Millennials, You’re Embarrassing Yourselves on TikTok. Let’s Fix That.

Millennials on TikTok. Yes, it’s more likely than you’d think. I’m uniquely positioned when it comes to this generational discourse. Born in the middle of 1996, I’m not quite a millennial nor am I a member of Gen Z. I’m a generational refugee, if you will. This perspective has given me a bird’s eye view into the goings on of the world’s most downloaded app. Spoiler alert: I want millennials to preserve their dignity and run far from TikTok. 

I have no skin in this game and I feel this is an important disclaimer to make before I get into the meat of this argument. In my view, Millennials are a generation who are much maligned. Frequently called selfish, lazy, and delusional—the digital natives have had a hard go both in the press and with their predecessors, Gen X & the boomers. They’ve faced significant material hardship too: entering the workforce in severe recessions and racking up record levels of personal debt. 

On the flip side, Gen Z (from what I can tell as a terminally online person) is revered. Sure, there’s some talk about their disenfranchisement and loneliness, but there’s frequent praise for their inclusivity, diversity, and shrewd consumption habits. They’re also better with finances. If I were to anthropomorphise the two generations according to their reputations, Gen Z is a cheetah: trailblazing, agile, and fierce. Millennials are a blob-fish: inept, understudied, and pitiful. 

Though millennials are referred to as the ‘digital natives’, their presence on TikTok undermines that prestigious title. Suddenly, they are the boomers on a new social media platform: desperately trying to keep up with the quicksilver, fickle interests of a younger and trendier generation. In my opinion, millennials have suffered enough embarrassment over the last decade. 

So, here’s my guide to TikTok for millennials which absolutely no one has asked for. 

Millennials, Keep Your Earnesty On Instagram

Millennials are earnest. They use internet slang from yesteryear, aka cringe content like: adulting, doggo, and smol. In the dawn of social media, millennials were the overlords who dictated what was in or out. Their curated digital performance was aspirational in tone. This conflicts with Gen Z’s interpretation of digital performance, which swings towards irony and relatability. 

Gen Z content on TikTok is always kind of a joke. Even when it’s rooted in something serious (like trauma, mental health, or gender identity), there’s always a knowing smirk behind that veil of urgency, and this makes their admissions self deprecating instead of confessional. Millennials, take note of the difference between the two. 

Stray away from spilling your personal dramas, or asking for ‘solidarity’ from your Gen Z pals. They do it best, so leave them to it. If you’re suddenly overcome by the urge to make a TikTok about your Harry Potter house, or share some inspirational quotes from a self-help book: know your audience. Post it on Instagram. 

Don’t Bite When Gen Z Mocks Millennials 

Gen Z is kind of mean, but it’s not by any means malicious. It’s a side effect of the irony pill they’ve been fed through their formative years in the thick of a climate crisis, political turmoil, and now the pandemic. Everything (except what they personally endorse) is lame. On the chopping block as of late: millennial fashion trends. According to TikTok, side parts and skinny jeans are crimes against humanity. 

@momohkd

Skinny jeans just aren’t for me but to each their own. #momostyleme #fashion #TodayILearned #skinnyjeans #diy

♬ Brace Yourself – zenorachi

One of the hardest parts of ageing out of the ‘cool’ demographic, is accepting that a younger generation has taken your place as the tastemaker. Relax. This is natural. 

Remember how mercilessly you mocked your parents shitposting on Facebook? This is kind of like that. Accept that you’re no longer the pinnacle of cool. And don’t try to reinvent yourself. Adopting fads and trends is less cool than sticking to your guns, period. 

For The Love of God, Please Do Not Dance

TikTok dances are a peculiar phenomenon. It’s less about the fluidity of movement, and more about isolating specific body parts. It kind of reminds me of the staccato choreo of late-stage Britney Spears: jerking, frenetic, and addictive to watch.

In isolation, a TikTok dance video is extremely embarrassing. But placed alongside hundreds of similar content made by your peers, it (regrettably, in my opinion) becomes an acceptable form of filler content for when you’re feeling particularly uninspired. 

@kevintristan99

someone sponsor us shirts pls w @xtina_christina dc: ctto

♬ Oh oh oh tropical remix hnxg – HanoiXGirls

Why shouldn’t millennials wiggle and jiggle on TikTok, you ask while munching on yet another avocado toast? It’s the same reason why boomers shouldn’t post thirst traps on Instagram: act your age. TikTok dance videos require an uncomfortable level of eye contact with the camera, a ‘full-out’ commitment to jerking and thrusting, and the sound knowledge that your peers are not judging you. Millennials doing TikTok dances is giving Katy Perry on SNL energy. Or more precisely, ‘I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom’ vibes. Trust me when I tell you that it is out of touch and embarrassing. 

It’s Not All Bad: Here’s What Millennials Can Do on TikTok 

It would be unrealistic to suggest that an entire generation eschew the biggest social media platform in the world. The greatest thing about TikTok is its versatility. There’s a million niches, formats, and communities to choose from. It’s not all depression posting & disconcertingly intimate wiggling. 

Dig around in your area of interest and see what you can find. If you’re itching to join in the fun, here’s a list of some TikTok trends you can jump on that won’t embarrass you as a septuagenarian user. Use them in good health, faith, and spirit:

1. Being the main character (recounting moments where you felt like a star, try not to be serious, use this audio.) 

2. What I eat in a day (low hanging fruit, but fun to make nonetheless. This is the Gen Z equivalent of posting the tenth picture of your acai bowl) 

3. Rating random things (feel free to get creative with this, our writer Edoardo likes to rate rich people’s houses in Singapore.) 

4. I hate people who work at the bank (I can’t explain this, look it up) 

5. Tell me without telling me (basically an opportunity to post embarrassing videos of yourself, friends, and family) 

6. Passing the phone (another fun way to embarrass your friends by telling an embarrassing story then literally passing your phone to them while recording) 

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that trend hopping and shape shifting is a troubling sign of a confused self. The refusal to ‘act your age’ on TikTok (and I mean this spiritually, not literally) reminds me of Joan Didion’s essay on self respect that I swear by: “To do without self-respect is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable home movie that documents one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for each screening.”

If your self worth was a TikTok page, then videos of you thrusting yourself about and trying to get down with the kids are your real and imagined failings, looped endlessly for all to see. Spare yourself the horror and lurk those viral dances silently and in private, please. The world is troubled enough as it is. 

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