Lockdown life led to the flourishing of TikTok. In 2021 the upstart social platform exploded, drawing celebrities, chefs, and plenty of dogs into its orb. Social media can, largely, become toxic—see also whistleblower Frances Haugen‘s testimony on the ills of Instagram and Facebook—but there is a particular joy and irreverence to TikTok, with its dancing and creative splicing, that feels like an antidote. Read on for a noncomprehensive list of some of our favorite TikToks of 2021.
Avril Lavigne’s Inaugural TikTok
The aughts icon merely joining TikTok would have been enough, but cutting to Tony Hawk during the sweet, nostalgic sounds of “sk8er boi” was the pièce de résistance.
The Violence at Home Signal for Help
An example of social media at its finest, TikTok popularized the Signal for Help hand signal, an unspoken way for domestic violence victims to communicate a cry for help. (It was created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in 2020, anticipating that people in lockdown with abusers would need it.) In November a missing 16-year-old girl was rescued on a highway in Kentucky, after law enforcement said another driver recognized her using the hand signal.
Viral Food TikTok
Early 2021 gave us TikTok pasta, the visually stimulating and beautifully straightforward “recipe” of baking a sheet pan of tomatoes and a block of feta and folding a pot of pasta into the creamy goodness. Later, came Emily Mariko’s viral salmon rice bowl, a quickie, microwavable concoction that includes a single ice cube for moisture.
The Birth of “Cheugy”
TikTok usurped Merriam-Webster as the forum that clocks new words when “cheugy” entered the canon. It’s a made-up term that means “the opposite of trendy,” and reeks of elder-millennial staleness (think: “Live, Laugh, Love signs”; the notion of the “girlboss”), but it turned out to be wholly necessary, and rather hilarious.
Suni Lee’s Post-Olympic Pizza
Nothing screamed triumph 2021-style like the newly minted Gold medal–winning gymnast bopping around and eating pizza with her prize. Lee’s apt caption: “on top of the world.”
Taylor Swift’s Influential Debut
Swift teased the multimedia domination of her re-release of Red when she joined TikTok in August, rapping along to Dave’s “Screwface Capital” lyrics: “My outstanding payments swift like Taylor” and wearing a sweet Reformation dress that sold out instantly. The debut made clear that music and fashion influencing was alive and well on the platform, and not just on its predecessor, Instagram.