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7 TikTok trends creatives need to know about

TikTok trends - The TikTok logo on a gradient background
(Image credit: TikTok/Future)

What are TikTok Trends? Quite simply, they're how social video app TikTok groups together its trending hashtags and songs. It's easy to find the biggest current TikTok Trends within the app, by clicking the 'Discover' magnifying glass and choosing Trends at the top of the screen. 

If you've been living under a rock, you might've missed the rise of TikTok, a social media app where users share short videos. TikTok has been sending waves through pretty much every industry at the minute, with everything from music charts to political rallies being impacted by the power of TikTok — so it should come as no surprise that the creative industry is being impacted by it too.  

TikTok trends are how the social media app uses a hashtag or song to group together a viral trends within the app. And while the top trending hashtags on other social networks like Twitter normally disappear after a day, TikTok Trends can hang around for months. Don't be deceive though, this doesn't mean that TikTok is boring: in fact, it highlights just how inventive its creator audience is, as new ideas to extend and evolve the meme constantly keep coming forward (find out more about TikTok here and also see how to use green screen on TikTok).

TikTok Trends typically refer to a specific challenge, such as #KeepToTheBeat or Build a B*tch. but can also highlight a subject, topic or theme, such as the eternally popular #MakeUpCollection or the currently topical #staycation.

Why should you know about TikTok Trends? Because not only is TikTok the fastest growing social media platform in the world, with close to a billion users, it’s also the best at reflecting real life human experiences, albeit in a fun and often comedic manner. 

And that means while other social networks largely reflect popular culture, TikTok is increasingly driving it, from the songs that become global hits, to fashion, lifestyle and even political trends. TikTok is also having a major influence on other social platforms, who are desperately trying to ape its functionality (read our guide to Instagram Reels vs TikTok for just one example).

A few years back, it was only tweens and young teens who knew about TikTok. But in 2021, that’s all changed, and you’re as likely to see videos made by parents go viral as those of their kids. 

The platform has become truly global too, being available in 75 languages and 155 countries (with the notable exceptions of India, where it's been banned, and China, where there's a walled-off local version). Most strikingly, according to TikTok’s official statistics, 90 per cent of users access it on a daily basis.

We've asked before if trends are any good for branding, but whether you’re a creative freelancer or working at an agency, you need to understand the culture you’re serving. Otherwise, your work will fail to connect with your audience. Increasingly, that culture is being forged right on TikTok, so it’s well worth paying attention. Read on as we outline some of 2021 TikTok Trends you need to know about, and why they matter.

Also read: The viral colour personality test that's all over TikTok

01. 3D photo challenge

@ameliabamsey

dopeee

♬ PHONKY TOWN - Playaphonk

The 3D photo trend is a great way for photographers to showcase their work coming to life. Using the app CapCut you can transform your photos into 3D moving photos that bounce off the page. We think this is super cool and adds a whole other dimension to your photography (literally). We had a go at making out own, which you can see above. 

02. Anything can be an album cover

@demas

The last one is my favourite 🤖 Which one is your favourite? ##albumcover ##albumcoverchallenge ##japan

♬ Hiiipower x DIAND - Michael

With over 4.5 billion views and its own TikTok filter now, the 'anything can be an album cover' trend is both innovative and entertaining. The aim is to take screenshots of your videos, that you then turn into an album cover by cropping into a square and adding an 'explicit content logo'. This is perfect for all you videographers out there with incredible shots, or you graphic designers with a phone full of videos you can whip up into stunning album covers. 

03. #artvsartist 

@calebfrempong

First time showing some of my art

♬ Melody (1983 Club Vinyl Mix) - Plustwo

Using clips or photos of yourself and your art work, you can introduce yourself into as a creative on TikTok. You can be any kind of artist, whether that's photography, graphic design, painting, sculpting - whatever medium, this trend is for you.

04. #TellMeWithoutTellingMe

@glitterwrists

He identified it as a northern flicker #birds #birdwatching #birdwatchingworld #tellmewithouttellingme #boyfriendgoals #bi #biwifeenergy #couplegoals

♬ original sound - Eileen Hanley

The #tellmewithouttellingme trend lets creators address almost anything that’s on their mind, in a fun way. Typically, the creator will say something like ‘Tell me you’re drunk without telling me you’re drunk. I’ll go first.” Then they’ll do something that makes it clear they’re inebriated, without using those actual words. One highly shared example features a young man walking around a bar district, showing people the chicken nuggets he has stored in his trouser pocket. Enough said.

#tellmewithouttellingme is almost the perfect TikTok trend, because there are endless variations on the question itself, not to mention the range of answers. So it never gets repetitive, and this trend is likely to run for years. Other examples include Tell Me You're The Youngest Without Actually Telling Me You're The Youngest and Tell Me Your Parents Are Cool Without Actually Telling Me Your Parents Are Cool.

What it reveals: Rather than encourage an Instagram-like devotion to perfection, TikTok gives creators a way to share their real lives, in a fun and accessible way.

05. #2018vs2021

@gentask

Place your bets #2018vs2021

♬ MotorSport - Migos & Nicki Minaj & Cardi B

While the #sheesh trend has young people looking forward to their future, the #2018vs2021 trend sees them looking in the opposite direction. The challenge goes 'Who would win? The version of you from 2018 or your 2021 self?'. And the result is a series of videos that point to how much things have changed for people over the last three years. These are generally set to the song MotorSport by Migos & Nicki Minaj & Cardi B, and the change in year takes place squarely on the drop. 

Sometimes this is fairly superficial: a change of haircut, or a new set of clothes. Other times the changes are more profound, such as coming out, completing a gender transformation, dealing with disability, not working due to lockdown, or becoming an immigrant

What it reveals: While marketers and media often think of groups such as Gen Z or Millennials as fixed and immutable, people in real life are constantly growing and changing. And the 2018 v s2018 trend shows just how aware they are of it.

06. #eidmubarak

@anisafarah_2

AND THATS ON... MAKE EID AN ANNUAL HOLIDAY!! 😂🤦🏽‍♀️ I’m so over these convos... #fyp #foryoupage #eid #eidmubarak #comedy

♬ original sound - BADMAN LISA🏁

While some TikTok Trends like #sheesh are pretty obscure and niche, others are broad and self-explanatory. A great example is the #eidmubarak Trend that recently gave the world's 1.8 billion Muslims an opportunity to talk about their culture and religion via the medium of short video, along with others wishing to express their friendship and solidarity.

A trawl through this TikTok trend highlight just how many different angles people have on the topic, from those that focus on the serious religious and spiritual aspects of the festival to the challenges of fasting or the need to dress up for Eid. Not to mention using the hashtag to raise broader points about the stereotyping of Arabs, Muslims and the Middle East, or celebrate family in general.

All, though, stand in stark contrast to coverage of Islam on mainstream TV, which typically comes from the perspective of non-Muslims. Being created by Muslins themselves, videos following this TikTok Trend are generally much more human, fun, entertaining and informative.

What it reveals: The #eidmubarak trend highlights just how global our culture is becoming. Hopefully this means future generations will be better informed about how other religions, ethnic groups and nationalities live and see the world.

07. #learnontiktok

@the.manc

The story behind the beautiful trees in St Peter’s Square 🌸 #manchester #learnontiktok #fyp #foryou #trees

♬ Lofi - Domknowz

As you've probably noticed from its recent TV advertising, TikTok is keen people know that's it's not just an entertainment platform, but somewhere you can learn about the world too. Hence the #learnontiktok trend, which encompasses all types of learning, from specific skills like How to remove a colony of bees to 'life lessons' such as How do you win an argument?.

You might think that shortform video wouldn't be a great platform for learning anything, but in practice this TikTok Trend proves you can get across an awful lot of useful information in just a few seconds. 

For a great example, check out online business evangelist Gary Vaynerchuk's TikTok channel. Rather than just speaking to camera, his clips typically show him engaging with young entrepreneurs and answering their questions about business and life in general, with refreshing honesty. 

What it reveals: TikTok isn't just about dumb fun. Its users are also keen to learn new things, or just get a greater sense of the possibilities life has to offer.

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. He is author of Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books. He was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine.