The Influence Of A ✨Vibe✨ On TikTok

In one part of this week's newsletter: I try to an exhaustive degree to define the "good vibes" genre on TikTok and why it's so nourishing during these times.

This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.

Not to be all “I’ve been following @420doggface208 before he was mainstream, chugging cran-raspberry,” but I have been following @420doggface208 before he was mainstream, chugging cran-raspberry Ocean Spray.

Maybe it’s because I follow dancers and/or stoners on TikTok, but his videos began appearing on my For You page sometime in July. I specifically remember this one, where he’s in a “420 Souljahs” T-shirt with a big ol’ smile across his face, and he’s just steady groovin’. All the comments at the time were calling out the “good vibes” he was radiating and how confidently he was feeling himself. So I wasn’t surprised when the video he posted of himself skateboarding and lip-synching to Fleetwood Mac with a bottle of Ocean Spray went extremely viral.

TikToker @420doggface208, whose real name is Nathan Apodaca, has infected people with his good vibes. It became a meme and trend that politicians have joined in on, and Mick Fleetwood himself has re-created it. Every media outlet, including myself and my colleagues, has tried to get in touch with Nathan to both keep the good vibes going and to overanalyze it to the point where we might unintentionally destroy said vibes. Nathan never got back to me, and I’m sad and thankful he didn’t. More on that later.

The initial good feelings his video aroused, and then the nerdy sensation it has created across social media and traditional news media, made me think about how simple and powerful this genre has become on TikTok. Nathan’s not the only viber; user @anthonydicosimo has dubbed himself a #VibeTribe member, recording and sharing videos where he’s dancing to a range of different popular songs to make himself “feel better.” In July, I featured in this newsletter mother-daughter duo Krithi and Sridevi, who I’d argue also deliver impeccable moods with their choreographed dances.

Here’s where I’ll get kind of heady and nerdy in trying to define a “vibe” on TikTok: Every TikTok is a vibe, but not every TikTok is a good vibe. “Good vibes” are subjective — but as a general classification of content, “good vibe” videos usually contain dancing and feel-good music. And the subjects are usually unassuming players who don’t fit the demographics of the most popular users on the app. But the most distinct quality is that the videos are felt, as opposed to watched. It’s active engagement that requires us, the consumer, to vibe with the subject. You’ve got to have an emotional capacity to quickly pick up its nonverbal feelings and cues. It’s not intellectual — and as soon as you make it intellectual, the vibes are killed. I do realize in writing this heaping definition for something so amorphous that I have killed some good vibes, but I hope that irony further proves my definition and point.

I think the reason we feel the videos from Nathan and others are so special is because of this nebulous authenticity. Nathan seems like he’s simply existing, and he enjoys his own existence, and he’s sharing it with us. I’m speculating, so perhaps he did have a master plan for his social media career — but I’m inclined to believe his natural “good vibes” incidentally made him famous. We are so used to seeing influencers who appear to try very hard to manufacture a public image that they think will appeal to the masses. And, here, we want to believe Nathan is who he authentically presents himself to be, and there is something very naturally appealing about that.

A “vibe” also has to exist in a social vacuum in order to enjoy it purely. We have to suspend our criticisms and speculations of who these people are, where they come from, and if they’ll milkshake-duck. While I think we should adore these people and this kind of content with a healthy dose of skepticism, in these times, vibey TikToks feel so necessary. The country is bubbling over with anxiety as we head into Election Day during a pandemic: Allow yourself to feel something good that does not have to be situated in anything rational.

Last week, at the height of Nathan’s viral moment, my colleagues and editors encouraged me to stay persistent and get in touch with him. And I get it, we are in the JOURNALISM business after all. But I instinctively didn’t want to push it any further, either. Why ruin a good thing? I thought to myself. Nathan also seems like he’s being selective with whom he wants to talk to, and, honestly, good for him. It doesn't seem like he makes his TikToks with a compulsion to be validated, the way other influencers I reach out to behave. He seems like he was enjoying himself — and if fame came to him, he was going to ride that fame. Ocean Spray gifted him a car, which ultimately became good PR for Ocean Spray, but Nathan ultimately got a car. Branding aside, it feels like equitable compensation for helping to break up a cycle of turbulent news with unpretentious good feelings.

Nathan, AKA 420doggface208, if you’re somehow subscribed to this newsletter and reading this, you don’t need to ever respond to my inquiries. I just hope you’re enjoying yourself. And in the words of rapper Dom Kennedy, I hope you’re “eatin’ good, smoking great, working hard … feeling’s unexplainable.”

We’re just vibin’.

Until next time,

Tanya Chen

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