This week in TikTok: Everybody wants to be “Heather”

Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! On Tuesdays, internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings uses this space to update you all on what’s been going on in the world of TikTok. Is there something you want to see more of? Less of? Different of? Email rebecca.jennings@vox.com, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.

Someday, when historians write about the year 2020, there will be an entire chapter devoted to the TikToks students are making while at Zoom School. I think it was a video of dozens of kids doing jumping jacks over the internet for PE class that finally caused me to lose it (the account that posted it seems slightly dubious so I can’t confirm whether it’s from a real school, but the image will remain lodged in my brain forever).

But that’s just one of the many videos on TikTok over the past two weeks depicting the unbearable awkwardness of remote learning. There’s one depicting the bored silence of a breakout room with your fellow classmates, one about how teachers basically always know when you’re messing around, and one where a kid is fake-kidnapped in his dorm room. Each one shows how strange and uncanny the phenomenon of internet school is, and how much all of our efforts to make it better have failed.

Beyond making me grateful I’m no longer in school, these videos are fascinating. Nobody knows what the effect of a year or more of social distancing will be on young people — students in 2020 are literally guinea pigs in an experiment none of them signed up for — or how many kids will end up sick or worse due to the financially driven insistence on forcing them to live on campus. What we do know is that Zoom School has bred a new type of gallows humor, and it’ll likely only get bleaker.

TikTok in the news

  • Talks of a TikTok sale have slowed due to a new Chinese law limiting technology exports. Nobody has any idea what’s happening!
  • People who have signed up for TikTok’s Creator Fund claim it’s causing a major drop in view counts. The fund, which TikTok announced this summer, requires applicants to be 18 or older and have at least 10,000 followers, but many applicants are now saying they’ve been “shadowbanned” and are accusing the company of intentionally hiding videos so as not to have to pay per view — one popular audio about the app said that TikTok pays $1 per every 30,000 views. The audio continues: “Guys, the only people profiting from this are already profiting from TikTok from sponsorships and partnerships.”
  • Charli D’Amelio is writing a book on how to navigate social media as a teenager and how to “stay positive in the face of cyberbullying.”
  • Here’s a very wholesome story about Dungeons & Dragons TikTok.

Meme watch

There is, as is often the case on the internet, yet another new word to describe a specific kind of beautiful woman. That word is “Heather,” as in, “you’re Heather,” or “she’s such a Heather.” The name comes from the Conan Gray song “Heather,” in which Gray croons about an unrequited love for someone who is in love with someone else, named Heather (“But you like her better/I wish I were Heather”). The song is extremely sad, obviously, with Gray both yearning to be Heather but also sort of hating her, a very relatable feeling for anyone who has been to high school.

When the song blew up on TikTok earlier this year, so too did the shorthand of what a “Heather” is; many girls started making videos of the Heather in their lives and lamenting what they don’t have, often starring happy-looking girls lying in a field of sunflowers on Instagram. Others have made videos like “my mom was the original Heather” with family photographs from the ’70s and ’80s. Sometimes, the Heather is their past self.

Over the past few weeks, “Heather” has become less about the inherent sadness of the meme and more of a TikTok trope, like VSCO girls or e-boys. And while many of these types of labels have historically been used to categorize thin, attractive white people, “Heather” is now a favorite term for any woman; comments sections on videos of body-positive TikTokers and users who don’t fit the stereotypical “happy-go-lucky Brandy Melville model” are full of encouragements that they are, in fact, Heathers.

It’s all very cute and melancholy, just like the song itself, and just like this summer in general. But mainly, I personally love that a name that peaked in 1975 is suddenly shorthand for a hot girl in 2020.

One Last Thing

Presenting: the Kidz Bop version of “WAP.” Spoiler: It’s short for “waffles and pancakes.”

Help keep Vox free for all

Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work, and helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. Contribute today from as little as $3.