Back in the fall of 2018, before it became a global phenomenon, TikTok had a problem: its fanbase of lip-syncing middle schoolers had stopped growing. A big advertising campaign on Facebook, YouTube and Snap to lure older users—which briefly featured scantily clad women—backfired by attracting the wrong kind of people. The app became the butt of jokes. Compilation videos of “TikTok cringe content” circulated online.
One of those compilations came from PewDiePie, the controversial videogamer and YouTube superstar, who broadcast it on his YouTube channel. “I don’t even understand what TikTok is, and I spent hours watching the videos,” PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, told his 100 million followers. “I still don’t know what you do at TikTok.”