Staying cool: For the TikTok generation, it requires relentless commitment
″I’m really quite confused about this – what does it mean, that he’s cheated on her?” The woman asking the question lifts her head from the phone screen and looks troubled. We’ve handed the phone around the dinner table, from one middle-aged person to the next, and none of us understands what it means – a 19-second TikTok video in which a girl surprises her long-distance boyfriend with a visit. We can’t work out what’s so interesting about it, so funny, that it has been viewed more than 65 million times on the video-sharing platform, been discussed on talk shows and news bulletins around the world and become a cultural moment for the TikTok generation.
The girl who answers the woman’s question, Lulu, is 14 years old. “It’s just funny because everybody is just like, ‘Girl, something’s up’.” Lulu is breathy, going at a million miles an hour, excited to explain what it all means to her parents’ visitors. Please, Lulu says, examine the body language of the guy – “Couch Guy”, as he and the video are now known – as his girlfriend comes into a room where he sits with three young women (soundtrack: Ellie Goulding’s Still Falling for You).
Since the video was posted on September 21, tens of millions of people have examined the body language and facial expression of Couch Guy, of the women sitting on the couch with him, of Couch Guy’s friends in the room. “The girls look sus [sic], the boys look amused, the boyfriend looks scared. … Sis ... please ask questions,” is one of the 135,000 or so comments on the video.
Couch Guy, Lulu says, took his phone back from the girl sitting next to him in a quick sneaky move when his girlfriend walked in. Couch Guy might have had his arm around the back of the girl next to him. Couch Guy didn’t look so happy to see his girlfriend. Couch Guy took forever to stand up and hug his girlfriend. The Gen-Xers at the table exchange looks and shake our heads in the manner of old people.
But why did she even bother to put it up on her TikTok account, I ask Lulu. “Like, she’s probably just putting it up for friends but it went viral,” Lulu replies. Her father adds dryly: “Normally you surprise your boyfriend without a friend filming it.” Lulu’s response is withering: “Normally your boyfriend isn’t on the couch with three other girls.”Loading
Lulu’s mother starts to describe how her daughter and 16-year-old son gabble in memes, a foreign language, the parental bewilderment – “I’m in the ghetto, ratatata, ratatata” was a recent chant (drawn from another viral TikTok) accompanied by a gun-pointing hand gesture, the “ratatata” a staccato burst indicating gunshots – but Lulu, eye-rolling, hunches back over her phone. “OK Boomer.” Did she use that catchphrase? Perhaps I only imagine she did: after all, just as Couch Guy is so last-year, the expression “OK Boomer” is so 2019, so clearly cheugy.