Far more girls are on TikTok than boys, and most of the teens achieving viral fame seem to be girls. “TikTok is so focused on goofiness, and all of the other platforms aren’t,” Pomerantz told me. “That’s interesting for girls. There’s a lot more freedom around what you can get away with.” Girls have an inclination to worship other girls, which has led entire fandoms to pop up around even nonsensical videos such as Mooptopia’s. But going viral can set up the potential for bizarre consequences and new pressures. When teens are suddenly hit with the less fun side of fame, it can be scary and confusing for both them and their parents, who might not know what their kids are up to at all.
Not much about Mooptopia suggests that she’d be a viral TikTok star, but she’s as popular as the most popular girl in your high school, multiplied by a hundred thousand. Just a few of her videos: She strolls around a driveway, swaying to a jazz standard while holding a large stick; she works nails through the soles of a beat-up pair of Birkenstocks and walks around gingerly, soundtracked by Beyoncé’s remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” Her most common move is scuttling toward the camera on all fours, like a possessed toddler. In what’s perhaps her most artful work so far, she pairs Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” with a slow pan of her bathroom, then a close-up of red grapes dropping into the toilet, one by one. (Mooptopia did not respond to several requests for an interview.)
When I asked Melanie Kennedy, a media researcher at the University of Leicester, in England, about the demand for TikTok for videos like this, she emphasized the popularity of “girl culture” on the platform. Many girls go from no followers to hundreds of thousands in a matter of days, in part because TikTok turns the kind of things they’ve been doing for decades—dancing in their bedroom, joking around with their friends, fighting with their parents—“into a global spectacle,” Kennedy argued. Every major cultural trend that has come from TikTok is a girl-culture trend: VSCO girls, e-girls, the dances created by girls and copied by other girls. By the numbers, Charli D’Amelio, a 16-year-old who has popularized many of the platform’s biggest dance crazes, is about as famous on TikTok as Rihanna is on Instagram, and more famous than the president is on Twitter.
Some teenagers have gotten so famous that they now have devoted fandoms, much the same as pop stars or politicians. Faith Hall, a 20-year-old from Washington who runs a Mooptopia fan page on Tumblr, was drawn to Moop—whose username is abbreviated as such by her fans, because of the mystery. Unlike lots of other TikTok stars, she doesn’t use her real name at all on the app. When her account took off in July, there were conspiracy theories about Moop, because she got so big with seemingly zero effort. She wasn’t even using hashtags on her videos, the most common and obvious tactic for getting them more eyeballs.