Despite the mayhem, the event inside was worth the wait, according to attendees. Creators did backflips on the dance floor while the hip-hop singer Ty Dolla Sign performed live. Attendees noshed on finger food such as mozzarella sticks and mini burgers, then greasily attempted to win prizes at the free arcade. Groups crowded into an “Old Town Road”–themed photo area complete with cowboy hats and other props. Above them, giant screens displayed trending TikToks on loop. Between the bowling lanes, thousands of gummy bears had been erected in patterns, a reference to the Haribo challenge, a meme that went viral on TikTok over the winter.
Vincent Marcus, who has 1 million followers on TikTok, and his girlfriend say the party is the highlight of their VidCon so far. “Every famous TikToker and lots of famous YouTubers were all there having a great time,” says Colin Marais, a 17-year-old whose cat has 1.3 million followers on TikTok. “There were all these lights, people jumping in the air. You almost didn’t want to leave.” And when creators did exit, they were accosted by fans: Though the doors officially closed shortly after 10:15, crowds of fans hung around outside long afterward, hoping for a selfie with their favorite star.
Every year, thousands of influencers, agents, managers, industry executives, and screaming teenage fans descend on the Anaheim Convention Center in search of the next big internet star. VidCon was founded 10 years ago by YouTubers to highlight the platform’s content creators, and over the past decade, many of them have seen their careers transformed by the event. It’s where brand deals are negotiated and crucial collaborations are planned. But this year, the platform everyone is talking about isn’t YouTube—it’s TikTok.
TikTok, which boomed in China before entering the U.S. market in August, allows users to upload and edit 15-second videos, usually set to catchy music or voice-overs. The videos are fun and silly, and watching them feels like taking a break from the broader, toxic world of social media. In one video, a teen does a viral dance with traffic cones fitted to his legs. In another, a stream of puppies tumble over one another to the beat of an EDM song. Less than a year after its U.S. launch, the platform is poised to dominate the American social-media landscape and upend the creator ecosystem.
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Nowhere is that more apparent than at VidCon. Vanessa Pappas, the general manager for TikTok, spoke with industry executives at a fireside chat yesterday that was so popular, many people couldn’t get in; later, big TikTok stars held a meet and greet that was packed to capacity. Outside the primary entrance to the convention center, teenagers swarmed TikTok creators, shouting their names as they shot dance videos.