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TikTok turns one: its first 12 months, as told through TikToks

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Spoiler alert: the top hashtag in July was #area51

In this photo illustration a popular mobile application for... Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s been one year since TikTok launched in the US, and the app has exploded into a cultural force. From helping propel a little tune called “Old Town Road” into a monster hit to dominating VidCon as the freshest new platform, TikTok’s growth has been fast and unrelenting.

Much of the app’s popularity in the beginning could be attributed to its hashtag challenges, in which users film themselves lip-syncing or dancing to short audio clips about trending hashtags. The short clips can originate from anywhere: it might be a snippet from a song (which can go on to live in a Spotify playlist of popular TikTok songs), the audio from a Vine (RIP), or a clip from a viral YouTube video. The best (or cringiest) challenges might get edited into TikTok compilations on YouTube. It’s all part of a beautiful content circle of life.

These are the top hashtags for every month that TikTok has been in our lives, and the TikToks encapsulate how the platform has grown in the past year.

August 2018 - #posechallenge

Technically, TikTok has been around for longer than a year, just in different forms. Its creator, Chinese startup ByteDance, has been operating the short-form video app Douyin since 2016. There was also Musical.ly, an app with the same creative, silly energy that ByteDance purchased in 2017. But it wasn’t until last August that Musical.ly was relaunched as TikTok for the rest of the world. TikTok promoted the #posechallenge to get people started, writing, “OK, you got 15 seconds and 6 poses to make an impression,” and teens dove right in.

September 2018 - #reacttothis

With reaction videos gaining popularity as their own genre on YouTube and Twitter, TikTok added a react feature that overlays the user’s screen over clips. Along with duet videos, which let users add their own videos next to an existing clip, TikTok’s strategy of encouraging users to repurpose old videos to create new ones encouraged users to remix and reply to others, helping trends grow and evolve.

It was during this month that TikTok jumped past Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat in worldwide downloads, which can mostly be attributed to the users it gained from when it merged with Musical.ly.

October 2018- #octobermood

Everyone loves Halloween! TikToks featuring pumpkin carving and spooky makeup were among the most popular.

November 2018- #pretendinstrument

Another good hashtag that showcases how users have taken the assignment and just ran with it. In November, TikTok began crossing over into mainstream media, bringing in Cardi B and Offset to live stream a rap battle on the platform.

December 2018- #createforacause

TikTok pledged to donate to charities for every post made using the #createforacause hashtag, committing to give a total of $2 million. To boost the initiative, the company enlisted celebrities like Khloé Kardashian, Halsey, and Nick Jonas to make videos that can only be described as “hard to watch.”

January 2019- #egggang

After a photo of an egg somehow became the most-liked post on Instagram ever, the “egg gang” rallied to make the same thing happen on TikTok. But lightning never strikes twice on the same carton of eggs, and not even a fidget spinner nor AirPods could get an egg to be the most popular post on the platform.

February 2019- #oddlysatisfying

Somehow, “Old Town Road” memes of people turning into cowboys after drinking yee-yee juice (#yeehaw) couldn’t topple #oddlysatisfying as the top hashtag this month. Instead, it’s a lot of cookie decorating videos and hydraulic press machines crushing candles.

Toward the end of February, TikTok agreed to pay a record $5.7 million settlement over concerns that it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by letting minors on its platform. The app swiftly deleted all accounts for users under 13, and it introduced a separate app experience for underage users that would only let them watch, not upload, videos.

March 2019- #ididabadthing

This hashtag encouraged a lot of chaotic prank videos — like teens dying their hair to surprise their parents or super-gluing together things that should not be super-glued — while lip-syncing to YouTube musician Bill Wurtz’s “i just did a bad thing.”

April 2019- #tinythings

Mini Brands is a capsule toy that contains miniature, empty versions of branded supermarket items, from Breyers ice cream to Hellmann’s mayo. The Washington Post describes it as a toy that perfectly exemplifies late-stage capitalism. But for teens, it’s the perfect vessel for pranks as they try to convince others that the tiny items are filled with actual food.

TikTok made a couple of different headlines in April: a BBC investigation found that the app was being used by sexual predators to solicit kids, and it was also briefly banned in India for a week for supposedly encouraging “cultural degradation” of the youth. Google and Apple reinstated the app in their respective app stores after the ban was lifted, and TikTok says it has since introduced more safety filters to protect its young users.

May 2019- #pov

As the app nears one year old, TikToks have settled down from frantic pranks and challenges into calmer scenes depicting little slices of life. Tythedogguy, who works at a doggy daycare, is a solid account to follow if you want to see lots of sweet faces getting the nice treats they deserve.

June 2019- #ohhoney

Miley Cyrus’ fake pop song from Black Mirror, “On a Roll,” found a home on TikTok as teens used its opening line “oh, honey” to create fairly straightforward skits. Feels like a missed opportunity because it is my personal song of the summer, and I would much rather have watched some dance covers so I can learn the routine.

July 2019- #area51

So it’s come down to this. What started as a joke about raiding Area 51 to break out the aliens became widespread enough that the actual military held briefings on what a Naruto run is. The hashtag is still going strong, and it probably will until September 20th, when the supposed raid will take place. Barring any sort of alien invasion occurring, TikTok will still be around.