During VH1’s Love & Hip Hop New York’s Season Seven reunion in 2017, a pre-“Bodak Yellow” Cardi B repeatedly shouted at castmate Asia Cole for coming after her about flirting with Cole’s boyfriend, producer Swift Star. “What was the reason?” Cardi said in her signature register.
Years later, the audio clip of Cardi shouting “What was the reason?” turned into a meme on TikTok, prompting users to post about confrontations they wish they could have. Hey, Eve, what was the goddamn reason you needed to eat the Forbidden Fruit? Hey, dog, why the hell are you rummaging through the trash again? What was the reason?
I’d been repeating this phrase throughout the 2020 election season for just about everything. At the top of the list? Why every presidential and congressional candidate was hell-bent on securing the youth vote but failed to make a presence on TikTok — the social media app most popular with an estimated 69 percent of users between the ages 13 and 24. USA Today reported that not a single 2020 presidential candidate was active on TikTok.
What was the reason politicians couldn’t hang with TikTok’s Zoomers?
It seems they just weren’t Jon Ossoff. The new Democratic senator-elect from Georgia is the first national politician who is actually good at TikTok. His official account, launched on December 1st, amassed nearly 355,000 followers off 13 videos in just over a month. It’s a modest but impressive following, considering fellow Gen Z-beloved politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aren’t active on the app.
Put simply, Ossoff is political TikTok’s White Boy of the Month. Rather than superimposing his millennial sensibilities onto the app (anyone recall his Twitter Les Mis shitposting in 2012?), he’s integrated himself into TikTok culture. Whoever runs the Ossoff TikTok account deserves a raise, because they understood the best way to secure Georgia’s 23,000 teens who turned 18 between the general election on November 3rd and the runoff on January 5th: Don’t make Ossoff “relatable.” Make him charming.
There’s no “How do you do, fellow kids?” energy on Ossoff’s account. Instead, he incorporates TikTok memes to encourage voting and highlight behind-the-scenes campaign life. He posted a video of himself on the sidelines of a Biden speech with the popular audio, “He knows Barack. I love Barack. I’m swiping right.” I hate to say it, but I lol’d.
The foil to Ossoff is Pete Buttigieg, who was political TikTok’s White Punching Bag of the
Year Month in November 2019. The presidential hopeful never launched an official TikTok account, but his supporters like @peteforamerica found minimal success. Perhaps it was his decidedly anti-leftist politics or his cringe-worthy label as the possible first millennial president, but his limited goodwill on TikTok immediately backfired.
Instead of offering their support, Zoomers roasted the hell out of Buttigieg. They “OK Boomer”-ed his millennial ass, calling him “Mayo Pete” for being a bland centrist candidate with some racial blind spots. He certainly went viral: TikTokers dueted his campaign’s cringe-y signature dance to Panic! at the Disco’s song “High Hopes.”
What’s the difference? Authenticity. Leftist politicians have always done well on TikTok without really trying. Sanders’ and AOC’s grassroots supporters, such as Barbz4Bernie, consistently go viral without direct affiliation with the politicians. Likewise, Sen. Ed Markey and Minnesota State Sen. Matt Little are two of the few elected officials who continuously update their TikTok accounts. It’s rare for centrist candidates to find any love on TikTok, but Ossoff, who aligns somewhere in between moderate and progressive, captured the political love Buttigieg couldn’t garner.
On December 9th, Ossoff posted a montage of himself on the campaign trail with fellow Georgia senator-elect Raphael Warnock. He posted it as part of the “extremely rare aesthetic” meme.
It’s cheesy, sure. But that’s what makes it eye-rollingly endearing. And, as the runoff election proved, his TikTok persona is working. This extremely rare aesthetic turned out to be what most Georgians wanted to vibe with. Turns out Ossoff is anything but rare.