The collective cringe that overtook the Internet when TikTok “star” Addison Rae appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon earlier this year to poorly execute dances that she did not create and could not properly emulate cannot be quantified. At the end of the day, reception was so negative that The Tonight Show even apologized for not bringing on the original dancers, or at the very least, even crediting them.
The popularity of ‘TikTokers’ like Addison Rae and the D’Amelio sisters has grown larger than anyone probably would have predicted, as TikTok has quickly grown to become one of the most popular social media apps with over one billion users. These stars, benefiting from the recognition gained when they performed dances created by others, have gone on to receive million dollar endorsement and production deals. Addison Rae recently starred in the universally panned He’s All That. Regardless of the reviews, because of high viewership due to people watching solely to analyze how badly she did, she went on to sign a lucrative deal with Netflix.
More so, the popularity of the aforementioned stars has received criticism for multiple reasons. For one, they are not without controversy and problematic posts and behaviors that they halfheartedly apologized for. But if you look past that, the true problem lies in how rich they get off of “performing” these dances while the original creators — primarily creators of color — are paid absolute dust. Creators like Jalaiah Harmon and Keara Wilson (creators of the “Lottery (Renegade)” dance that made Charli D’Amelio famous, and the “Savage” dance, respectively) have not been giving the mass attention to create makeup lines or sign movie deals. And these richer, more privileged stars like Addison certainly never go out of their way to advocate for them, though they certainly realize why they get more attention. Creators of color were so frustrated with this that they even went on strike (refusing to post dances on TikTok) this summer.
The question then is: What, if anything, has changed since that strike? What laws, if any, are in place so that creators can monetize and make a living off of their creativity if they don’t have the followers and subsequent sponsorships to do so?
It turns out that it’s more complicated than it should be. While Congress has guidelines to determine which choreographed moves can be protected under copyright, it isn’t as easy to say that you know with certainty a dance you created belongs to you the same way someone could argue that a song is theirs.
But in a world where social media has provided careers and breakthroughs for many “influencers,” and not just to pave the way for larger careers within the entertainment industry; many influencers use the sponsorships and partnerships they gain from having more followers to pay off school fees or loans while they study; after all, the cost of living — education, housing, you name it — is only getting more and more expensive as we speak! Thus it seems a bit unfair that the creators of dances that temporarily shifted or defined culture could not lay claim to the fruits of their own labor. And it shouldn’t be that way.
Oluoma Iroajanma is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]