Abstract: TikTok’s rapid growth in the past few years, especially in the younger demographic, may signal a market shift. With children, teens, and young adults reportedly making up 40% to 60% of its user base, the platform is becoming the strongest challenger to YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The most followed TikTok celebrities are mostly young people who have either grown up with the platform or recently extended their popularity from other platforms to reach new audiences. This research investigates the discursive strategies and persona performances employed by the top 25 TikTok celebrities under the age of 25 in both popular content and content marked as advertising. A large sample of TikTok content metadata was collected using API interrogation. From each of the 25 young TikTok celebrities, up to 1,000 videos per user (N = 22,650) are explored using quantitative approaches. Two subsamples are analysed using visual, rhetorical, and narrative analysis to evaluate the most popular content (Np = 226) and content marked as advertising using the TikTok ad flagging (Na = 213). The findings include the identification of seven persona performance types and a significant difference in terms of performed ordinariness in content marked as advertising.
Keywords: authenticity; celebrity; idols; ordinariness; promotion; semantic networks; social media celebrities; TikTok