Since its international launch in 2018, TikTok has become a breeding ground for viral internet trends. Dances, voiceovers, beauty tutorials, and prank videos have taken over the app. So much so, the ultimate dream for many TikTok users is to create a viral dance challenge. Unfortunately, as the app’s popularity continues to grow, and more dance challenges take off, a problematic pattern is apparent: the talent invited to perform TikTok’s most popular dances on the world’s biggest stages aren’t the ones who choreographed them. To audiences, their imitation is too often mistaken for originality, and TikTok's true trailblazers simply don’t get the credit they deserve.
One of the earliest conversations about properly crediting TikTok creators started in February 2020, when two of the app’s most famous stars, Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae, were invited to perform the “Renegade” dance created by Jalaiah Harmon at the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. The NBA faced swift backlash for asking D’Amelio and Rae to perform over the original choreographer. After many TikTok fans pointed out the NBA robbed Harmon, a Black content creator, of her moment in the spotlight (and instead spotlighted white women), the NBA invited Harmon to perform at the NBA All-Star game that year. (For fans, it felt too little, too late). Despite the blowback over Harmon’s treatment, nothing seemed to change. In March 2021, a segment from The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon in which Rae performed some of the top TikTok dance trends of all time went viral for all the wrong reasons. The problem? Fallon and Rae didn't credit the original choreographers (who were majority Black) for the dances she performed.
In addressing the situation to TMZ, Rae said, "I think they were all credited in the original YouTube posting, but it's kinda hard to credit during the show. But they all know that I love them so much, and I support all of them so much. And hopefully, one day, we can all meet up and dance together."
As fans were quick to point out, it wasn’t much of an apology. While Rae attempted to make amends, her statement was off the mark. It’s not just about crediting the original creators. It’s about centering them. It’s about addressing the underlying issues of racism at play. TikTokers of all races have undoubtedly choreographed viral dances, but Black choreographers have genuinely shined in that department. Rae’s statement was lacking because it didn’t confront why white creators like herself continue to be celebrated for performing other people’s choreography instead of giving the original (often Black) creators the platform to begin with.
Fallon eventually invited the original choreographers of the dances in Rae’s segment to perform on Tonight via Zoom, but for the trailblazers of TikTok content, it's time to give credit where credit is due.
Jalaiah Harmon & Kaliyah Davis - "Renegade"
When it comes to viral appeal, nothing took off faster than the "Renegade" dance created by Harmon and her friend, Kaliyah Davis. The teens first posted the dance online in September 2020, but, as other popular dancers started recreating the dance, Harmon and Davis’ names were rarely credited. After D’Amelio and Rae were invited to perform the teens’ dance at the NBA Slam Dunk event, Harmon’s mom spoke out, telling Teen Vogue in April 2020, "People are tired of being underdogs and not being recognized."
Today, Harmon is living in Atlanta, creating more dance videos than ever, and recently launched a brand partnership with Reese’s Puffs cereal.
Haley Sharpe — "Say So"
Sharpe has seen plenty of notoriety after coining the TikTok dance to Doja Cat's "Say So.” She was hired to dance in a show on Instagram's IGTV, and has even flown out to California to meet with other TikTok celebs. “I definitely think you should credit [choreographers],” she told Vox in February 2020. “Because if someone sees my dance, and then they make a video of the dance and credit me, people will know that it’s mine.”
Bryan Sanon — "100 Racks" Challenge
Some dance challenges, such as Sanon's "100 Racks" dance, went viral so quickly, it was hard to trace it back to the source. But Sanon believes popular creators like Rae have a responsibility to do their due diligence and find the original creator. “People have made [dancing] a business, so give the dance credit,” Sanon told BuzzFeed News in a June 2020 interview.
Sanon released an original song titled “Just Water” on Jan. 28 and it went viral on TikTok almost immediately.
Rio Raab & ItsJetta — "Take You Down"
Raab, who claims she created the viral choreography to Chris Brown's "Take You Down" dance, shared a post pleading with users to start crediting her. The dancer said the problem stems from the app’s layout, which makes it hard to know where the original came from. "Most times, the popular creators don't see the original either. They usually see another popular creator do it," Raab told Buzzfeed in June 2020.
Another choreographer (Its2kJetta) has also taken credit for choreographing the dance, and he appears to have posted his video five days earlier than Raab. Some say it was Jetta who originated the dance, and the debate is just more proof that TikTok's crediting mechanism needs a makeover.
Mya Nicole Johnson & Chris Cotter — "Up"
This duo’s hard-hitting dance to Cardi B’s summer-time smash is about to take the warm weather season by storm. Johnson and Cotter choreographed the dance together and it’s already taken over TikTok with more than 700,000 likes. After seeing Rae perform the dance on Tonight, Johnson spoke out. “I was very surprised because it’s like ‘Wow, I made a dance that’s made it to TV,'” Johnson told PopSugar. “My mom always tells me, ‘When it’s my time, it’s my time.”
Keara Wilson — "Savage"
Wilson is still creating new dances left and right, but nothing caught on quite like her “Savage” dance, which became the go-to quarantine activity for people at home during the initial coronavirus outbreak. As much as she dislikes not getting proper credit, she’s grateful to have fans who will flag such situations.
“My fans… they’ll definitely tell me if somebody doesn’t credit me. They’ll let me know [and]... make sure that I get my dance creds,” Wilson told The Monitor in November 2020.
FlyBoyFu — "Laffy Taffy"
FlyBoyFu used social media to make his voice heard after seeing Rae perform his popular dance on TV. “Thanks for dancing to my song! You could have invited me tho,” he wrote on Instagram after watching Rae’s “Laffy Taffy” dance moves.
You can see FlyBoyFu's dance below.
Greg Dahl & Friends — "Blinding Lights"
The “Blinding Lights” dance, created by a group of friends and first posted on Greg Dahl’s TikTok page, had everyone and their mothers trying out the simple steps. Despite not initially getting invited on Tonight, the trio seemed thrilled when Fallon reached out and invited them to appear virtually.
Yvngg Prince — "Corvette Corvette"
Prince got TikTok nation so hype on his high-energy dance moves, his “Corvette Corvette” dance instantly went viral. His popularity has translated over to Instagram, where he now has nearly 100,000 followers.
Jazlyne Baybee — "Savage Love"
Baybee, who is known for often making content videos with her husband, coined the “Savage Love” dance long before Rae performed it on Tonight. After finding herself embroiled in TikTok dance drama of her own, Baybee is acutely aware of the importance of properly crediting creators.
The Gilbert Twins — "Fergalicious"
Not only are the Gilbert Twins one of the funniest duos on TikTok, but they’re also one hell of a choreography team. Their “Fergalicious” dance took off at lightning speed.
Noah Schnapp — "Do It Again"
You may recognize Schnapp from Stranger Things. The actor created his viral dance to Pia Mia’s “Do It Again” in April 2020 and it wound up being one of the dances Rae brought to Tonight.
Hopefully, with so many TikTokers (and their fans) bringing awareness to this issue, the original creators will begin getting their due credit. As of March 2020, D'Amelio, the app's most-followed person, has made a point to credit all the dances she performs. And after Rae’s Tonight Show drama, her page seems to be doing the same.