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'Give credit where it's due': TikToker speaks out about Black creator strike

Millions of videos are typically made when Megan Thee Stallion drops a new song, but because of the strike, it appears her latest track, "Thot S---", is lagging far behind.
NBC News

Late on Friday night, TikTok creator Erick Louis posted a video set to "Thot S---," the new Megan Thee Stallion song.

In the video, Louis, 21, looks as though he's about to dance to the track as the words "MADE A DANCE TO THIS SONG" are displayed on the screen above his head. Then, he holds up both middle fingers as the text displayed on the screen changes to say, "SIKE. THIS APP WOULD BE NOTHING WITHOUT [BLACK] PEOPLE." Louis' video has been viewed more than 426,000 times since it was posted on Friday.

The video was a reference to a strike by Black creators at TikTok who want to highlight the degree to which they say the app relies on Black creativity to power viral trends. Part of the strike includes refraining from creating and sharing choreography to "Thot S---," released this month.

"On the app specifically, for Black creators, it is very hard even being given the space to speak on whatever we think," Louis said in a phone interview. "It's crazy that we have to do this on a kids' app."

The strike is part of an ongoing issue on the platform in which white and non-Black creators use choreography created by Black content creators without crediting the person who came up with the dance moves. Dances have the ability to rocket both songs and creators to viral status. Ultra-famous TikTokers like Charli D'Amelio and Addison Rae are often cited as two examples of white stars making it big off of Black creators' choreography.

"It just speaks volumes. We have these experiences outside of TikTok. As Black folks, we're used to galvanizing, marching, protesting, having to scream and yell to have our voices heard. It's weird that it's also having to be translated onto a space where people are supposed to divulge their creative endeavors and engage creatively," Louis said. "It's supposed to be a safe space but even in those spaces we're forced to make a statement and protest."

And the strike appears to be manifesting in fewer videos being made to "Thot S---," with some saying its because white creators don't have a dance trend to latch on to.

"The way nobody knows what to do ... because we won’t make dances LMFOAJFKFOFKFJFOFK," tweeted TikTok creator Challan.

In the past, Megan Thee Stallion's music has been a powerhouse, driving viral choreography on the platform with hits like "Savage," "Body," and "WAP."

"Savage" has been used in more than 22 million TikToks, "Body" in 1.5 million, and "WAP" more than 4 million.

But "Thot S---" has so far only garnered 165,000 videos.

On TikTok, a song, which is displayed at the bottom of a video, can be clicked to link back to that artist's official song and a page that shows all other users who have made videos to that song. However, some TikTokers say that Black creators are uploading the song themselves so they can dance without other users being able to find their content.

Black creators have historically choreographed what are arguably thought of as the app's most iconic dance trends. Examples include Keara Wilson's choreography to Stallion's "Savage"; user @2flyymy, who formerly went by @Waves.Like.Lanes and choreographed the "Shake That Laffy Taffy" dance; and Jalaiah Harmon, who choreographed the "Renegade" dance.

Harmon's choreography to "Renegade" is one of the most prominent cases of a Black creator's dance being co-opted by white creators. Jalaiah created the moves when she was 14, and it exploded into one of the app's biggest phenomenons. The trend was then popularized by white creators like D'Amelio and others, who initially didn't credit Jalaiah.

After The New York Times reported that Jalaiah had created the dance, she began to get widespread recognition — but by then, the trend was winding down.

TikTok star Rae also came under fire for an appearance on NBC's "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," during which Fallon asked her to perform popular TikTok dances that had largely been created by Black TikTokers. The backlash was swift, and Fallon later addressed the controversy by having the creators who originated the dances on his show.

Rae's experience has shown how choreography has the ability to elevate TikTokers beyond the app.

Louis recalled an example in which a creator was properly credited. A creator who goes by @LayzChipz choreographed a dance to the group City Girls' song "Twerkulator." That dance went viral, eventually landing @LayzChipz a meeting with the City Girls and a video of the three women doing the creator's choreography together.

"She made that little dance on TikTok, not knowing where it would end up, and now she's at almost 600,000 followers and the City Girls know her and it's all because people credited her and people fought to have her credited," Louis said.

The strike isn't the first time Black TikTokers have protested on the app. In May 2020, Black TikTok creators held a Blackout, an on-app protest to fight what they perceived as the app suppressing their voices. This led to the app apologizing and vowing to do better. The app also created a program to support Black creators earlier this year.

In a statement to NBC News, a TikTok spokesperson said the app is a "special place because of the diverse and inspiring voices of our community, and our Black creators are a critical and vibrant part of this."

"We care deeply about the experience of Black creators on our platform and we continue to work every day to create a supportive environment for our community while also instilling a culture where honoring and crediting creators for their creative contributions is the norm," the spokesperson said.

Ultimately, Louis said the Black creators holding the strike hope that white and other non-Black users will show those coming up with the choreography that is so vital to the app's popularity the respect they deserve.

"We're not saying not to use our content," Louis said. "We're saying give credit where it's due."