Top global TikToks of 2023: Mr. Bean of math, makeup demo, capybaras!
The annual roundup of the most popular content of 2023 is a testimony to the global appeal of the short-form video. They come from everywhere — like Sean the Sheepman'ssheepherding border collie in Scotland and Kirby Quimado cooking up breadrolls in the Philippines. And here's another thing about TikToks: Even though there are plenty of serious-minded videos, the most popular ones are often goofy and in-your-face with earwormy music.
Of course there are exceptions to every TikTok rule. No creator got more eyeballs on a single video than Nydollie Deng with a simple but stunning makeup routine.
Here's a sampling of the global TikToks that dominated in 2023.
Nyadollie Deng: viral makeup artist for women of color
The most popular TikTok of the year, with over 500 million views, is a wordless eye makeup tutorial. Nyadollie Deng, who is identified as Sudanese by her talent agency (and sometimes as a Sudanese American), deftly applies pink eye shadow (how very Barbie) to the groove of the pop song "Just the Two of Us." Her makeup demos are seen as a rejoinder to an industry that does not typically consider women of color. And while she does not speak In the eye makeup video, she occasionally offers commentary in her other TikToks. Putting on blue blush, she grins and says in American-accented English: "Oh yeah, It's matching my hair."
Mr. Bean da Matemàtica: Brazilian math professor cosplaying as Mr. Bean
He bears a remarkable resemblance to the goofily uptight British TV/movie character Mr. Bean – right down to the cheeky mole. Mr. Bean da Matemàtica (as he dubs himself) offers up hacks on how to multiply and divide, scribbling lines, numbers and dots on a whiteboard. We wanted to give an example but it's so COMPLICATED to explain in words and really, all you need to do is watch his TikToks! His background music is always the infectious electronic tune "Dom Dom Yes Yes Remix" by Bulgarian singer Biser King. This doesn't at all seem like a recipe for 8 million followers, so give extra credit to Brazilian math professor Rafael Basos.
Jaze Phua: Taiwanese viral video creator and pioneer in CapybaraTok
The capybara is the largest rodent on earth – weighing up to 110 pounds. So this South American animal has always had a certain appeal. But then the "Capaybara Song" happened this year, and the capybara became the TikTok creature of the year. The song was created by a Russian blogger who BOUGHT THE MELODY (caps used to emphasize the lack of creativity), added a chill beat and wrote lyrics that are mainly the word "capybara" repeated over and over with the occasional original lyric like "this animal is really cool." Over 700,000 TikTok videos use the song. But none can compare to the TikTok by Taiwanese "viral video creator" Jaze Phua, who paired the song with a video of himself balancing tangerines on a capybara's huge head. And what are the giant rodents doing in Taiwan? Turns out they have become a tourist attraction across Taiwan with multiple capybara farms and cafes, where you can feed and pet them.
Gabryell Urlan: Brazilian character artist, dj and bird whisperer
So this Brazilian content creator puts on really terrible wigs, whistles like a bird, contorts his face and features the occasional Portuguese subtitle in his TikToks. His goal is to some kind of story like what a dog did at the park. His biggest hit is a conversation between three birds (all played by him). Gabryell excels in the quick cuts that TikTok is known for, like this video that ends with an instant transition to full glam drag. His nearly 8 million followers are wiggy for Gabryell.
Vibe Check: Who Got the Keys to My Bimmer?
Okay, get ready to be confused. There's a Jamaican dancehall artist named Beenie Man. In 1997 he released a hit song called "Who Am I." In 2023, the #SimSimma challenge exploded — in which random people film friends and coworkers as they quote from that relatively ancient hit with the line "Sim simma" and see if they respond correctly with the rest of the lyrics. (Spoiler alert: If you get challenged, "Who got the keys to my bimmer," comes next.) Teachers at a Brooklyn school mostly passed with flying colors. The Toronto Argonauts, Toronto's football team, took on the challenge with good humor and pretty good skill — at least better than the Australia men's national basketball team, the Boomers. Beenie Man didn't create the challenge; the organic magic of TikTok did. But he seems to be riding the wave to something of a popular revival. This year, Beenie Man released a new album called "Simma" — which has nothing to do with the challenge. He said in an interview that the title sends a message to his fans to "simmer down," but it certainly doesn't seem like a coincidence.
FLI:P: T-Pop hit breaks through to become one of TikTok's top songs of 2023
While not nearly as big as K-Pop, a sub-genre of Thai music called T-Pop has grown in popularity over 2023. T-Pop isn't one particular style. It's a wide category that includes genres like indie, hip-hop and experimental music by Thai artists. One new group had a breakthrough goes by FLI:P. Their hit cover of the Thai band Vitamin A's song "มองนานๆ" (roughly meaning "Look for a Long Time") was featured this year in over 9 million videos. (That number is not a typo!) TikTok videos abound of people breaking into the choreographed dance FLI:P debuted in their video. A lot of the videos show painstakingly perfected routines, but we (and 2.6 million people) like the video of a Thai comedian busting his terrible moves in an apron.
Your turn: What's your favorite global TikTok from 2023?
Our blog focuses on life in the Global South. Do you have a favorite TikTok from a Global South country that dropped this year? Please share it with us! We may feature your pick on NPR.org. Email your TikTok nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "TikTok."
Danielle Preiss is a journalist who reports on global development, culture and the environment, with a focus on South Asia.
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