TikTok Can’t Fool Me With a Best Videos List. It’s Not a Happy Place.

  • TikTok released a list of the 2023 top videos: animals, cooking, makeup, and singing made the cut.
  • The list was all uplifting, joyful content. Which doesn’t match the reality of my “For You” page.
  • It probably doesn’t match yours, either: These lists are a piece of marketing — not reality. 

TikTok just released its best of 2023 list. If you haven’t seen some of the top 10 most popular videos — or even any at all — that doesn’t mean you’re not tragically addicted to TikTok.

As Mia Sato pointed out in The Verge, the list of most popular videos proves that TikTok is an extremely siloed experience. It’s very possible to watch hours of content a day and never see some of the most popular content on the app.

The most popular video of the year is a makeup video, followed by a DIY of a guy who put an Iron Man light fixture in his ceiling. Other top videos include a puppy, a cat, a cooking video, a cartoon chicken nugget telling you it loves you, Selena Gomez’s skincare routine (the only video I had previously seen — and the only one with a celebrity).


Join us as we look back on 2023’s most memorable trends, creators and moments with our community: let’s scroll back to the best of this YearOnTikTok!

♬ original sound – TikTok

These videos were all compelling; they were cute or funny or interesting. But it looks absolutely nothing like my own “FYP,” or “For You” page in TikTok parlance.

On mine, it’s full of drain-unclogging videos, earwax-removal videos, people talking about dark childhood trauma, crash simulations of Ford Broncos, endless clips of podcasts discussing Bam Margera, and one format of video I see more than anything else — which was notably absent from that top 10 list: people talking straight into the camera.

It’s not too complicated why a funny cat video is more appealing than someone speaking directly into the camera. First of all, cats don’t have language barriers, and videos where someone is talking about a specific topic tend to be niche instead of broad. And hey, I like cats, too.

But something deeper struck me while watching the compilation video that TikTok put together to show its best clips of the year: Boy, this seems like wholesome fun. But if you’ve spent a lot of time on TikTok (and I’m assuming you do), you know that isn’t exactly true.

I don’t even mean in a content-violating drug dealing or showing-you-how-to-steal-a-Hyundai sense. I mean like feel-bad content — someone talking about a breakup or something bad that happened. The West Elm Caleb saga type stuff, or stuff that’s sort of weirdly too sexy or maybe funny-but-in-a-messed-up way.

I mean, I love watching that stuff. I’m not denying it. But a TikTok full of cheerful cooking videos, cute puppies, and brand-friendly content does not feel like the reality I see when I open the app.

And while I know that everyone’s For You page shows them a very different slice of the world, I feel pretty certain that literally no one out there is seeing only this rainbow-and-sunshine version of TikTok.

That makes sense. The year in review made by TikTok is, of course, a piece of PR; it’s marketing. It’s meant to make you feel like TikTok is a positive and happy place, not the kind of of place where controversial things take place, like people talking about Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America”.

The compilation isn’t meant to actually reflect what most people are doing on the app. It’s meant to appeal to potential advertisers and maybe even calm the would-be government regulators who believe that TikTok is a national security risk and hotbed of political unrest, sleaze, and addicting content for young teens.

YouTube used to put out a year in review video called “Rewind” every December. It would show off highlights of some of the most popular videos and creators. But YouTube culture started changing and getting more toxic, and the 2018 Rewind video was, at the time, the most disliked video ever. YouTube stopped making them in 2020.

The TikTok video reminded me of those early YouTube Rewind videos: all happy faces highlighting the version of YouTube (makeup! Will Smith! dancing!) that it wanted put forward.

I don’t mind that this is a piece of marketing — and it’s doing its job as a piece of marketing. I am OK with the fact that I am out of touch with the kinds of videos that teenagers watch. I will continue to watch a lady dig a tunnel under her house for a reason she never explains for as long as the US government will allow me to use this app.

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