Recently I joined TikTok, the social media app in which users post short video clips set to music. It’s mostly young people doing arts and crafts, singing, dancing and playing pranks. Like jazz, many TikTok creations are improvisation on a theme – you’ll hear the same songs over and over, knowing that what is going to be performed speaks to that motif. Except with jazz, you do not get video after video of teenagers stuffing pillows into the backs of their trousers, then laughing about the size of their own butts. Think of it as the most mind-numbing variety show of all time, performed at a decidedly low level, for ever.
And I love it: it is endless cat videos and silliness without the bots, bullies, fascism and fake news of Twitter. We are in short supply of silliness these days.
In my teenage years, I eschewed the silly and sought out the serious – the searingly intellectual and perhaps also the po-faced. I turned from anything too daft, popular or mainstream. I particularly hated karaoke. Enduring the screeching indulgences of a bunch of drunks was my vision of hell, made worse by the cajoling from those enthusiasts who try to make you feel weird for not wanting to participate. In my mind, the discerning grownup I wanted to be did not do such things.
Yet the older I get and the more I understand how the world works, as the sheer scale of its nastiness reveals itself, the more I’m drawn to the absurd and the harmless. I still love turgid books and big ideas, but there is something nourishing in seeing people enjoy themselves, carefree.
I am still yet to sing, but I have now cheered on many friends in a karaoke booth as they belt out songs from Frozen, and whooped for the dancers, pranksters and fools readily available on my phone. After all, I’m finally mature enough to enjoy them.