In this deep-dive interview, V takes a closer look at one of their favorite social media outlets, TikTok, and why the popular platform has left Twitter and Instagram in the dust as it has risen to fame. V brings on TikTok personalities Lamar Dawson and Jon Kung to talk about how they’ve found community online in the culinary and music spaces. We’ll hear about what opportunities the platform has opened up for them, what it’s really like behind the scenes of producing a video and keeping up with trends, and what it means to become TikTok famous and get paid for going viral.
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V Spehar, Lamar Dawson, John Kang
V Spehar 00:00
Hey friends, it’s Friday, June 10th. Welcome to V INTERESTING where I am so hoping that you’re still listening. I know that you are, I know that you are because you guys, we made it to the top of the charts in the news category. And it’s all because you showed up.
V Spehar 00:25
So, I want to thank you seriously from the bottom of my heart. So many of you guys left incredibly kind comments and five star ratings. That kind of stuff makes a huge difference in helping other people find the show. And I did read every comment because I always do. And so many of them made me cry like, seriously, I cried so hard, I almost drowned. It was a scene. Today is our very first Friday episode. Tuesdays, as you know, are about spending some more time with the news clips that you’re most interested in and finishing the story with, like what happens after something is a trending headline. On Friday, we’re going to take some time to spread out a little bit, we’re gonna get comfortable. And we’re going to talk and talk and talk and talk about something that we just can’t stop talking about. And so for today, it’s going to be my absolute favorite thing in the whole world. You guessed it, TikTok.
V Spehar 01:24
So here is a little bit about why I like TikTok. so much. And I’m not alone, there are 1 billion people that’s billion with a B around the world using TikTok. 80 million Americans. It’s like 1 in 2 Americans. Of course, this app got really popular in the early pandemic days, right around like April 2020. And you’re right, if you think it skews young, the average audience is between 16 and 34. But like all cool things, the kids always start the trends. What you might be surprised to find out is right now, the fastest growing demographic of people joining the app are over 35 years old. So yeah, it’s big and everybody is on it. But why do we love it? This is why I love it. TikTok is a place where people can learn dance moves, makeup tutorials, how to cook, I’m learning a lot about how to be a horse farrier, which I didn’t expect to stumble upon. But mostly, and this is what’s really, really important to me. It’s a place where you find community. And that’s what this is all about. I call TikTok the community theater of social media platforms because it’s the place where you’d like rather see the mayor of your little town in a starring role than a celebrity. TikTok is not a place that is friendly to celebrities they do very poorly on the platform. Instagram is where you go if you want to visit somebody’s like perfect life or see what Kim Kardashian is up to. And Twitter’s where you go if you want to shout into the void, and I am proud to say I haven’t been to Facebook in years, so I’m not really sure what’s going on there. But I feel like it’s probably for the best to just leave that alone. TikTok is the place where you can truly be your most genuine and normal self, where everyone has an equal chance to be heard, to be recognized, and to feel less alone. Feeling less alone is what keeps me so dedicated to TikTok. I just love knowing that there’s someone out there in Northwest Arkansas, that tunes into Under The Desk to feel like they belong to see themselves on the screen and to escape whatever immediate reality they may be experiencing. Feeling seen, feeling recognized. And mostly being able to find like-minded folks to share the day with is truly for me at least the joy of TikTok. And because of that, you’ll hear this a lot. TikTok changed my life. And it did. It changed mine. And we’ve seen so many new faces as a result of the magic of TikTok, folks who have skyrocketed to fame, especially in the culinary and music world spaces that are not friendly to newcomers. So today I brought on a few of my besties to talk more about demystifying getting TikTok famous, the Creator culture universe and the business side of being successful on TikTok. Today my guests are Lamar Dawson and Chef John Kang two incredible humans and very good friends of mine who have carved out notable spaces in the TikTok, world but you probably know them better as @thedirtykingofpop and at @chefjohnkang. Welcome to the show guys.
Lamar Dawson 04:22
Thank you This is so great.
John Kang 04:24
Thanks for having us here.
V Spehar 04:26
Oh my god, I was so excited. This is my very first, thirsty roundtable interview. I picked you guys because you’re like my safe my say fellas I was like they’ll just hold me up to the light and we’ll have a beautiful time. In addition to creating and running the popular @thedirtykingofpop TikTok account Lamar also hosts TikTok’s flagship radio show on Sirius XM. That’s pretty cool.
Lamar Dawson 04:56
That’s been really great. You know, one of the biggest things to come out of the pandemic I hopped on tic tock like everybody else. And at first I didn’t know what to do. I was dancing, taking my shirt off, like doing stupid shit. And then I was like, you know what, this isn’t me. I want to sit down and talk about pop music, pop culture stuff I really enjoy. And that’s when I grew the audience. And that’s when I got the attention of Sirius XM. And they’re like, hey, we’re gonna do this TikTok radio, Do you want to host it, this is amazing. So that’s how it all came about.
V Spehar 05:23
Yeah, and we’ll be talking a lot more about that how you need to find your authentic self to gain popularity and also enjoy TikToking. Another creator who also spent a bit of time taking his shirt off at the beginning, John Kang, very popular chef on TikTok Detroit based professional chef who trained in China grew up in Toronto in Hong Kong. got very popular making food from anime. Can you talk a little bit about like when you started your TikTok?
John Kang 05:48
Yeah, so I started my TikTok, I posted my first cooking video, I think it was like May of quarantine. And at first I was just starting off, like just trying to do something like to help because we were all so stuck inside at that point. So I was like, Oh, I can do these like super awkward cooking instructional videos, but at the same time, back then I was like, too nervous to even speak over them. So they were all like silent, and very, very awkward. But eventually as we started to loosen up, I started to loosen up quarantine restrictions started to loosen up and I just turn that kind of like survival help cooking videos stuff into something that was a little more expressive, artistically.
V Spehar 06:38
I think it’s so cute that you thought your early videos were awkward because I thought you were the absolute coolest person alive. Like you would come up on my tic tac and it was like, Oh my God, there’s John from Detroit. And he’s going to talk to us about breakfast broth. And I was like living on these videos. And you would like take us on a run and I felt like I was on such a journey with you. And that’s like the magic of TikTok. You had this break right to kind of like be in someone else’s life for a minute.
John Kang 07:09
It really was back then. I’m not saying it isn’t. Now obviously, were friends and we are a community but like, it seemed like, in that time, TikTok itself. The greater TikTok was a really close knit community. It was giving off like Tumblr when it was early and good. Like just magical and tiny. And so we all just kind of like knew each other on there. And it was great. Not that it isn’t now but back then it was like magical.
V Spehar 07:39
It was, and Lamar, I know when we were because we all kind of like came up at the same time, right? Like we all pretty much started our accounts around May peak of the pandemic. I was doing culinary videos at the time from like my James Beard days with like a cook named Matt and just goofing off and making weird hamburgers and whatnot. Before I did the news, very popular hamburger videos.
Lamar Dawson 08:02
I never saw these, notorious.
V Spehar 08:05
I used to like make the hamburger slap in the air. I was talking about awkward and embarrassing. It was the worst. But it was the best because it didn’t matter. Right? We could just be whatever little rainbow we wanted to be and do whatever we wanted. And we were also starved for entertainment that we were like watching it. I know that I started to feel like I loved I say this with like a grain of salt. I loved the pandemic, I loved being inside, I had just got married, I loved all the extra time I got to spend with my wife, I loved like having this connection through the computer working from home. And then when they started to loosen those restrictions, I got a little bit nervous because we thought like you said we were going to start to maybe lose this community because we were kind of hanging out every single day together. Lamar, have you experienced any kind of like loss of audience since the early pandemic days?
Lamar Dawson 08:48
honestly, I have noticed, you know, I think the people who were following me a lot during the pandemic, who are obsessed with me about pop culture and nostalgia in the videos. I feel like they’ve all gone back to work, and they’re less active on their phones, you know what I mean? So I do feel like it’s funny you bring this up. My strategy now is to recruit new audience members to my page by reposting things that, frankly got me noticed that before and then re-creating versions of those because I really feel like I’m seeing less of those familiar faces that I used to day to day post a post like, oh, they’re so and so commenting, it’s reaching the right people. And now it’s like it’s a new audience I have to recruit. So I do feel like people are going back to work and kind of like, it’s okay, TikTok’s over especially folks, let me just take a step back. I feel like a lot of my followers aren’t creators themselves. And therefore my instinct tells me that they aren’t as invested to check in every single day as we are to see the numbers to post about it to create, see what’s trending, spark ideas, etc. They’re just consuming content. There’s nothing at stake for them. They’re just here to be entertained. So a lot of times you’re trying to recruit more and more people to keep to your page to growing.
V Spehar 10:00
That’s such an engine same perspective I hadn’t thought of too. Yeah, like the people who are creators and viewers are so committed to showing up every single day. And then we had this sort of passive audience and how do we deal with passive audience because you get and I want to this whole, like, interview is really one of the questions I get a ton of my DMs is like, how do you be a professional TikToker or my son wants to be professional TikToker how did you become TikTok famous, I’m like, baby, hell, if I know. I mean, I can tell you what I did. Yeah, my thing that I say back to them always is like, you have to have a real in life talent. There is you could go viral on TikTok once or twice, for sure. And that’s the fun and the excitement of it. But if you want to be a professional TikTok, I think you have to have a real in life talent, like you’re so embedded in music, you understand the mechanics of how to be a creator, how to run the business, John, you’re a professional chef. So I want to ask you both, and maybe start with Lamar for this one. What are your days like? Like, what is the structure of a professional TikToker because I think folks don’t really understand that.
Lamar Dawson 10:56
Well, first of all, my days are full of my actual, my full time job, you know what I mean? Because I do have three jobs, essentially, you know, by day, I work for L’Oreal, and I do content creation for them. So I oversee beauty photoshoots. During the daytime, that’s really my 9 to 5 job technically, but I also have the radio show on Sirius XM, so I record those three times a week. Then I also write for NBC News. So I write for the Today’s Show. So I’m also interviewing authors and entertainers and stuff like that. And then I’m also trying to shoot TikTok videos in between it. So my days are jam packed. On a given week, what I’ll try to do is I’ll try to like at least map out my ideas for my videos. And then I shoot them all on Saturday mornings. So I’ll get up in the morning, do my hair, and then some having a good hair day, I’ll shoot as much footage and content as I can. And then throughout the week, I’ll edit those videos and then deploy them, post them throughout the week or the month. So that’s usually how my week to days sort of weeks are.
V Spehar 11:51
Yeah. And John, I see you nodding along. Are you having to do that level of planning as well?
John Kang 11:55
Yeah. So I don’t have as many like job-jobs as Lamar. But like, apart from content creation, I am working on finishing building this house as well as writing a book. So it is a lot of different hats that you have to put on and with that, different deadlines for everything. Especially considering the fact that like I’ve already sold this book. So yeah, everything is due at their own specific times, I found just like Lamar said, batch filming is a really great strategy, especially now that I’m moving more into long form videos. When you’re dealing with one minute videos and stuff you can like kind of like turned them all, one after the other. And now I’m dealing with videos that are anywhere from like up to 10 minutes long. And they’re just all so, so much more work exponentially. So yeah, I separate two days out of the week to focus just on filming the day before that is the shopping and the day before that is the planning and then I’ll do book stuff about for two hours a day, in the morning before that, just writing recipes and ideating like headnotes and stuff like that. And then before that I go to the gym.
V Spehar 13:18
Of course we gotta we gotta be thirst trap ready, it is TikTok effort.
John Kang 13:22
We do. The season is upon us.
V Spehar 13:27
And you bring up such a great point that before you’re even shooting your videos, you have to go shopping, right? I have been very transparent about how much money it costs to be a TikToker. So if I’m looking at my Creator fund, let’s take just the money I make straight from TikTok, not from keynoting not from doing the podcast, not from doing consulting the 15 jobs that I have still in the real world. Just take my TikTok money, I make about $1,500 a month from the Creator fund, okay, to keep up the videos to keep up the time to get my hair cut twice a week to have all of these ties, to do the dry cleaning to appear at things like, oh we’d love for you to come to the screening but we’re not going to pay for your ticket because you’re not that I mean we’re not like call me Chris famous yet. But you know, you to come to this event or can you stop by New York? Can you take time for this? It probably cost me anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 a month to be under the desk news just to exist in the world and if I’m you know and you’re getting paid about 1500 bucks from TikTok until we get into spawn con, right? Which I don’t know how ya’lls June went, are you, did you get the Gay Up payout for June sponsored content?
John Kang 14:36
Oh, for sponsored content. Um, I didn’t I haven’t actually done a sponsored deal. Since I think the last one I did was like last month. And unfortunately like I don’t know where I fall on people’s lists when they want to contact you like I got. I got one request for a private sponsorship and like one for like AAPI, but I think like they think I’m busy doing one or the other. So like, these are actually like my dead months.
V Spehar 15:07
John, I have the same I’m like the really pretty girl who went to high school with who nobody asked to prom because they all assume that she already had a date. I literally get asked to do nothing. I get no sponsored content. I didn’t get anything for June and I got asked to do some stuff in May for you know, or March for women’s month. But it’s a weird thing. That’s the other thing. I think folks assume that TikTok creators who are popular have like all of these brands just fawning for us and Lamar, I don’t know, what’s your experience been?
Lamar Dawson 15:35
I have not got like a slew of pride requests, honestly. I do get a lot of brand deal requests, but I turned most of them down most of them off brand for me. I only do things that are tied to Music, Pop Culture, anything around celebrity. So like, I’m very like, strict about that. Because also, I’m not sure about you guys, but a lot of my sponsor things just don’t perform well. I think people see sponsor and they just don’t want to watch it for whatever reason. So, to me, it hasn’t been worth it to the sacrifice the health of my account for like, a free product. And like, you know, a few 1000 bucks, you know what I mean? And going back to the creative fund for you, like, I never even check that thing, honestly, I have not made any money from that thing whatsoever. Nor, frankly speaking was I expecting to so I really don’t count on it. I’m very fortunate to have like three other streams of income, frankly, you know, that I’m very fortunate to have, so I don’t really check that at all. But I do and I wasn’t even aware of how much creators rely on him look to it. So obviously, I don’t want to like dismiss it and not advocate for it. Pay creators. If it weren’t for us who would be on the app? You know, but I don’t really check for it.
V Spehar 16:43
Yeah, and we’re gonna have, we’re going to be lucky enough to have Hank Green in a couple of weeks on the show who’s going to talk more about, he’s the expert. Yes, he’s such an expert on like, how YouTube versus Instagram. And he just knows all the math behind it. So we will grill him on that. But speaking of opportunities that you have got from your TikTok, can you just what are some of the cool things that have launched for you, John, as from building this following?
John Kang 17:08
Well, a whole last book deal was probably the biggest thing. So I think it was last GE this time last year, I was approached by a literary agent, or was actually the publisher first, who hooked me up with a literary agent who went back to the […] to sell the book. So I think, around this time last year, is when that whole process started. And that was by far, like the biggest thing, because not only was I on a much smaller creator back then. But I had only done like a couple of things. I think I did like a part funimation partnership before then. And it was around this time that I did realize, like, oh, this is a job like this is a thing. And I was going in from being in the restaurant industry beforehand and being like, okay, so like we can do this. And we can make and let’s face it a much better living off of what I was making on the line and doing my food in the studio. And so it’s like, just a completely different standard of living and more opportunities that just kind of snowballed. As I said, when I said like, I wasn’t getting a lot of brand deals this time this year, like I get them more during the holidays, because I think like with the three of us, like yes, we are wonderfully unapologetic, beautiful queer people. But that isn’t the basis of our content. And so there are people whose content does revolve around that and I think it is more natural that those content creators get are first in line for those opportunities and the first time, first people that they think of these brands think of and you know, everybody should get their payday so mine is more during the holidays when people are more thinking about food and so like you know that you know Thanksgiving through January period is a bigger payday for me for sponsored content for sure. And also with the TikTok creator fund, I also don’t check it I think it’s like a couple of dollars, anywhere between like 50 cents to a couple dollars a day. I don’t chase like virality with my content on TikTok anymore. I just think that there are other platforms and avenues that are just a lot more efficient when it comes to pay for time, essentially.
V Spehar 19:29
it took me a little while to get over that initial understanding also. I know I remember when I first started doing well on TikTok, I’d be looking at how many views how many likes how many comments I was so obsessed with that number until you start to realize TikTok is such a unique platform and that it’s nothing like Instagram or TikTok or Twitter or any of that or Facebook or Twitter. Because your micro influence your engagement is so much deeper than just how many likes you have your finish rates the way that people continue to I repeat, watch your content or comment you really do build that community. And I think it’s another fun thing about TikTok is TikTok will tell you where you belong and where you fit in and where you don’t fit in. Right, you’ll know right away something I wanted to ask you all cuz you you’re doing music, you’re very focused on music, everything you’re saying is music, you’re focused on food, everything you’re seeing is food. I’m doing the news. I get a ton of like horse farrier content on my FYP do you guys get it? Do you guys get any like, people will say that the algorithm will silo you into a world that’s such a like echo chamber. I have not had that experience. I see a lot of like, people putting horseshoes on other people are like pimple popping content, like things that have nothing to do with the news.
Lamar Dawson 20:42
For me, because I do TikTok radio I purposely diversify what I’m getting and seek out hashtags and things like that. So I can talk about them on air. So I can just talk about what I’m saying, which is a lot of times like Black comedy skits, or music things, but I’m also I’m very mindful to if I see someone who does anything remotely similar to what I do, I have to hide them. I don’t want anyone accusing me of copying someone else’s ideas or being inspired by them. I just I’m like sorry, I can’t watch I wish you the best but I can’t watch and then I make sure I’m watching looking at different hashtags around everything so I can talk about it on the air. So I’m getting a lot of stuff.
John Kang 21:16
See as far as mine, I follow mostly I fell in love with that friend button where I like so I a lot of people I follow my mutual’s because I want to support, you know, their videos first. But as far as like discovery goes, I think TikTok has really, or at least my FYP has been sorely pigeonholed in a way like I haven’t seen the diversity in the types of content that I used to. And I’ve noticed a lack of I don’t know, maybe it’s just like, I can’t remember, besides the salmon rice trend, the last time anything in the food space blew up, maybe people are less interested in it. Maybe people are less more. I mean, it’s like maybe people are less interested in food than they used to be. Or maybe like, you know, the way that people just blow up is completely different. Or maybe we’re all more people are a lot more compartmentalized than they used to be. So we don’t like share any collective FYP consciousness anymore. But like I kind of sometimes I wish I could like reset mine. Just so I could get some new stuff again, because I’m being fed of a lot of the same. And it’s like, getting kind of tired.
V Spehar 22:38
Do you think it’s like you said people went back to work, there’s just less creation in general?
John Kang 22:44
Oh, that could very well be.
Lamar Dawson 22:45
I think so as well. I think that’s the biggest thing is people are nice creating as much as they used to, I think with the TikTok algorithm, it can be very discouraging. Where if you’re not having that consistent success, if you will, whatever that metric looks like to you, you did get discouraged. Because I get a lot of comments a lot of listeners write to me about TikTok and their challenges with the app or creators who are doing really well and then the views go down then you kind of think like, okay, well what’s the point? Let me go focus on something else. You don’t come back like, you know, that’s something that I know they want to keep you hooked on it but then I don’t know if it’s really working.
V Spehar 23:20
Today it worth mentioning we’re recording this obviously before it’s airing on June 10th. Today, being the first day of pride was pried out on TikTok in which folks were talking about exactly that thing, the way that some people will maliciously use the report function to silence, a creator shut down their account getting banned. We talked about shadow bans, and all of that kind of sort of ugly side of TikTok. But first, we’re going to take a little break to hear about the beautiful products and services that support this podcast. And then we will be back to talk more about trending content fighting the content moderation guidelines, how to keep your account secure, how to even grow your account, how to find your community, all that and more when we get back.
V Spehar 24:01
Okay, awesome. We are back with TikTok’s the Lamar Dawson and Chef John Kang. And right before the break, we were starting to get a little bit into how trends are created and how people either use the platform controls for good or for evil. John, one of the things that you were saying is you know, we haven’t really seen those food trends like we did before. And I wanted to just take a little trip down memory lane with the viral foods for a second because really this is where TikTok took off for me with the whipped coffee. Then we had the mini pancakes cereal. Then we had that God forsaken set of pasta, the rain cloud cake, cloud bread, the hot cocoa bombs which ruined m holiday 2021, mot happy like you said […] Salmon hack, Banana Peel bacon bread in general had a moment during the early pandemic, people were not having issues with gluten. I don’t think we forgot; we did not forget. And then of course, John, you started the trend for me of making breakfast broth because I saw you do it and I literally said to my wife, Natalie, will John has breakfast broth, we could have breakfast noodle. And she was like, sure babe, you can have what John has. That’s nice. Tell me what about the food trends? Like as a food creator? Are you still looking? And then you were doing anime and whatnot? Are you driven by the trends where you were when you first started creating or have you kind of now settled into like representing yourself more authentically as a culinary in?
John Kang 25:37
Well, I actually do believe that the first tick tock food trend has to be attributed to the carrot bacon by Tabitha Brown. Mother to us all.
V Spehar 25:47
John Kang 25:51
But yeah, food trends were never really something that I followed. But I really always thoroughly enjoyed them because there was like an element of it. That was like everyone could do it. It was a real democratization of like what people could do in the kitchen, especially during the pandemic and quarantine. The only one that I did follow was Fattah pasta. And I did like Cheffy Chef it up a little bit, and make it like a little spicy version. But after that, I was like very much enjoying how other people were like just trying these things and trying to be creative with their food, I kind of branched off and started to do like anime food for a little while kind of like just being inspired to create food based off of a different type of artistic medium. And then I switched off from that. Not because like not because other people were doing it, I was very encouraged by the fact that other people were doing it as well. But then I get I get really bored, very easily just following like a specific theme. So I think I got really packed that was by my last anime partnership with Funimation, I got really inspired by the third culture identity, and the immigrant experience as well as the POC experience in the United States and how that informs my food, my story and food. And so far like that has been something that I’ve been like very adamantly passionate about maintaining, and I kind of like my other, my other platforms now pretty much focus on that. Because in this third culture cuisine, where it’s like, you know, what do I cook as a Chinese American, and like emphasis on the American part means that I get to delve into like the other cultures that are here too. And so basically, you cross a cultural barrier as soon as you step in through the house every day. And the people that are raised in that scenario tend to be like, experts in both and understanding the nuances of both. And I think from that can be like a source of like multiple artistic expressions that are completely unique. And that can only happen in places like the United States, and they deserve like, more attention on them.
V Spehar 28:15
And it’s giving permission to folks like I’m white enough to anyone but I’m white. And like I said when I went I was like But John’s doing it on TikTok so I think that we can have breakfast broth, like it felt like an invitation to respectfully recreate the things I was seeing you do because you were really generously giving that to folks and saying, This is something that we do in my home this is something you should do in your home if you if you feel like you need something warm to wake you up. And it really did. Like we’ve said before, you know culinary field trips is the best way to learn about a culture. It was that same thing for me in TikTok watching you I was like I could do that. I could try that and it has been a really great part of now my American breakfast routine, which now includes mushroom broth.
John Kang 28:52
Yeah, and the great thing about this medium is like even though we all do very different things on TikTok, sharing is still like the core tenant of what we do. We all are based on sharing some kind of way and I think that is one of the things that make it successful TikToker or social media personality in general, like you have to have something worth sharing.
V Spehar 29:15
Yeah, generosity. And Lamar on the music side. There are I mean, so many musicians who have launched their career or gotten a big break on TikTok by either making a viral sound or releasing their music on Tik Tok first, is this like the new getting scouted?
Lamar Dawson 29:33
Honestly, yes. There’s some drama happening right now within the entertainment industry. Creators if you follow along with Halsey or Jojo, there’s so many artists talking about how the labels are saying you know, go viral in TikTok and then promote your work and it should be the other way around the labels and the marketing team should be promoting the music, not the artists, begging people to watch their videos on TikTok to get their views up. So there is a bit of a challenge, but it’s a place to do Some scouting if you look at there’s this article written by Rolling Stone last year don’t quote me on the stat but it was like a lot of people were discovered on tick tock a lot of deals were signed by people who signed from tick tock look at the Grammy so many of those winners were tick tock related trends or sounds. If you look at the billboard award, the top 100 Like so many of those entries are artists or new artists who were discovered on Tik Tok or music that was trending on Tik Tok. So as it’s changed the game in terms of the industry speak.
V Spehar 30:31
So with that, how important is it for somebody who’s maybe watching or listening right now and they want to become a popular TikTok creators? Should they be looking for those trending sounds? And then like what lip synching dancing, cooking putting them in the background of their videos? Does it help? Does it hurt?
Lamar Dawson 30:45
It helps to use the trending sounds Yes. TikTok will push out the songs that are trending. But you don’t have to do anything with those sounds that’s not authentic to you. So if you are a chef, like Chef John, or maybe you want to talk about anime, or amphibian’s, whatever, whatever your thing is, just have the song playing in the background because one, the listener who’s scrolling through will hear oh, there’s that song again, let me see how this creators using it in their videos. But then also the algorithm will push it out. So the answer is use the sounds that are trending and your own creative way that’s unique to you don’t feel like you have to dance or do whatever just because everyone else is doing it. You can do what’s unique and special to you.
V Spehar 31:23
John, you use a lot of unique sound in your cooking videos. It’s like your voice with voice over a little bit of music. How do you create that?
John Kang 31:31
Yeah, so I don’t really use trending sounds very much because a lot of them have like lyrics are super upbeat. And actually just it’s very hard to narrate over so I look for more like Lo-Fi remixes of a lot of anime theme songs, video games, a lot of things that are like in the pop culture realm, but not like in your face that way. I just find that doing it this way. And using the music as much of an extension of me and my personality. So even though, you know, this thing might have this video that I’m making about food has nothing to do with Demon Slayer, an anime show and film, for example, but because I use low key, a soft version of their theme song, I kind of like share that part of me and share that interest. And it’s kind of like it becomes kind of a, if you know, you know, and that drives. And that is like definitely something that you see in the comments where they’re like, oh my god, I understand, I recognize this song. And this guy has immaculate taste and like I love this show too. And like you know that communication and that engagement also drives performance. So I think more important than just using like a trending sound, is to do things that are still like, as we were talking about like that are authentic to you. Because it’s like kind of useless without when if all of these people are using the popular Lizzo song which I’ve been listening to on repeat because of tick tock then then it just kind of like, you know, you don’t want the song to be driving your content, you want it to be accentuating your content. You want it to be serving your content.
V Spehar 33:10
Because you’re building a story, right? And so the story has a score, but it also has visuals, you have to be thoughtful. Like I said, Being good at TikTok requires a lot of thought and requires a real in life talent to say is this entertaining? Is this something that I would consume or be excited about? And Lamar at the beginning of this, you were talking about how in the beginning, you know, I remember used to like walk up with a coffee cup and have like a saying or you would do like this certain kind of dance lesson I followed you for the very beginning. We’ve been besties, I’ve been through all the different Lamar’s.
Lamar Dawson 33:40
All my eras.
V Spehar 33:41
But we could always just, you know, make those videos friends only. And now you’re doing something that you’re really passionate about. And it shows so much because you can you can see that difference in energy. You’re not just doing making content that you think people want to consume. You’re making content that makes you happy, and that makes other people happy. Right? Can you talk a little bit about when you knew that you were going to be the @dirtykingofpop? That’s who you were. And that’s it, take it or leave it.
Lamar Dawson 34:08
Yeah. Well, you know, it’s funny, I’ve had to @dirtykingofpop. handle across my social platforms for a while. So, but there’s something about okay, this might sound very egotistical, but bear with me for a second. So when I got verified on TikTok, it also coincided when I did my first video about pop culture. And this sounds so stupid, but so I did a video of my first pop culture video was about oh my god, I’ve never knew this song was a cover, although I didn’t know but I was going to do it for the video. And it was Monica Angel Of Mine. A band in the UK. Eternal has Angel of Mine was released first. So you see the video it starts out with me saying oh my god, I never knew this was a cover, then I play those music videos and seeing my name and that blue check on their music videos. I was like, this seems so official. This seems like a music channel. Like this seems like a music network. That’s what I’m going to do. And seeing my name, the blue check and the music video behind it. I was like, this seems like a TV show. And that’s when I knew I was going to do this. And that was the first video that I had that was really, really successful. I have some videos of me with coffee cup and a mug around social justice, things like that, that were viral 1 million views. But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same one. I’m not an angry person. Yeah, we all get riled up around, you know, Black lives matter around the time 2020 was happening, but I’m really excited about pop culture. So and I have so many ideas. So when that video popped off, I saw the blue check. I saw my name, I was like, it all happened at the same time. That night, I opened my journal and I wrote down like 100 ideas. I’m never exaggerating, 100 ideas that I could talk about. And then it was all uphill from there.
V Spehar 35:48
Yeah. And you say, it takes a little bit of ego, it takes a little bit of ego to be on stage in the way that you are like, everybody, you have to believe in yourself a little bit to do these things, you know, these like, things that could potentially go out to millions of people. And that’s kind of the fun of it. So I think it’s good to believe in yourself. And I’m glad that you do. John, will you ever go back to a kitchen you think, or your like on a different level, now, this is a different world,
John Kang 36:13
I do miss it. And being able to miss it as a person in the food and beverage industry, as I’m sure you know, is an absolute privilege. Because it’s one thing to like Miss doing it every now and then I don’t miss doing it every day. And I don’t think anybody would unless it was really something that was in your blood. And I felt for the longest time that it was, I will do pop ups again. And I will and I am like working on constructing out my own space to like do my dinners again. But it wouldn’t be too, but I will be doing it. Because for the love of serving people and not for the need to survive as I was.
V Spehar 36:57
We talked about success as what you get to do, right, we get to do this incredible thing every day and reach out to people and be an educator and be a role model. And like, I don’t know, fly business class every other six times, which is like a big thrill for me. But it’s also the things you don’t have to do, right. So for folks who are listening at home, when you’re thinking about your version of success. For us, it was being able to connect with people in this way, build this community have this platform, nurture this platform, spend every waking moment thinking about this platform. And then what does it mean that I don’t have to do it means that I don’t have to work two jobs where I’m still trying to build my platform, but I’m still clocking into my 9to 5, it means that I don’t have to execute on somebody else’s dream I get to execute on my mind on mine, I get to decide, you know who I am, who I want to help and how I want to say it, which is just I think one of the most powerful and exciting things and why I’m doing this show now. Because you see these holes in the world. And you’re like, I want to fill them with the thing that I wish that had been there for me. And now we get to be those people for someone which is so exciting. But it’s also the stuff we don’t have to do anymore, which is like you said very, very much a gift and something that I think about all the time, like the space to even rest, the space to reflect the space to create is so precious. So we are going to take one quick little break here. But we will come right back to finish our conversation with TikTok stars Chef John Kang and Lamar Dawson. We’re going to talk about where do we take it from here? What do we do next and share some ideas with folks who are just starting off as creators and hopefully help you build your confidence so that you can get out there and make your first TikTok.
V Spehar 38:50
Okay, we are back with John Kang and Lamar Dawson, we’d love to talking a little bit about where do we go from here, you know, and what is the future of TikTok. So John, where are you going from here?
John Kang 39:02
So, I mean, I hate to say it, but you know I am working on like kind of making each platform an extension of my greater personality. So it’s not just going to be tick tock anymore. Unfortunately, I do not think TikTok as in its current iteration is some is a platform that is prepared to kind of cultivate, I guess the creators of size that they have created. Because when it comes to like creators such as us now I think the focus is more on not growing. I couldn’t care less about growing a bigger following on Tik Tok. I’m more concerned with like cultivating and nurturing the community that I have created. And unfortunately, the tools are not there on that platform. They are available elsewhere. or whether it be even like, whether it be YouTube, which I find to be the most successful and they haven’t whole communities to have where you have like direct communication with your followers and subscribers there and even like to an extent like Instagram makes it is still like somewhat shockingly easier for people to find you than TikTok is. So I think like the next step for me is to like, and ultimately it’s being concerned with the value that you are giving the people who already follow you or subscribe to you. I think that’s like much more. It’s just higher in my priorities as a creator rather than just trying to get big.
V Spehar 40:44
Yeah, I agree. I learned so much the value of being a micro influencer I mean, two and a half million but still like, there are there are 700 people on my TikTok, I could tell you their first last names, the names of their kids, like that’s my crew, right? I’ve got them. I love them. I want to do more with them. I feel the same. That’s why we’re doing this podcast, right? So we could talk to people more. But excellent point, John, for folks listening. It’s not about getting to 5 or 10 million. It’s about having a crew that really is your community and really cares about you, and you really have the time to care about them. Lamar, where do you hope to? You’re everywhere. So where do you hope to go? He’s on the red carpet. He’s on the radio. He’s on the podcast. He’s on the TikTok. He’s at the fashion show. Where are you gonna go from here?
Lamar Dawson 41:25
Yeah, keep doing what I’m doing honestly, to me, it’s been exactly well, one, I didn’t go into it with any expectations at all. Just saying that love of creating, I fall in love with making videos has helped me with my job, frankly, as a content creator for L’Oreal and what their brand shoots. So to me, I’m still learning and growing as a as a creator itself. So that’s been really awesome. But then too, as a media personality, from my writing and things like that, it’s been awesome to get other opportunities to go to different events that I didn’t have access to before, number one. number two, it helped me land his radio show opportunity on Sirius XM, which has been a dream come true. So I’m hoping to kind of use it as a way to be discovered for those other things that don’t really require you to have a following to do it. You know what I mean? For example, for folks who are listening, people reach out to me a lot about getting into radio, and they’re like, is it based upon your following? You know, you got over 300k followers, whatever, which is nothing compared to most creators on TikTok like you two. But first of all, Sirius XM found me when I had like, 20k following it wasn’t about my following. They said, hey, you know about music, you know about pop culture, you know how to create videos like you could do this job. And then I didn’t, I didn’t even interview they said, if you want to is yours, you know what I mean? So that’s what I’m looking to do. And I think that’s what also a lot of people can do for themselves. You notice it’s not just about becoming famous, or what have you. If you do, that’s great for you, but it’s also using as an opportunity to be discovered. On the flip side, working at L’Oreal, I discover a lot of models, photographers, videographers and editors from TikTok. I’ll scroll through and say, Hey, I love your videos. You’ve got only 2000 followers, but I love your videos. Can you do that for my brand at L’Oreal? Hey, you make great videos doing your hair, can I hire you for my video shoot, I don’t care about how many followers you have. You look great, you know what you’re doing. So use it as a platform to be discovered to get the jobs that you want not just for your job to be a TikTok creator.
V Spehar 43:25
right, we used to say at James Beard Foundation, if your goal is to win the James Beard award, you will never win it. But if your goal is to make great food, then you’ll you there’s no way you won’t win it. So it’s that same kind of feeling. You have to be doing it authentically for the people and people know that. And for folks listening who do have a small following, I want to encourage you to know your value. Your value is your in real life talent, the things that you can do. It does not depend on your following. There are people with 20 million followers who are terrible red-carpet interviewers, there are people with 200, who had maybe one video go viral, but they were able to showcase that talent, that passion they have for talking to people and they’re going to be the best person for that job. So tick tock is a little bit of a way I’ve said in the past for you to skip the line in some ways, like walking on to getting a Sirius XM show walking into getting a book, walking onto the LA Times not having not gone to journalism school, because you were able to show your authenticity and your true passion and talent. And that matters, that counts. So definitely, hopefully staying encouraged. Any tips or tricks from you guys, for young creators to start figuring out who they are like questions they should be asking themselves when they’re deciding what type of content creator they want to be.
Lamar Dawson 44:33
If I told you to stand up in front of a room and talk for 10 minutes about a topic, what is that topic that you could talk about? And that’s what you want to do. That’s your thing is, double down on that. That’s the first thing. Second of all, find your unique point of view on that topic. What makes you different What’s your weigh in? What’s your new angle to it? Then third of all get comfortable on camera. What’s your look like? What’s your vibe like? What’s your voice? You know what that’s your just your style is there a kind of a character you can create around that topic, your point of view and your look in that regard, and then begin, everyone just needs to start. Alright, start from your phone, start from your home from your bed or wherever. Everyone always shares that meme; I think from Family Guy or the Simpsons and how the first episode looked and how it looks now. Just start, you can perfect it along the way. And I think actually you John, you posted something about like, cringe content looking back on cringe calm. And it’s funny where you said that I went through and knew that everything, I kid you not you posted about that. And I was like, yikes. Let me go back real quick and rewatch some of these things and cringe and call it put it at only me private it before anyone else sees it. So, but anyway, you can perfect it along the way. And if you look back I think Taylor Swift just said this in her NYU speech just says if you look back on your work and you don’t cringe, that means you’re not growing. That means you have improved if you look back and you kind of cringe, so go ahead and cringe.
V Spehar 46:04
That is some of I mean, that’s million dollar advice right there like what can you 10 minute rant about? Okay, now super nice shit out right and then create a costume in a stage for yourself and then just start doing it. Just start doing it. Getting used to that camera, getting used to telling your story. It’s going to be fine. So let them cringe, who cares? You’ll figure it out. That’s how you learn. It’s like little bumpers. John, what do you, any tips?
John Kang 46:28
That video was friends only Lamar. But it’s totally valid. I think that brings up a good point, like the only person or the only thing that should be making you cringe as a content creator might be your like older content and which is funny because that quote that you had given about from Taylor Swift I actually heard from Katya from […] drag race. So I thought that’s where that was from. That’s probably Taylor Swift though. But yeah, it because like that feeling of seeing your own content being cringy. Like, it’s just the show of growth, you are becoming a more sophisticated creator and a better communicator in general. But I think like one tip that I would have would be like, don’t forget that the real world exists. And to work on who you are as a person that is and how they occupied space in the real world first. And especially if you are a younger creator, you’re also just a younger person, and you’re still new to the world, you have so many experiences to experience and so many things to learn. Don’t forget to do that and spend time doing that before you share everything with the rest of the world.
V Spehar 47:44
Okay, friends, we have to take one more quick break. And then we’re going to talk about content appropriation versus content appreciation. So make sure y’all stick around for that. Appropriation of content on the platform can be a really big issue and is deeply hurtful to creators. Do you guys run into that?
Lamar Dawson 48:13
Yes, I have seen people take my ideas and do the same videos I’ve done. And I’m like, WTF like, that is literally my video frame by frame, bar for bar. And I’m confused. And I thought we were followers like virtual friends. So are you not like saying, Oh, this was inspired by so and so. And then my followers would tag me in the videos like, you know, give credit to @dirtykingofpop for this, etc, etc. And then, but then, um, then low key I don’t get too upset because I’m like, this, someone else already do this. This isn’t original. One thing about TikTok you’re just scrolling through even life experiences you like I thought I only did that. I thought I only felt that way. So did I ever have an original thought in my life? You know what I mean? So I don’t get too upset about it. Because sometimes I’m like, I know, I posted this a month ago. So I know you were inspired by this. This video got over 3 million views, including Lance Bass and Lizzo, I know you saw it. So just credit me and say you were inspired by it? What’s so hard about that.
V Spehar 49:08
Right? I know. And John with food is that something you run into?
John Kang 49:13
I mean, with food. Because a lot of the things that I cook are very personal to me and like a part of my own creative process. If I ever come across it again, if I see somebody else that might have been informed by it, I don’t really mind at all because the whole nature of what I do is sharing in general and because what I want to ultimately do with my content is teach people how to cook if people aren’t doing it. That kind of means that I’m succeeding in a way so like, I think a large part of being afraid of people stealing your content, depending on like what it is, it might with hits like a culturally important piece that is like you know, a part of your actual identity. That’s something different But if this is just your creative capital, then just be confident enough of your powers as a creator to like, understand that, you know, you if you are powerful, then people will emulate you because that is what people are attracted to take it. I mean, it’s so easy to say like, you know, imitation is a form of flattery but it really, if your stuff is actually good, it really is because you might start the next trend that might be attributed to. Attribution is important. But, you know, try to work on yourself to the point where, like, if you know it, that is enough, and that should drive you on to creating the next amazing thing.
V Spehar 50:42
Yeah, John, that just like hits me in the little heartstrings, you know, because you have to create for the sake of creating and for being happy and we’re told, you know, in this economy, everything has to be monetized. Everything is a hustle. But sometimes we just make silly little videos to make silly little videos to entertain ourselves. Is there is there a line for y’all where you think, like how much space is there in the world to just entertain each other and just have fun and recognize you don’t need to monetize every hobby.
Lamar Dawson 51:11
It to me it goes back to why I began being on TikTok it was we were in the pandemic, we kind of need to escape a little bit of what was going on the world around us. And I think we could pick up our phones and be entertained by people all around the world. And almost escape in the entertainment in our phone screens. I mean to like escape what was going on in happening around the world, at least for me, that’s what it was mindless joy, put my brain in a box, laugh at these funny silly little videos, learn some dances, learn to cook something in my air fryer, I bought an air fryer, because […] did a video on it. And kind of getting back to the silly like making room facilities when it comes down to if I had to put one line is to make room for silly.
V Spehar 51:51
I love that. Yeah. And John, same for you?
John Kang 51:54
As a creator, just being really proud of like the people that you inspire. And the content that they create is kind of like seeing it’s kind of like having kids in a way and just having the opportunity to just be proud of people for making content as well, based off of your own. I mean, obviously, content is work. And we all deserve to get paid for this work fairly. But that’s not what the whole point is. The fact of the matter is we did this, we all did this for free at first and there was joy in this and there should always be and there should continue to be joy in it. Yeah, after the fact.
V Spehar 52:37
I always make sure if I see somebody stitches or duets in my video, which is my favorite thing I love when people stitch. And I know it’s like their first or I’m the only one like they set up their little account because they really had something to say about it. I am there to get that person up. I’m in their comments. I’m like following them back and like good for you, Cynthia, getting out there making your account, doing some content creation.
Lamar Dawson 53:00
And it means so much to them to hear from you like your you know, they’re like, oh, wow, you responded, I feel the same way enough. It’s not like I’m like this, but it’s like, I know that it matters. And with one person like that video on comments. I’m like, I respond to as many things as I can you took time out of your day to write a comment like I appreciate that so much.
V Spehar 53:18
Yeah, you have to, John, do people stitch you and show you the food that they made?
John Kang 53:23
Oh my god. Yes. And it makes me so happy. It makes me so happy to see.
V Spehar 53:27
I know you cry. I know you catch a little tear. They are the most precious. It’s just such a. It’s like show and tell like when we were kids, right? And your friend would get up and they would show like their dumb little Lego. And you were like that’s the coolest Lego I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Like I’m here for it. There’s just an innate need for humans to entertain each other to celebrate each other. I am like a fairy. I need applause to live like so does everyone and that’s what I like about TikTok. It’s a place where everybody gets to be the star and everybody gets to be the audience member and you really get to choose how you’re feeling that day and how you’re going to show up and what that means. But I’m so glad that you all are here. I have had such a great time talking with you. I appreciate y’all. You can find of course Lamar and John on TikTok at @dirtykingofpop and at @chefjohnkang. And we will link to all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for being here friends.
Lamar Dawson 54:22
Thank you for having us.
John Kang 54:23
This was great. Thanks for having me.
V Spehar 54:30
And that is why I love TikTok, having Lamar and John here with me to break down the world of TikTok was illuminating. We talk all the time and I still learned so much today from John who said we should be comfortable in the kitchen. We can learn from creators online and then take that education and develop our own third cuisine recipes. Lamar gave great advice when it comes to starting a TikTok account. Just think about what you could rant about for 10 minutes then add your personal quirk to it and then do film it simple as that. Now you’re a TikTok. This app is one of the fastest growing, most powerful communication tools in existence right now. When we started off this conversation, we were wondering, well, where does tick tock go from here? And now I’m like, okay, where does it go? Where does it stop? It doesn’t stop. But even with all the power and potential of TikTok, we can’t lose focus on our in real life experiences. Maintaining a connection to reality has to be a priority. We as humans crave that kind of connection. And that’s what drives authenticity and our content, which, like we said at the beginning of the show, the fun of TikTok is the community that we get to build together. And I am so grateful to you, my community for tuning in today and for supporting me along the way. Be sure to tune into Tuesday’s episode. I don’t know what we’re going to be talking about. It’s Friday. The news is crazy. We’ll find out on like Monday night what we’re going to talk about Tuesday, but I hope that you’ll be there again with me to just try to make sense of things.
V Spehar 56:03
V INTERESTING is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Rachel Neel, Xorje Olivares, Martín Macías, Jr. And Dani Matias. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mixing and Scoring is by Brian Castillo, Johnny Evans and Ivan Kuraev. music is by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar and @UnderTheDeskNews, also, @LemonadaMedia. If you want more be interesting, subscribe to Lemonada premium only on Apple podcasts.