When you open TikTok for the very first time, your For You page is essentially the popular kids' table in the cafeteria. Charli D'Amelio and Emma Chamberlain are doing hand dances, Addison Rae is lip syncing, and Gabrielle Alexis is glowing up. But the more time you spend on the app and the more videos you interact with, the more lunch tables appear. If your interests skew towards the inclusive, artful, absurdist, or irreverent, you might be curious about how get on Alt Tok — aka, the arty side of the cafeteria.
As creator Brody Wellmaker puts it, "Alt TikTok is ... the quality content side of TikTok." On it, you might find un-cuddly animals doing things (think: crickets listening to music, or gummy sharks doing crimes), trippy animations, identity-related story times, dark humor, satire, and lots of surrealism.
Here's everything you need to know about convincing the algorithm to invite you to one of the most interesting lunch tables in the TikTok cafeteria.
What Is Alt TikTok?
Alt TikTok videos might not have as many views as Straight Tok, aka, mainstream content made by popular influencers or viral videos. It also may not be easy to find — its obscurity is part of its charm. But it still has mass appeal and reception. TikToker Brittany Tomlinson, who you might know as the Kombucha Girl, explained the difference between Straight Tok and Alt Tok to Vox. "Straight TikTok gets all of the press and the hype... but all the trends and audios come from Alt TikTok. It's always been like that." If you've ever seen a popular TikToker dancing to an audio track that sounds like just about the last thing anyone would ever dance to, it probably originated from an Alt TikTok video.
An animated, non-binary, tubular purple creature with eyes called Bum Bailey is a surreal staple of Alt Tok. Bum Bailey's creator says they get a lot of comments like "where am I" or "what is happening" on Bum Bailey videos, and those kinds of questions inspire their content. "We’re just trying to be a positive and inclusive force in platform, and produce content for our fans that makes their days," they say.
Not all Alt Toks will make you feel out-of-touch, but some videos will leave you scratching your head. Elite Tok and Deep Tok are other subsets of the genre, veering into more meme-able content. Users on Elite TikTok might make up personalities for brands like Macy's or Walmart and create elaborate videos of their hijinks, as Taylor Lorenz reported for the New York Times, or repeatedly post footage of Hannah Montana alum Jason Earles. The names for these corners of the app can often be used interchangeably.
Another defining hallmark of Alt TikTok is its inclusivity. "I notice a lot more BIPOC representation on Alt Tok. I feel like Alt Tok is about embracing each other’s differences and similarities to transform it into content that people can enjoy," creator GoViolet tells Bustle. "The main goal is to reassure people that they’re not alone when others view them as not the typical norm," they add.
While GoViolet is glad to see that Alt TikTok has become so appreciated, "the gatekeeping that happens occasionally when defining what’s considered Alt" is concerning. "For people who are Alternative, it’s more than just a fashion statement. A good amount of people forget that politics are a crucial part of being Alternative."
That's why the best definition of Alt Tok is pretty simple: you know it when you see it. If you've already spent a lot of time on the For You Page and have not found the kinds of videos and creators that inspire you to come back for more, Alt TikTok will scratch that itch — though, again, you really never know what you're going to get.
How To Get On Alt TikTok
Like any other app, TikTok feeds you videos you might like based on previous content you've engaged with. It measures your engagement by how much time you spend on each video and whether or not you like or comment on it; it figures out if you'll like the next post if it has similar subject matter, audio, tags, or other factors along those lines.
Videos with the hashtags #alttok and #alttiktok have over 4.5 billion views combined, so a direct search is one way to start teaching the algorithm that you're looking to get off Straight TikTok. But a lot of what's considered to be Alt TikTok content isn't labeled as such — lots of videos don't even have hashtags, or use random ones that don't make them easy to find.
The most organic way to get on Alt TikTok is to interact less with popular videos, and more with unique videos. Hashtags like #frogs, #beans, #saveadam2020, or #animation might help you get there faster. You can also search through audio clips that are commonly used on Alt Tok, like the medieval Shakira cover, "Minushka, do you have comment?," the beans song, or "I Am Lost," where you can browse through thousands of videos that are most likely on the alt side of things.
How To Stay On Alt TikTok
The algorithm is always paying attention to what kinds of videos you're watching to ensure it can give you suggestions based on what you actually want to see. If you've made your way to Alt TikTok, continuing to interact and engage with videos that you enjoy will ensure you stay put.
Per TikTok, posting comments or following the accounts you love will help to show the app what you like. So follow Alt creators, scroll through the hashtags or audio of videos you like, and keep reinforcing your interest. And if you see one too many animated Shrek figures dancing to the Hamilton soundtrack, look up a Hype House member — you'll be back on Straight Tok in no time.