Right now, in a deep, dark corner of TikTok that caters to a highly specific niche interest, a blood feud is almost certainly brewing. I can’t be sure where or about what, but spiritually I know it to be true, because in 2023, the app saw more drama than a Bravo promotional cycle — Scandoval included. Maybe it’s the platform’s notoriously active algorithm, or the lunar calendar, or just how people behave online these days — whatever the cause, this year was chock full of in-fighting, wild accusations, and out-of-control conflict between communities and fandoms we didn’t even know existed. Here are the most spectacular TikTok meltdowns of 2023.
Arts & Crafts
Welcome to DIY TikTok, where boldly patterned peel-and-stick wallpaper reigns supreme. Earlier this year, crafter TayBeepBop — who posts elaborate home improvement projects catering to a very specific aesthetic, basically Lisa Says Gah meets Etsy — accused a fellow quirky home goods artisan, KaarinJoy, of copying her designs. A flood of the latter’s defenders argued the “copied” ideas (painting a room in gradient colors, using blue and green together, having an orange couch) were nowhere near specific enough to be rip-offs, particularly given that some of them were just pulled from Pinterest. Some also pointed out that TayBeepBop’s whole shtick is showing people how to recreate her projects for themselves.
Nonetheless, in a weepy video posted a few days later, KaarinJoy explained she was inspired by TayBeepBoop’s work and that they have “very similar styles.” She also said that several months earlier, she’d heeded a polite request from TayBeepBoop to stop doing her DIYs. Meanwhile, TayBeepBoop’s wallpaper collaboration with a company called Otto Studios was pulled from their site, accompanied by a note condemning her choices. TayBeepBoop then took down her video and admitted in a series of follow-up posts that she should have made the accusations “privately,” describing her choice to air her suspicions publicly as “wild and inappropriate.” Time appears to have healed these wounds, though, as both women’s feeds have returned to business as usual — TayBeepBoop got back to her flower-themed house renovation, and KaarinJoy finally finished painting a huge rainbow squiggle on her wall. As far as I can tell, all’s well in DIY land. Tay! Beep! Boop!
Makeup — like, a lot of makeup
i think having white customers is good for black-owned businesses — just as long as they don’t forget about their black customers #mielleorganics #mielleorganicsrosemarymint #rosemaryoilforhairgrowth #blackhair #blackhaircare #alixearle @MielleOrganics♬ original sound - prettycritical
There were as many makeup feuds on TikTok this year as there are horoscope signs. The Cut’s beauty writer Asia Milia Ware diligently documented the juiciest ones, including the hair oil that sold out after Alix Earle sent white women running to buy it and the beloved Kosas concealer that expired in one influencer’s makeup bag, setting off a flurry of rumors that the product was moldy. One of Tarte Cosmetics’ infamously lavish press trips sparked controversy after a Black influencer claimed she was booked for a suboptimal stay in Miami during a Formula 1 race, causing a handful of creators to rush to Tarte’s defense, while others condemned Tarte’s subsequent apology. Less than a week later, the influencer announced she’d hashed things out with the company.
…and mascara, specifically
DISCLAIMER: this isn’t a bashing post, it’s purely educational and informative. I just want to share my professional opinion, and let’s be 100%, there is no disputing that she used strips! Im not here to debate that, what I want to know if you have ever experienced something like this from an influencer before and if you will forgive her for lying or if this is a deal breaker for you ? #mikaylanogueira #loreal #lashgate #falsies #mascarareview #influencers #makeupartist #lashartist #lashextensions♬ original sound - Small Business Marketing Coach
Perhaps the most dominant figure in this year’s cosmetic drama is Mikayla Nogueira, a popular beauty influencer whose many paid partnerships landed her at the center of TikTok drama at least four times this year. In a January incident known on BeautyTok as “lashgate,” she was accused of using false eyelashes to promote a L’Oreal mascara for a brand partnership, playing off her suddenly miles-long lashes as a result of the product and not stick-on extensions.
A similar uproar broke out when she appeared to use TikTok’s skin-smoothing filter while reviewing a YSL foundation, also as a partnered post. A few months later, a video from Nogueira’s college days surfaced, where what she’s previously referred to as her “redneck accent” is nowhere to be heard, leading followers to speculate that she faked the voice once she got popular on TikTok.
The girl couldn’t even get married without spon-con controversy: After her July wedding, fans noticed the nuptials had involved a suspicious amount of branded paraphernalia, including an E.l.f. Cosmetics photo booth and custom lip kit. One of her friends even claimed she was uninvited to make room for more influencers on the guest list. Nogueira has denied the rumors about her wedding, but never commented on the “lashlighting” allegations.
Ice hockey erotica
One too many horny BookTokers used the face of ice hockey player Alex Wennberg to fan-cast their erotic hockey novels (apparently, a thriving genre of smut). After the Seattle Kraken advertised their players’ good looks to a particularly passionate corner of BookTok, whose members like to imagine their favorite sexy hockey characters as real-life hunks, the unbridled thirst apparently became too much for Wennberg to take. Over the summer, he and his wife, Felicia, took to Instagram to address the aggressively sexualized content, and ask if BookTok could please stop objectifying him.
Chaos ensued, with some hockey erotica lovers defending the creator they believed the Wennbergs had singled out and accusing Wennberg — or, realistically, his team — of using the group to gain followers. Others felt that the intensity of lust on display didn’t represent their community, but after the Kraken stopped marketing their players to BookTok, everyone just sort of moved on.
This year, you couldn’t throw a claw clip without hitting a stylish woman decked out in Djerf Avenue, the clothing line designed by Swedish influencer Matilda Djerf. The immense popularity of her minimalist basics, which fans categorized as prototypes of “clean-girl Scandinavian style,” spawned a secondary market for dupes, which TikTokers in turn started buying and reviewing.
All fairly business-as-usual in the life cycle of internet aesthetics, only in October, a handful of those users suddenly found their videos flagged with trademark warnings. Djerf Avenue seemed to be going after small creators who’d actually highlighted the differences between Djerf’s pieces and their cheaper Amazon equivalents. Making matters more confusing, Djerf’s designs were not all that original to begin with — we’re talking lightweight button-downs, pleated pants, oversize blazers, and other neutral-toned staples.
As observers and customers alike began pointing all this out, Djerf briefly deactivated her TikTok, while a representative for the brand told NBC that its third-party intellectual property firm had “inadvertently impacted individual accounts” in an attempt to crack down on copyright infringement. So far, it’s not clear whether the controversy has dinged the brand’s popularity all that much — I’ll admit Djerf’s new “Countryside” line of chunky knits, available in cream, beige, and black, looks mighty appealing.
Lunden from Lunden & Olivia had 100’s of racist tweets resurface and many people called her out, which resulted in her blocking them at first, but there was too much evidence that she felt she needed to apologize. Racisim is racism & this is downright WRONG. Too little, too late ya know? #lundenandolivia #lundentweets #lundenracist♬ original sound - liaseways
Also in October, the lavish Georgia wedding of Southern lesbian TikTok influencers Lunden and Olivia Stallings prompted a wave of controversy when dozens of tweets surfaced, showing Lunden casually and frequently used racial and xenophobic slurs between at least the years 2012 and 2014. During their honeymoon, the couple filmed an apology on TikTok’s disappearing Story feature, which only stirred further ire. They then pivoted to a more permanent acknowledgment, tacking on a written apology that stayed in their feed before promptly resuming wedding content. Also, they hired a DEI coach. Guess they are still learning and listening?
A Taylor Swift dupe
The Swifties turned on one of their own — or, one who looks like their own — twice this year. The fan in question: Registered nurse Ashley Leechin, who rocketed to TikTok fame a few years ago by, shall we say, really leaning into her striking resemblance to Taylor Swift. She’s gotten flak from Swift’s intense fandom since she started, with Swifties accusing her not only of taking her obsession to creepy heights, but also (and relatedly) going out of her way to copy the pop star’s looks. Leechin denies those accusations, claiming the uncanny resemblance is all-natural and purely coincidental, but, well:
Things boiled over this year after she posted a video claiming she’d been invited to the Grammys by a company called Sweety High, only to have the offer revoked without explanation once she’d landed in L.A. While you and I might see this as Leechin getting scammed, Swifties accused her of stalking the pop star, or at least going to desperate lengths to follow her to an awards show. Others accused her of fabricating the entire story. In response to all the outrage, Leechin posted a Change.org petition in February, saying she was being cyber-bullied, harassed, and defamed; in an 18-bullet list, she also laid out an argument for why she did not deserve the rage of the Swiftie community. So far, she has 442 signatures, though the request did not do much to quell her enemies — one of them commented on the Change.org page itself calling Leechin a “Swiftie George Santos.”
Then, in August, Leechin further infuriated Swiftnation when she staged a prank with a YouTuber, walking around The Grove in Los Angeles with fake bodyguards —and looking, per usual, very much like Swift, thanks to her styling and general appearance. Not so funny for the Swifties, who found her impersonation far too obsessive for their liking. While most of them have since moved on, Leechin is still out here trying to clear her name — in September she filmed a doctor’s consultation to prove she hadn’t had plastic surgery to look more like Swift. The Swifties have yet to deliver a verdict.
The existence of TikTok
Playing out in the background of all this beef was an ongoing debate about TikTok itself, namely whether it should even be allowed in the U.S. For years, lawmakers have been concerned about the app’s potentially shady ties to the Chinese government and propaganda machine, and this year a handful of states, counties, college campuses, and workplaces took matters into their own hands, banning the app on their own Wifi networks and devices. In March, TikTok’s CEO appeared in front of congress in an attempt to prove TikTok’s independence from its Chinese parent company, and his answers did not do much to assuage concerns. Beyond a handful of state bans, bills that would further crack down on the app are all stuck in varying states of bureaucratic limbo. Can you imagine taking away the platform that gave us Mormon mom orgies? Unconscionable.