'Corecore' Is The Meta-Aesthetic Taking Over TikTok: Here's What It Means (And How To Embrace It)

You may be tired of constantly hearing about the newest trends on TikTok. After all, they seem to be coming at an alarming rate, and since Tumblr-originated cottagecore, newer apps have seen the likes of norm-core to emo-core to the western-core fashion aesthetic gaining traction this spring. As the newest social media to dominate our attention, TikTok seems to exist in a parallel world that is somehow simultaneously self-aware and out of touch. Trends like TikTok's "vanilla girls" have caused backlash, and the "clean-girl" makeup aesthetic and lifestyle has drawn controversy for promoting the limited ideas of beauty and unrealistic body standards so common to the app.

Living vicariously through TikTokers' idealized lifestyles may feel like escapism, but it's ultimately enacting the same kind of damage to our self-esteem as other forms of social media. However, the app's newest trend, #corecore, may just be the meta cure to usher the app's content away from fantasy and toward some version of reality (however curated). 

What makes corecore self aware?

Think of corecore as documentary-style collages and video essays, but ones that are often edited more like mockumentaries, per TikTok. They demonstrate the contrast between the romantic edits and aesthetic videos already popular on the app and the devastating news cycle released every day. If the members of Gen-Z are anything, they're aware of the devastating realities of climate change, governmental failings, social inequities, and capitalism per this TikTok video. Unfortunately, for an entire generation of young people who have yet to be taken seriously, satire may be the best way to communicate.

When asked about corecore, digital blogger Kieran Press-Reynolds told Mashable, "They're like meme-poems, rife with short movie clips, music, and soundbites that are often somewhat nostalgic, nihilistic, or poignant." However, at the advent of the trend, the culture writer found the videos "didn't have much of a discernible meaning beyond the pleasurable rush of recognizable audiovisual material." So, what's changed over the roughly two years of corecore's existence?

Is nichecore distinct from corecore

Nichecore is often used ironically and interchangeably with corecore, despite the terms' apparent opposite meanings. For example, it is tagged in one video that uses archival footage to demonstrate anxieties around the futuristic computer generation and its potential similarities to the surveillance state portrayed in George Orwell's novel "1984." These clips are then played alongside content from today's influencers — and, as depressing as the creators' identical "Hi guys" greetings and directives to "Smash the like button" are, this video as a whole serves as a kind of self-aware message about the lack of individuality online these days. But what else can we learn from the rising popularity of #nichecore and #corecore? To start, they both use the social media app itself to critique the formulas and algorithms that make everyone's videos anything but niche.

They provide a critical commentary

One corecore video contrasts an interview of a young boy who wants to become a doctor to "make people feel okay" (instead of make money) with videos of folks playing at slot machines, a crowd rushing into a store on Black Friday, and chickens getting VR headsets to pretend they're free range. When edited together, these clips are meant to make us question our realities and the messages we've received about value versus meaning in our lives. Inflation and economic inequity are common topics among TikTok's corecore videos, as well as other social topics we grapple with in art forms like literature, film, and music.

Corecore can use a film score

In terms of form, some corecore videos are accompanied by narration via captions, while others let the clips themselves do the talking. Contemplative music typically sets the scene for viewers to entertain deeper thoughts about the state of our culture. In this video, which begins by scrolling through other short-form videos, the music cues an auditory break from the regular stream of influencer content on TikTok. The song itself is a meta choice, since it's from the score of the movie "Her," Spike Jones' take on the future of AI companionship.

After a black screen with the words "Wake up," the video transitions into an audio clip of comedian Hasan Minhaj saying, "The internet and technology created the idea of infinite. But the reason life is beautiful is because it is fundamentally limited." This is followed by clips from movies like "The Truman Show and "Wall-E," which depict hyper-tech surveillance states, as well as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg talking about the metaverse.

Current social issues influence corecore

Another Corecore video includes a string of news, interviews, and TikTok clips that demonstrate common misogynistic perspectives and the unfortunate necessity for women-identified folks to learn self-defense. This kind of video is more of a straightforward critique than one that uses romantic-style video editing to repurpose striking news and online content. But overall, the various forms of corecore content out there remind viewers to engage with the media around them more consciously and interrogate just how easily harmful ideas are normalized.

The genre stems from the video essay

One video approaching the environmental impact humans have had on the planet takes corecore directly into the territory of a video essay, with soundbites that provide a clear narrative through-line and argue a specific political point. An interview with David Attenborough serves as the initial narration, in which he describes the planet's rising temperatures, overlaid with videos of increasing pollution and devastating natural disasters. The video transitions away from this B-roll to clips of speakers calling global warming a hoax then uses Gretta Thunburg as the next featured speaker, with her words accompanied by images of melting ice caps and fires. The video ends back with Attenborough, who concludes, "human beings have overrun the world." This video seems to focus more on the message than its aesthetic merit, giving it an essayistic quality.

Corecore also inherited its artsy aesthetic

Using a primarily visual medium, TikTok creators have long been drawn to aesthetically intriguing palettes, and the clips being collaged in #nichecore often come from movies acclaimed for their artistic achievement. Like nostalgia-styled movies or a Tumblr look-book, videos like this maintain a continuity of color, balance, and a vintage façade along the lines of the Wes Anderson movies it features: "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Moonrise Kingdom." Set to a dramatic and sweeping movie score and including dialogue from several movies, the #nichecore video also includes moments from relatively popular films like "Joker," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and "Whiplash," making the video itself decidedly not niche. 

The genre collages emotional content

One popular video began with the question, "How are you?" followed by clips of emotional moments from TV shows, descriptions of income inequality, discussions of artificial intelligence, and modern life's pressures to be conventionally successful. Other creators meditate on the pervasive loneliness characteristic of life today, while some nichecore videos seem to have little to say, featuring slow-motion videos of nature with the captions like, "Admire Existence. Be Human." 

On the other side of TikTok's melodramatic corecore videos, you might get ones that feel like they're just sad for the sake of being sadone captioned "real" cues "Song on the Beach" from "Her" then a rainy scene from a "Spiderman" movie. Utilizing climactic moments from a range of media sources, the video achieves an effective, if not somewhat empty, resemblance to an emotionally evocative piece of media. But it may still remain less than the sum of its parts.

Corecore can feel personal

Corecore videos can also be a blend of personal videos and movie footage, or a simple narrated reflection on love and loss. Still, digital culture writer Kieran Press-Reynolds told Mashable about his reservations regarding the corecore movement and its inevitable dilution in a sea of TikTok videos. He explained, "It can start to feel like just listlessly scrolling, your mind overwhelmed by hashtags, drowned in a digital murk of media that doesn't ever really profoundly affect you but kind of swishes over you like a limply lapping tide." However, corecore itself is a reflection of that very listlessness, confusion, and media overwhelm that TikTok begets through hours of scrolling. So, can a trend really lose its effectiveness if the point it makes is also the phenomenon it perpetuates?

Press-Reynolds continued, "I don't see how culture can keep fracturing and growing increasingly decentralized without reaching some sort of impasse — people can't keep creating cores and cores and corecores forever." But what is anything new and vibrant in culture but some subtle shift toward — or away from — a previous trend or familiar visual language? TikTok is ultimately a platform meant to fracture, stitch, and re-fracture culture on a loop.