Addison Rae, a TikTok influencer with the second-highest number of followers on the platform, got heavy backlash this week following her appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In her segment, she was “teaching” Fallon how to do popular TikTok dances, one in particular backdropped to Cardi B’s song “Up,” but many people online were upset by Addison Rae’s interpretation versus that of the original creators of the dance. Those young TikTok creators, only teenagers, are now responding to the controversy.
Mya Johnson, 15, and Chris Cotter, 13, created the original “Up” TikTok challenge back in February in their hometown of Houston, Texas. They were just two teens who are big fans of Cardi B, but when their original TikTok dance went viral after Addison Rae’s version on Jimmy Fallon, the young duo had conflicting emotions on the matter. Johnson said in their interview with Slate’s ICYMI podcast:
My first response was, ‘Dang, that’s crazy.’ I’m happy, and I’m like, ‘She’s really doing all the moves that we came up with.’ But then when you sit down and think about it, it’s like everybody’s time is going to come. I started to feel like it should have been our time to do that. And even the other dancers. I just felt like that would have been our time to shine, and I’m pretty sure that the creators of those other dances would have wanted the same.
The original creator for the “Up” TikTok dance is vocalizing here the root issue of why Addison Rae was initially facing so much backlash, which is that people of color often don’t get as much national recognition for their work. White influencers tend to have bigger followings and, with the public free-sharing nature of TikTok, some have been accused of stealing the work of Black creators in the past.
Social media users led the charge in the backlash for Addison Rae’s “Up” dance on Jimmy Fallon because they viewed it as lacking the same charisma as the original. In their view, original content needs to be credited as well as done justice, which they feel it wasn’t. But Chris Cotter actually disagrees with the complaints leveled at Addison Rae, saying:
I feel as if she shouldn’t have got that much backlash, because I feel like it’d be hard to credit somebody in the middle of a show. I was happy, but at the same time, I didn’t want me and Mya to be going up while she was getting brought down. I wanted both of us to be getting lifted up and maybe even collabing in the future and just getting together and going up to the top together.
The original “Up” TikTok dance challenge didn’t need much help from Addison Rae’s controversy to go viral, however. It already had a certain level of success on the popular social media platform when Cardi B herself reposted them on her own Instagram and TikTok accounts. For her part, Addison Rae recently told TMZ that though “it’s kinda hard to credit during the show,” she supports the original TikTok creators and hopes they “all meet up and dance together,” one day.
Some might perceive TikTok influencers and challenge controversy to be a bit silly. For the most part, it’s throwbacks, High School Musical fan renditions and jokes at the expense of others. But as we can see from the Addison Rae debacle, it can also force some important issues into the collective conversation.