Washington’s TikTok Famous
Andrew Savoia | @savoiboi | 227.2K followers
Day job: Georgetown grad student in physiology
Cardi B meets Beethoven on this 25-year-old musician’s account, where he adapts TikTok’s viral tunes to the cello, playing in front of backdrops such as Union Station and Ballston Quarter. The self-proclaimed “band kid” has been plucking and bowing since age nine (except for a hiatus while at Virginia Tech). He shot his first TikTok in July 2020, playing the electronic dance tune “Roses.” The video instantly racked up likes, bringing a flood of song requests—engagement that helped land him in TikTok’s Creator Fund, a group of users with a high count of views and followers who collect nominal amounts of money for their posts. The artist thinks of his cello as a voice and strums music that feels at odds with the formal instrument: “Somebody come get her, she’s dancin’ like a stripper,” goes the hip-hop song (“Come Get Her” by Rae Sremmurd) on his most popular video to date. The caption on that clip? “Bach is rolling in his grave right now.”
Jonathan Lurie | @thejonathanlurie | 37.7K followers
Day job: Student at DC’s School Without Walls
The 15-year-old from Adams Morgan, who is known for his candid, and often snarky, commentary on Washington, goes by DC’s Gossip Boy on the app. It started because his For You Page—the news feed where TikTok’s algorithm feeds content to onlookers based on their past views—was always pushing him DC-related content and he couldn’t resist. “I have, obviously, very loud opinions about DC,” says Lurie, a born-and-raised Washingtonian, “so why not voice these and give it a go?” He disses everything from DC’s “cheugy” spots (TikTok-speak for uncool) to the President’s choice in restaurants (Le Diplomate? Basic). As in the actual Gossip Girl series, DC’s Gossip Boy’s recent videos peek into the life of a Washington teenager: sneaking into hotel swimming pools, visiting speakeasies for the under-21 crowd, and that time his Lyft drove onto the National Mall.
Jeannette Reyes | @msnewslady | 1M followers
Day job: Morning anchor at Fox 5 DC
The local TV journalist downloaded TikTok in the spring of 2020 to combat pandemic boredom, posting lip-synching videos with her newscaster husband, Robert Burton. Her account gained momentum a couple months later, when she uploaded her first skit parodying the classic TV-anchor voice, adapting the deep, enunciated tone to the mundane task of picking out dinner. (The inspiration was less humorous than the result: Reyes, who is Afro-Latina, says the idea started as a play on code-switching.) She has expanded the shtick to other quotidian scenarios—gossip sessions, spousal spats, annoying calls from phone spammers. But Reyes has also pulled back the curtain on the life of a real Washington TV anchor: aiming her camera at the pedal she uses to move the teleprompter, showing her hair and makeup routine and the sweatpants she’s wearing underneath the broadcast table. Her clips landed a feature on a bigger screen, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where the host talked up her account.
Danny Kim | @danny.kim | 706.8K followers
Day job: Social-media consultant
When the 26-year-old from North Bethesda first hopped onto TikTok, he posted videos parodying the app’s complex photography tutorials. But after he started covering nearby restaurants—filming himself eating cricket tacos at Taqueria Xochi, for instance—he began to get a lot more shares. Kim was already running a foodie account on Instagram and Facebook, giving him a sort of social-feedback loop: He takes restaurant suggestions from his Facebook commenters, visits the spots, then makes recommendations on TikTok, later posting the videos on Insta, too. He sometimes trades promo for free food and has earned sponsorship deals from chains including the Filipino spot Jollibee. But unlike the typical food porn, Kim’s posts go beyond cheese pulls to tell the stories of local restaurant owners. If his content feels more polished than the average TikToker’s, it’s probably because full-time social-media consulting and influencing now pay his bills.
Daniel Heider | @heider_realestate | 3.1M followers
Day job: Real estate agent
If you search “real estate” on TikTok, the first account to pop up belongs to this TTR Sotheby’s mega-agent, who started posting cinematic mansion porn at the onset of the pandemic. Shut in their homes during lockdown, followers glommed onto Heider’s slick, over-the-top videos starring stunning models and pricey cars. The 34-year-old approaches production like a Hollywood director would, highlighting luxe properties with the same gear used for Game of Thrones (“Same exact camera—I mean, our videographer invested an unbelievable amount of money in that equipment,” Heider says) and utilizing drone footage, too (he even has a guy to maneuver Washington’s strict airspace rules). “TikTok is a world where more is more,” Heider says. “Lucky for me, I am a more-is-more kind of guy.”
Izzy Duggan | @izzythechow | 81.9K followers
Day job: Pet influencer
Amber Duggan is a lawyer at the Department of Homeland Security, but in the last few years a big part of her downtime has involved documenting the life of Izzy, her chow chow. She started with Instagram but migrated to TikTok in 2019 because the audience seemed enthusiastic about content that feels more real than the stylized posts of Insta. Not to mention that the 13-year-old rescue was getting a bit too old to be counted on to strike the perfect pose for every Insta post. On TikTok, by contrast, Duggan can score views by pairing a trending sound with an old video of a younger Izzy. Her footage highlights dog-friendly spots around Washington such as swimming lessons at Old Towne Pet Resort and a White Ford Bronco concert at the Bullpen. The clips that do best? “Floofy content,” says Duggan. “I call her the Secretary of the US Department of Floof.”
Nicole Mosley | @djheatdc | 8.6K followers
Day job: Mystics and Wizards DJ
The former Mystics ball girl turned DJ for Washington’s pro basketball teams started making TikTok videos in March, following the viral trends and challenges proliferating across the app. But it wasn’t until she posted a Rare Essence/Ashlee Simpson go-go mix that Mosley found her niche highlighting DC’s go-go scene: That night, she went to sleep with a hundred followers and woke up with a few thousand. Mosley says that while DJing in the arena during ball games, she typically pulls energy from the crowd, but performing for the phone camera has meant learning to interact differently with listeners. Her go-to TikTok format now: Play an original song next to its go-go remix and prompt the audience to shout out their preferred version in the comments.
Dave Jorgenson | @washingtonpost | @davejorgenson | 1M followers | 14K followers
Day job: Video producer at the Washington Post
He turns trending stories from the paper of record into viral clips, delivering the TikTok version of a news story with a comedic spin that may involve cicada costumes or a can of Spam named Sam. The bits are playful, but Jorgenson’s work is having a serious impact on the next generation of news consumers and reporters. “College journalists or people that ended up taking journalism in college, they [comment] that they started taking classes because of the Washington Post TikTok,” he says. Jorgenson’s personal account (@davejorgenson) pulls back the curtain on his day job, showing outtakes of his Post work. This past summer, he published a TikTok book filled with creative prompts.
Anela Malik | @feedthemalik | 56.4K followers
Day job: Full-time influencer
Her blog highlighting Washington’s Black-owned restaurants has transformed into a full-time gig for Malik; she now posts lifestyle content across social platforms. And last year she expanded to TikTok. Her account is a stream of snippets of her DC life: trying a workout at Nuboxx, celebrating her husband’s promotion at Family Kabobs House, baking sourdough in her Northeast home, and demystifying the reality of being a 24-7 influencer. “I would say my TikTok is a little grittier extension of my overall brand,” she says. “I like being able to show up with crazy hair and film at an angle that clearly shows the double chin.” TikTok is a little like the Wild West of the social-media pro’s digital world—but the freedom of it can exact consequences. Malik can be more playful with her content on the app, but she also deals with unchecked trolling, especially as a Black woman: “I really try not to focus my energy on it. I tend to post and ghost.”
Back to Top
How a TikTok Goes Viral
A successful TikTok starts with high-quality sound and visuals. But from there, crushing a clip requires some strategy—and the all-important understanding that the app functions like a global inside joke. Creator Andrew Savoia breaks down the alchemy of his most viral video:
1) Find a Niche
There’s #CarTok, #ParentsOfTikTok, #KinkTok, #GamerTikTok, and infinitely more pockets of the app where creators with a focus can find an audience. Cellist Savoia has a loyal music-lovers following who know what to expect and are psyched to engage. From there, an influx of comments and shares help push his video to like-minded viewers on the For You Page, increasing the video’s reach.
2) Hook People…
Viewers can easily swipe away from snoozy reels. In this snippet, Savoia donned a suit, set up on a porch over-looking the golf course at Virginia Tech, and played a raunchy, instantly recognizable hip-hop song: a grabby juxtaposition of visuals and sound.
3) …and Use a TikTok Hook
Trending tracks play an outsize role in a clip’s trajectory. Anyone can upload an audio nugget to the app, and once the sound is posted, it’s free to use. Often, the sound—anything from a newly released single to an out-of-context snippet from a kids’ show—becomes a meme itself. Creators can adapt the sounds to their individual content while remaining part of the larger joke. “Come Get Her” by Rae Sremmurd was making the rounds on TikTok when Savoia orchestrated this clip.
4) Feed the Fans…
Savoia takes suggestions from his audience, replying to their comments with videos of their song requests. Not only does the call-and-response build on the momentum from previous videos, but it makes his viewers feel like they’re hanging with the band.
5) …and Bring Them Onto the Stage
The app has a side-by-side recording feature, called a duet, through which Savoia made this video open to sharing; 2,644 creators—musicians, painters, dancers, comedians—then used the sound and visuals to create their own reels. That meant exposure to a broader audience than his following, turning a solo concert into a full-blown music festival.
Back to Top
How the TikTok Economy Works
Brands pay influencers in currency or gifts for sponsored content in the vein and vibe of the influencer, who must stamp each post with a disclosure (#ad). Full-time gastro-influencer Anela Malik, for example, does deals with big brands like Panera Bread and Bob’s Red Mill.
2. The Creator Fund
Users of a certain caliber (at least 100,000 views in the previous month, with a minimum of 10,000 followers) can earn payouts from TikTok’s $200-million monetary pool, the Creator Fund. The more engagement, the bigger the payday. For many, though, the fund is more of a clout signifier than a cash cow. Cellist Andrew Savoia, for instance, who was accepted into the fund at its inception in mid-2020, has collected less than $200 over the past year—or an average of two cents a day.
3. Venmo Plugs
Some TikTokers simply extend a tin cup by posting their Venmo handles to their profiles. Sounds strange, yes, but it works. In July, a DC lifestyle TikToker (@marycjskinner) shared a video of a car driving to Shenandoah with a Venmo handle painted on the back window and instructions to “Venmo us to buy the b-day girl a drink.” According to a comment she posted later, the request raised $132.
Back to Top
Behind the Scenes of a Washington Post TikTok
On January 3, the Washington Post published a bombshell recording of President Trump pressuring Georgia’s Secretary of State—“I just want to find 11,780 votes”—as he sought a way to derail Joe Biden’s certification as President. The paper’s TikTok guru, Dave Jorgenson, turned the story into one of his buzziest clips. Here, he explains his inspiration:
On the Watergate idea:
“I think sometime in the last few weeks before this posted, someone in the comments of a particularly silly TikTok said something like, ‘This is the same organization that broke Watergate.’ I said, ‘Oh, there’s an idea.’ It’s not to say that this was a Watergate moment, but it felt similar in terms of just the immediacy and need to get the story out there.”
The Hollywood background:
“I think for the last 50 years, there’s just people who have this idea of what a newsroom looks like, and it looks like the background of All the President’s Men. I really wanted to sort of frame it as Yeah, we’re still doing this important investigative news, but poke fun at myself as well. I was eager to kind of make a comparison to 1970s Watergate news versus Washington Post TikTok in 2021.”
The Schoolhouse Rock image on the computer screen:
“I feel very strongly that what we’re doing with TikTok in the present day is very similar to Schoolhouse Rock. I love little Easter eggs when I can do them—I wanted to have a nod in the background.”
“I was trying to think about how do people—boomers, for instance—how would they talk to you about machinery and technology?”
“This was my goofy acknowledgment that TikTok is known for being this dancing app. It was a very easy joke to make: Here’s the headline, I’m going to dance to it, and I’m going to be dressed sort of similarly to a journalist in the ’70s, except that I’m going to be in my living room because it’s a pandemic in 2021.”
Back to Top
DC VIPs Winning at TikTok
Some creators become “TikTok famous.” Others enlist with a built-in audience. That doesn’t mean automatic success, though. Here are eight boldface names on the app.
Claudia Conway | @claudiamconway | 1.6M followers | 79M likes*
A teenager criticizing her mom doesn’t sound like obvious digital gold, but when you’re the daughter of former Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway and Never Trumper lawyer George Conway, the shaming and blaming is worth millions in views. In the Biden era, Claudia’s content is more typical lip-synching of trending audio.
*Total number of likes a creator has received for all videos posted
Jon Ossoff | @jon | 534.8K followers | 9.2M likes
The freshman senator from Georgia—the youngest member of the US Senate—is not a prolific poster, and his clips are pretty promo-y, but he racked up fans in the thick of his runoff against incumbent and Trump ally David Purdue.
José Andrés| @chefjoseandres | 206.6K followers | 1.3M likes
No acting here: The chef is every bit his gregarious, flamboyant self in his short recipe tutorials.
Jake Tapper | @jaketapper | 55.3K followers | 411.6K likes
“Hey, besties,” greets the CNN anchor at the start of almost every clip. His TikToks exude archetypal dad energy—think slide shows of dogs Winston and Clementine and a tour of his office poster collection.
Ilhan Omar | @ilhanmn | 165.6K followers | 577K likes
The congresswoman from Minnesota strikes a balance between business and fun, posting explainers about abolishing the filibuster alongside celebratory dances with her daughter.
Maisy Biden | @scoobeydoobey | 188.9K followers | 3.6M likes
The President’s Gen-Z granddaughter lip-synchs and dances with absurd abandon. Relatives make cameos—father Hunter, cousin Natalie—but the real draw is watching a member of the First Family present herself totally unfiltered.
Rui Hachimura | @rui_8mura | 174.2K followers | 917.2K likes
The Wizards forward, who was born in Japan, introduced his account with a video in Japanese. Subsequent clips show off the 23-year-old’s silly side (e.g., goofing off in the locker room) and tout his dunking skills on the court.
. . . and One Famous Look-Alike
Kevin Kramer | @iamkevinkramer | 15.6K followers | 406.7K likes
No, that’s not Max Scherzer—just a doppelgänger in Arlington posing as the former Nationals pitcher.
This article appears in the October 2021 issue of Washingtonian.