The Sunday Read: ‘Why Do We Love TikTok Audio Memes? Call it Brainfeel’

“Nobody’s gonna know. They’re gonna know.”

If you’ve been on TikTok in the past year, you’re most likely familiar with these two sentences, first drolly uttered in a post by TikTok creator Chris Gleason in 2020. The post has become a hit and has been viewed more than 14 million times.

But the sound is more famous than the video.

When uploading a video to TikTok, the creator has the option to make that video’s audio a “sound” that other users can easily use in their own videos — lip-syncing to it, adding more noise on top of it or treating it like a soundtrack. Gleason’s sound has been used in at least 336,000 other videos, to humorous, dramatic and sometimes eerie effect.

The journalist Charlotte Shane delves into the world of repurposed sounds, exploring how TikTok and other apps have enabled, as she writes in her recent article for The Times, “cross-user riffing and engagement, like quote-tweeting for audio.” She also considers “what makes a sound compelling beyond musical qualities or linguistic meaning.”

While “brainfeel” may be an apt buzzword for the sensation audio memes elicit, Ms. Shane writes, it is more than a mere trend: We have entered the “era of the audio meme.”

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We want to hear from you. Tune in, and tell us what you think. Email us at [email protected]. Follow Michael Barbaro on Twitter: @mikiebarb. And if you’re interested in advertising with The Daily, write to us at [email protected].

Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Saskia Solomon, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.

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