From terrifying clowns to makeup “tutorials” to the sound of a screeching pterodactyl, TikTok is an agent of chaos in the world of beauty. Though beauty has emerged as a popular category on TikTok, the app’s unique Gen-Z culture has spawned its own set of wildly popular beauty memes that combine comedy, satire and downright madness in a way that’s causing brands to rethink their social media strategies.

The “Where’s my Juul” challenge, for example, features teens doing makeup to the song of the same name and then morphing into a disorienting horror-clown look while a strobe light flashes. The challenge has attracted over 471,000 people to make videos for the song. Gen-Z makeup artist Abby Roberts and TikTok star Avani hold the top spots for numbers of likes, receiving 3 million and 5 million, respectively. 

Beauty memes on TikTok tend to poke fun at established rigid beauty standards for women. The audio of YouTuber-turned-actress Jahkara Smith’s viral contouring videos, including “Contouring 101,” has given rise to a popular meme on TikTok: Over 20,000 users have posted videos of themselves doing over-the-top contouring with her voiceover. The videos feature feminist satire of the pressure of perfection to attract men, in which Smith states absurd things like, “If the men find out we can shape-shift, they’re going to tell the church,” and “Men love pterodactyls,” followed by a pterodactyl screech sound. Among the participants mimicking the video is Too Faced’s global beauty director Elyse Reneau, who has received over 27,000 likes on her version. (It skips the pterodactyl line that others use.) 

Brands and content creators need to be wary of the uncharted waters of copyright when it comes to TikTok, as the original creators of some of the memes are not happy with them being used without attribution. Smith, for example, created her original contour video on YouTube in 2017 and does not receive credit in the top videos featuring her monologue. She released a statement in January 2020 stating, “Absolutely no one on TikTok or any other platform has my permission to strip this video for any audio or visual purposes.” YouTube videos are copyrighted to the owner, and TikTok allows users to report copyright infringement to have copyrighted audio taken down. 

For brands, the different tone on TikTok prompts a need to rethink their messaging, especially when just a year ago the social media landscape called for Instagram-perfect images. Most brands’ TikTok content takes advantage of the tamer memes on the app, such as dance challenges or more standard beauty tutorials. But some independent brands are embracing raw or comedic content. Huda Beauty, for example, recently participated in the “cursed pics” meme, in which people post their most unflattering photos. Gen Z-oriented Starface is known for pushing the envelope with the memes it creates, such as its participation in the controversial “mug shot” challenge.

“We are a lot more unfiltered and a lot more fun on TikTok than we probably are on Instagram,” said Bianca Bolouri, vice president of global marketing and digital at Lime Crime. “We do things that are more out-of-the-box, like putting makeup on your ear,” referring to an “ear makeup” tutorial the brand did.

Comedy is especially important for TikTok content, and brands have been embracing the absurd. Fenty Beauty featured a post with TikTok star Adam Ray playing his viral alter-ego Rosa in a visit to the brand’s influencer house. His character is known for her out-of-control contour and upside-down fake lashes, but he has also done more serious beauty tutorials with influencers like James Charles.

“I do want to be a mixture of both comedy and serious beauty, because I actually do enjoy makeup. But the majority of my career is comedy,” said Ray.

During the Covid-19 outbreak, TikTok has taken off partially due to the fact that users are seeking out humorous content. 

“We do prioritize TikTok more, for sure, because we also know that consumers in general have been navigating more toward TikTok since the pandemic hit,” said Bolouri. She said the brand’s approach to TikTok is to “be fun and lighthearted and shed a little bit of light” during this stressful time.