What is ‘Dreamcore’ and why is it all over TikTok?

A guide to the unsettling new TikTok aesthetic.

by Rachel Finn
13 June 2021, 4:52pm

TikTok profiles @jgretznerd, @unttochable and @...youaredreaming

Spend some time looking through the #dreamcore hashtag on TikTok and you might start to get the uneasy sense that you’ve seen some of the visuals before. That’s because you have… or at least, something like them, a long time ago, in some weird memory you can’t quite place. 

Welcome to dreamcore, an aesthetic that’s made its way from the corners of the internet to TikTok. Videos using the hashtag have been watched over 400 million times, with similar offshoots such as #dreamcoreaesthetic, #dreamcorecreepy and #feverdreamcore having view counts in the millions as well. But what exactly is it?

What is Dreamcore?

Dreamcore is basically an aesthetic revolving around weird imagery and objects that often tap into nostalgia or things you may have seen in childhood. But, rather than being cute or comforting, the point is to create a sense of unease, and the aesthetic often makes use of surrealism and slowed down music that give the videos an eerie feel. 

The whole thing feels a bit like a strange dream that suddenly turns into a nightmare, with pastel colours and lurid brightness shifting unexpectedly into moments of suspense and horror. One video posted by @unttochable describes dreamcore as an “aesthetic that can cause a panic attack”, creating anxiety by meshing together various images that seem to link to a feeling or memory you can’t quite place.

Trigger warnings are common and if you spend too long in Dreamcore TikTok (DreamTok?) you start to feel a bit weird, like when you’ve just woken up from a dream and it takes a few seconds to realise everything you just experienced wasn’t real.

One of the biggest creators in the space is @jgretznerd, whose trippy videos have received over seven million likes. Their videos usually follow a surreal narrative where everything is familiar but at the same time, it isn’t - which is really the whole point of dreamcore.

One of their most popular videos takes you on a trip aboard the ‘Dream Train’, a train to nowhere where you have “pink clouds and waterfall trees” for scenery and the other passengers are, for some bizarre reason, out to steal your eyeballs.

Other common themes include empty or abandoned places you might have once felt an attachment to (playgrounds or shopping malls, for example) or sketches inspired by awkward encounters you might have had a long time ago (like feeling uncomfortable during a conversation with other students at school).

According to the aesthetic’s Urban Dictionary page, dreamcore is intended to create a unsettling mix of “warmth, nostalgia, loneliness, comfort, or greyness” and “a large part of this aesthetic is based around Liminal Spaces, and the unnerving feelings that come with them”.

One explanation for the dreamcore aesthetic is that it’s a way for people to explore their complicated feelings towards their childhoods and growing up, using the rules-free world of dreaming to create an uneasy form of nostalgia. Another is that the aesthetic taps into the Y2k style revival, using imagery from the 00s to explore a world you kind of feel like you might have visited sometime, a long time ago.

Whatever the explanation, you probably don’t want to get too deep in Dreamcore TikTok late at night or when you’re already feeling anxious… unless your goal is to creep yourself out.

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