How autotuned confessional TikToks became therapy for Gen-Z

Oversharing isn’t new. Oversharing in a fifteen second video through the medium of a catchy autotuned ballad? Sign me up.

by Roisin Lanigan
13 January 2020, 11:39am

Let’s be honest, we are at this point resigned to the fact that innovation on the internet happens not in a sinister Silicon Valley basement or in the wasteland that is our unused Facebook news feeds. It happens on TikTok, the last good place in the lawless world that is online.

The most recent gift TikTok has given us -- along with covens of witches, VSCO girls, e-girls and boys and every good meme you’ve seen in the past year -- is a new genre of music. A wave of videos from creators have emerged where the star sings an autotuned, extremely personal tale told to camera. While the impromptu ballads can discuss anything from humiliating school stories to break-ups and awkward social interactions, a small subsection of app users are using the format to share their coming out stories.

Nick Lehman, a writer, actor and comedian, based in LA, saw his own autotuned coming out story go viral on Twitter last month. “I naturally never know how to stop talking, so when I’m alone I just sort of throw the camera on and see what happens,” he explains. “I was lucky enough to come out to a very accepting family at a young age, saw the autotune trend on TikTok about job fails, and thought I’d put my own little twist on it. Really crossing my fingers for a Grammy nomination next year.”

Nick, who is a self-confessed “oversharer”, says he didn’t think twice about posting the video to the masses, despite its specific and personal nature. And now, he says, he’s glad he did. Since the video went viral Nick has received hundreds of messages from people explaining how the clip helped them, with some even saying that they’re now more comfortable and ready to come out to their own parents. “That’s the best possible thing that can come out of sharing any content, I think,” he says. “If my autotune coming out story can help someone come to terms with their own sexuality or make them laugh about something they are afraid of doing themselves, then I’m happy to make one any day. I just wish I could have actually

done it in autotune back when I came out to my parents.”

Cyberpsychologist Mary Aiken says that, despite the bad wrap it gets from boomers, online oversharing in this way can actually be constructive if it leads to a greater dialogue around stressful, embarrassing or poignant life events. “Studies show that young people are reluctant to seek professional help for depression and other mental health issues, additionally many prefer to access online support systems rather than get face-to-face help,” Dr Aiken explains.

“Platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter allow users to share their experiences, share their feelings, and share their lives through videos or photos, these media also provide a platform for celebrities/influencers -- who often share intimate or embarrassing details of their life including issues regarding their mental health. Last year Ariana Grande used Instagram to reveal that her depression and anxiety were at an ‘all-time high.’ So what’s the motivation for the public expression of intimate mental health information? The trend is almost like crowdsourcing, but instead of financial help, it’s for emotional support.”

It makes sense, too, that these videos are going viral on TikTok, a platform which has already become something of a safe space for many young queer people. “For me, I would describe it as kind of like the new Tumblr”, 19-year-old Erika Benner told i-D last year. “I used to go on Tumblr to make friends in the LGBT community, but I find it easier to find them on TikTok now. Everyone is accepting and open, too.”

Like Tumblr, TikTok has become a home to young queer kids seeking an online community, but also a new brand of absurdist humour. At that uber-specific intersection live videos like Nick’s. “The autotune confession trend is absolutely hilarious,” he concludes. “I think people love them ‘cause the stories are so painful, and the combination of that with the T-Pain style of singing makes it so cringeworthy and funny. I think I’d like my eulogy read in autotune at my funeral. Maybe I’ll make one in advance and have someone play it over the aux cord at my service.”

Aw, very moving.

mental health