When a fresh crop of young stars began building audiences on TikTok in late 2019 and early 2020, many were hopeful that this time would be different. They’d grown up watching YouTubers speak frankly about these issues. “When it comes to Gen Z creators, we talk so much about mental health and caring for yourself,” said Courtney Nwokedi, 23, a YouTube star in Los Angeles. “We’ve seen a bunch of creators talk about burnout in the past.”
Still, they weren’t prepared for the draining work of building, maintaining and monetizing an audience during a pandemic. “It’s exhausting,” said Jose Damas, 22, a TikTok creator in Los Angeles. “It feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
“TikTok is just as demanding as YouTube,” said Gohar Khan, 22, a TikTok creator in Seymour, Conn.
Thanks to the app’s algorithmically generated “For You” page, TikTok delivers fame faster than any other platform; it’s possible to amass millions of followers within a matter of weeks. But as quickly as creators rise, they can fall.
“It almost feels like I’m getting a taste of celebrity, but it’s never consistent and as soon as you get it, it’s gone and you’re constantly trying to get it back,” said Lauren Stasyna, 22, a TikTok creator in Toronto. “It feels like I’m trying to capture this prize, but I don’t know what the prize even is.”
The volatility can be rattling. “When your views are down, it affects your financial stability and puts your career at risk,” said Luis Capecchi, a 23-year-old TikTok creator in Los Angeles. “It’s like getting demoted at a job with no warning.”
Creators have encountered all kinds of problems, including bullying, harassment and discrimination. “Some creators get their content stolen too, so someone else will go viral off their content then they get all the press,” Mr. Harris said. Not to mention, fan communities and internet commentators can be vicious. “You can’t just film what you want to film,” Mr. Harris said. “They’ll make fun of you if your views drop.”