Jacob Sartorius, age 15, spends more time than most teenagers staring into his phone’s selfie camera. He uses the app Musical.ly to record himself mouthing the words to songs — drawing hearts with his hands and “smizing” — and shares the video with his 18.9 million followers.
Musical.ly is the social-media platform of choice for Generation Z. The app launched in 2014 and has racked up an impressive 215 million users — or “musers,” as they’re known. Teens post 15-second clips of themselves lip-syncing, dancing to popular music, and pulling stunts.
More than 150 million people, mostly teens, have registered for the service, and its growth has caused others to take note.
On Thursday, Chinese social-media giant Toutiao announced it had purchased Musical.ly in a deal valued up to $A1.3 billion, according to TechCrunch.
I talked with a handful of middle schoolers for Musical.ly tips and entered the mysterious world of teen tech to see what the buzz is about. Here are the basics.
These are often the coolest, most-liked videos of the day. The Featured feed is also a good place to find inspiration.
Users, or 'musers,' include the hashtag #featureme in their posts to help their chances of being discovered by the app's curators.
A majority of teens I talked to said they prefer the Follow tab to Featured. Here, they can easily see what content comes from their friends, as opposed to strangers on the internet.
Being at least 10 years older than most musers, I don't have many friends on the app, so I mostly followed mainstream celebrities like Selena Gomez, Jason Derulo, and Ariana Grande.
The 15-year-olds joined Musical.ly in December 2015, and their videos have surged in popularity and production quality, thanks to professional-grade lighting, their synchronised dances, and matching outfits from the girls' own clothing line.
Though a majority of videos feature lip-syncing, you're really only limited by your imagination.
Every Musical.ly video displays the muser's username, a caption, and the name of the song and artist.
The caption is often packed with hashtags. Just as hashtags trend on Twitter, challenges go viral on Musical.ly. Users upload videos of themselves performing a task, like dabbing for the #DabChallenge and include the appropriate hashtag.
You can tap the hashtag to see more.
Hearts are the 'likes' of Musical.ly. This video has 195 hearts so far.
Comments allow users to leave messages on others' videos.
And if you like what you see, you can click profile to watch more content by the user.
Users write a little bio and upload a photo to complete their profile.
The crown next to Lauren Godwin's photo indicates that she is a top performer on the app.
Fans can subscribe to notifications to receive an alarm whenever their favourite users post a new video.
Don't be intimidated.
All the kids are doing it.
If you want to create a compilation video of your footage from a family vacation, your best bet is to upload videos from your phone's library.
Since I was prepared to shoot and publish in a one-two punch, I opted to 'pick music' and record, rather than use my phone's native camera app to shoot the clip.
Songs are sorted by artist, genre, and theme, such as hip-hop, comedy, movie dialogue, and chart-toppers. Each clip lasts about 15 to 30 seconds.
The advantage to using music from your own library is that you can pick the exact 15-second excerpt you'd like to dub. If you pick from Musical.ly's library, you're limited to the excerpt they make available.
You can tap the song to see other musers' renditions of the classic country hit.
I was surprised to find some Shania Twain fans on the app who are closer to my age.
'OK, so you're a rocket scientist.'
'That don't impress me much.'
Using the scroll to trim music feature (the icon looks like a pair of scissors), I could sample the song at different starting points.
Most users hit reverse camera to use the selfie-facing lens. I did the same.
If you prefer to step back and show both hands in the frame, you can press timer and the camera will start capturing video five seconds later.
In a dark room? Hit flash.
There are filters galore. Musical.ly's 'lenses,' much like filters on Snapchat, let you change your facial features, from the size of your eyes, mouth, and nose, to your lip colour.
Musical.ly's filter library has the usual suspects, too. The app uses artificial intelligence to turn musers into a deer, a Coachella goddess, a twin, a rockstar, and more.
Ultimately, I opted for a simple pink lip colour with no additional filters.
To record, hold down the pink button with the camera icon.
Most teens I spoke with said that, rather than rehearse in the mirror, they will just shoot the video over and over until they get it right. Practice makes perfect.
It took me about three takes performing 'That Don't Impress Me Much' before I was satisfied.
Like Instagram, Musical.ly provides postproduction-editing tools to help your video look its best.
Filters alter the colour, contrast, and saturation of your videos to create a certain mood.
You can drop stickers anywhere in the frame, resize, and rotate. I searched for emoticons that matched the lyrics of the song and went ham on stickers.
Don't forget to write a caption. Including popular hashtags can help you earn hearts.
Once you click to post, Musical.ly prompts you to share the video with your friends on other social-networking apps.
Teens told me they often share their videos to Instagram to get more eyes on their content. I did the same.
Unfortunately, your caption and the credit given to the artist don't automatically transfer to Instagram.
Musical.ly displays this message reminding users to credit the song and artist in their Instagram posts. Hopefully they will roll out a better solution soon.