The #heather hashtag has over 1 billion views on TikTok (and no, it has nothing to do with the 1988 cult classic film, Heathers). The “Heather” trend stems from the titular track by Gen Z icon Conan Gray where he muses over a seemingly perfect girl. (Can you guess her name?) The trend comes on the heels of the “Main Character” trend where people romanticized themselves as the protagonist in a film starring themselves. And during a tumultuous election season with a pandemic in full-swing, you can’t fault a younger generation rushing to escapism and dreams of perfection with songs like “Heather.”
But the song by Conan Grey isn’t what is trending on TikTok — instead, what is trending is commenting on posts calling others a “Heather.” Considered a high-level compliment on the app, to be a “Heather” is to have this effortless attraction to people. Heather energy (or vibes) doesn’t subscribe to one set of looks or even gender, despite the song’s muse. The trend has moved beyond the literal meaning of the song lyrics as Gen Z attaches themselves to what it means to be Heather in a universal adolescent struggle of wanting to stand out from the crowd.
Unlike other trends in TikTok where songs like WAP and Savage are turned into replicable dance challenges, Heather goes against the grain on what a trending song can be on TikTok.
Heather resonates with Gen Z in a way other songs and trends haven’t in the past because unlike their reliance on a dance or challenge, Heather created its own movement through intertextual humor — laughing at a joke because you understood the reference from another “text,” or in this case, song lyric. It is the crux of Gen Z humor; young people don’t joke in isolation. We often find ourselves laughing at a joke that references a meme from 2018 that morphed from a Vine in 2013; it’s the ultimate #iykyk. In other words, it’s the internet’s inside joke.
While the Heather trend is based on this idea of an exceptional (and perhaps unattainable) girl, its connection to a whole generation created a bigger phenomenon: community. Understanding the intertextuality means you’re in on an internet-wide inside joke, and understanding references feels good. You’re a part of something. You may not be a Heather, but you understand what a Heather means. And maybe that’s enough.
While the Heather trend was in no way a purposeful marketing tactic, it did blow up Conan Gray’s song without ever playing the track itself. The unconventional trend caught the attraction of Gen Zers on the app to look into the track, which now has over 49 million views on Youtube. For clients venturing into TikTok, trends like Heather reinforce that the app is much more than “song + dance challenge = viral.” Go beyond the typical formula if you want to reach Gen Z.
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z.