TikTok goes a bit overboard when it comes to categorizing every last aesthetic into its own microtrend. You notice it when Spotify Wrapped mentions your music taste leprechaunor when you oddly find yourself at a charity gala in San Francisco and a tech executive asks you if he should be concerned that his teenage daughter is obsessed with cottagecore (yes, this happened to me). Take any noun, add the ‘core’ suffix and you’re good to go.
There is no more natural endpoint to this phenomenon than “corecore,” a meta-aesthetic of “niecethat uses nihilistic video clips to create something so absurd and meaningless that it somehow comes back and makes you feel something. It taps into our impulse to mask all our emotions in twelve layers of irony, but gets so serious in the process that it might not be ironic after all.
Have a look at maybe the most popular corecore video, garnering 2.2 million likes. It starts with a clip from a salary transparency account, where people ask strangers what they do and how much money they make. A kid says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up, and when the host asks him how much he wants to earn, he says, “I’m going to make people feel good.” Then you are immediately exposed to fast-cycling clips: a timelapse of a busy street; a screaming man; elderly people playing slot machines in a casino; a TikToker talking about a chicken living in the metaverse; and people running out of a garage in crisis.
Some corecore videos look like they are from one stressed documentary that tells us obvious truths about how social media makes us lonely; others make little sense not at all. But most of these videos are linked by a general malaise — a worry that life has no meaning and that technology is alienating us from each other. Within corecore, we see clips of robots at CES talking about how people are afraid of them, demos of new VR headsets, and clips of Elon Musk appearing on Joe Rogan’s podcast. This lack of confidence in corporate technological innovation is the exact opposite of the ubiquitous “day a life like a technical employeetrend, which is shockingly not top-down commercial propaganda psyop (…or is it).
Corecore has been trending on TikTok since late 2020, but the techno-futurism doom vibes feel especially appropriate now as we watch Microsoft, Google, Meta, Amazon, and Salesforce conduct mass layoffs within weeks. These niche token posters probably aren’t responding to the state of tech employment, but to something bigger that encompasses it: how we’re all subject to the whims of a few billionaire techies who might just decide to buy Twitter or make “metaverse” a word normal people think of. And of course there’s the added layer of irony that corecore is also part of that ecosystem – that people create TikTok accounts dedicated to making their own corecore compilations, promising things like “face reveal” once they reach 10,000 followers, using an anti-capitalist, solitary aesthetic to gain social capital.
Corecore isn’t the first meme of its kind. At any point in internet culture, there is usually some sort of absurdist meme circulating, be it corecore, fried memes, weird facebook, bad animated videosor the iterations On loss.jpg. That’s because it’s very normal, almost cliché at this point, to make nonsensical art in response to a world that seems to make no sense. As anyone who’s taken an introductory art history course knows, this is how Dadaist artists responded to the tragedies of World War I – and now it’s how contemporary meme makers are responding to the horrifying realization that we’re all addicted to scrolling through short videos. And that’s how the weirdest internet’s greatest minds will respond again, the next time the world feels a little too dystopian.
Ultimately, the only thing that really makes sense about corecore is the fact that it exists.