Words by Frankie Huang
When I first downloaded TikTok and started scrolling, my Millennial brain could hardly keep up. The videos are short, bombastic, and heavily referential of well-established tropes and jokes that I knew nothing about. I was Alice in TikTokland, dazed, overstimulated, and utterly lost.
Fast forward to now: I can’t go a few hours without hopping onto the app for a little break from the work-from-home monotony. At this point, the algorithm has been trained to serve up content I like best, which includes clumsy kitties, llama shearing, pimple popping, and cooking ASMR. But more than a diverting distraction, TikTok has also become a place of learning, where I listen to indigenous activists share hidden histories, watch an Indian mother make her daughter’s favorite breakfast, and learn how to take selfies with the confidence of a rock star.
Here are 10 of my favorite Asian diaspora TikTok creators whose creativity and wit infuse my For You Page with joy.
Sae is a model who makes videos about plus-size body issues, beauty, fashion, and shopping. She observes the incredibly flawed world we live in with a keen eye, and shows you how to navigate it with unapologetic confidence, humor, and sass. When I watch her videos, I am reminded to be generous with myself, because nobody is entitled to tell me how to look or how to act. From clapping back at body-shamers with flair to quick lessons on self-seduction, Sae’s videos are mini masterclasses in self-love.
On paper, the premise of the skits that garnered Rahul Rai over 4 million followers seems sus: scenes between a couple acted out by the same guy, where he does the girlfriend’s parts by donning a bathrobe and wrapping a towel around his hair. But somehow, Rahul manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of misogynistic humor we’ve come to expect from a straight male comedian telling jokes about women. Rather than playing the woman as emotionally unstable or shrewdish, Rahul lovingly celebrates the female gaze and the playful affection between lovers.
Multilingualism is quite common amongst Asian diaspora folks, and we all have our own pet theories about how it works. But if you’re like me, and sometimes wonder exactly what’s going on in our heads, or how our different languages interact and shape the way we think and speak, Sarah Phillips account is for you. A doctoral candidate at NYU, Sarah is a mixed-race Korean American studying neuro/psycholinguistics, and regularly posts facts-filled videos that explain quirks about language and identity, sometimes answering questions I didn’t even know I needed answered.
I haven’t flown on a plane since February 2020, and everything about pre-pandemic air travel feels like memories from a previous life. When I watch former flight attendant and comedian Jeenie Weenie’s hilarious skits and explainers about what goes on 33,000 feet in the air, it serves as both escapism and nostalgic reveries. I don’t think I’ve ever had a flight attendant quite like Jeenie though, whose expressive face switches seamlessly from bright and bubbly to professional mask belying internal screaming. One thing is for sure though, flight attendants have seen it all and they’ve got stories.
Do you want to look fierce as hell in photos, and do you want to feel as fierce as you look in said photos? If your answer is yes, then you should probably start following David Suh, an LA-based photographer whose account is filled with helpful tips on looking and feeling amazing, delivered with humor and aplomb. The magical thing about David’s account is the constant presence of his goofy sense of humor, making his content both wildly cool and super relatable. No matter what kind of new antics he’s up to, he always reminds you to never take anything so seriously that you aren’t being yourself.
I didn’t used to like stand-up comedy that much, most famous comedians told jokes that were understandable, but not very relatable. These days, I’m delighted to find more and more immigrant stand-up comedians whose sets zero in on the numerous hilarities and absurdities about the whole experience. Zain Sharif, an Indian American comedian based in Atlanta, posts clips from his performances that touch on topics such as bilingualism, racial microaggressions, and very importantly, does not rely heavily on making fun of his parents as the foundation of his jokes.
Sometimes my craving for food content feels indistinguishable from food cravings itself, but I’m not always in the mood for the frantically edited cooking videos that “whoosh” you through three hours’ worth of prepping and cooking in 30 seconds, nor am I in the mood for watching a dead-eyed hottie microwave rice and wash vegetables. Bettina Makalintal’s quiet little lo-fi food corner is often where I end up turning to for the calming sound of ripping bread and sizzling mushrooms, paired with effortlessly elegant plating displayed under natural light. I love looking to her spontaneous creations for inspiration to bring together the random ingredients in my fridge into something beautiful and yummy.
It feels like Youngmi Mayer needs no introduction, the cotton candy-haired comedian and podcaster’s iconic look and razor wit makes her one of the most memorable personalities I’ve encountered on the platform. Her videos cover a wide gamut of topics, ranging from ADHD to motherhood, and from mixed race identity to the modern dating scene. Somehow she manages to have a fresh take on everything, and I’m always interested in hearing what she has to say about things, hoping to glean some of her badness cool. Living in this fucked up world, I want to laugh at it at fearlessly as Youngmi.
I didn’t grow up in a sex-positive environment, so after I grew up I’ve always been interested in filling in many knowledge gaps left by my parents and my education. Life could have been so much different if I was a teenager today, and can follow someone like Anna Lee on TikTok. Anna is the co-founder and engineer behind Lioness, a sexual wellness company that makes a smart vibrator that tracks orgasm data. I have learned so much about the physiology of sexual pleasure from watching Anna’s TikTok videos, where she cheerfully breaks down data visualization and parses formerly taboo topics like they’re no big deal.
Every once in a while, I see someone complain about recipe blogs dedicating too much space to emotions and personal stories, and not getting to the point about how to cook. To me, the stories of tradition, love, and serendipity only serve to enrich my experience with new recipes, showing me ways to create my own stories. I love seeing Monica Singh’s videos show up on my For You Page, because I know she’s about to show me another tasty home-cooked dish her daughter loves. Knowing her recipes are tweaked for the taste of a special person reminds me of how home cooking can trump any Michelin-starred restaurant in the way it can cater to a single person’s taste rather than be universally pleasing.
Published on February 11, 2022