Generation Z is one of the most fascinating groups of people on the planet. They are fearless, they are funny, and they exist in a hivemind. Currently, the best place to find Gen Z in their natural habitat is on the app TikTok, one of the most popular short form video platforms. Many different memes have come and gone on this app, but the latest one is quite interesting: re-watching the Nickelodeon show Victorious — and within that meme lies a conversation about nostalgia, community, and the show’s ability to capture a generation’s attention at the right place, right time.
Victorious follows Tori Vega (Victoria Justice), who is offered a spot at a performing arts high school. She plays the straight man in a cast of kooky characters, all of whom are thrown into ridiculous situations in each episode. Fans will post theories with clips from the show, moments they found funny, their own commentaries, and even reenactments from the show.
When Victorious aired in 2010, it easily could have been just another Nickelodeon show like iCarly, generated to get preteen viewers. But the show premiered at a transitory time just between generations, so that Victorious very narrowly touched the tail end of millenials and the beginning of Gen Z. Categorically, it’s too recent for Gen Z-ers to say it shaped their childhood, but popular enough that there’s a good chance a person between the ages of 15 and 25 today will be familiar with it.
The thing is, Victorious is pretty much like all other live-action Nickelodeon shows of its era, and it has been off the air for six years. So why is it becoming such a meme? And why on TikTok?
3 big reasons Victorious is surging on TikTok
1. Ariana Grande
For some viewers, watching the show is like a trip down Nostalgia Lane, and getting to see a young Ariana Grande is just a part of that.
At only 26 years old, Grande is one of the biggest names in pop culture today. While many will forget that Grande actually got her start in the Jason Robert Brown Broadway hit 13 alongside Victorious co-star Elizabeth Gillies, Victorious is the earliest footage we have of Grande in a production. Given Grande’s massive fame today, it’s fascinating to get to see her character, Cat. The massive visual transformation, along with the cognitive dissonance of trying to connect Grande with her character, is a likely draw for viewers.
We, as a society, are fascinated by physical transformations, from “glow-ups” to botched surgery. There is a reason why Botched is on its sixth season and a hashtag for a transformation trends every few months on Twitter. Grande is no exception. Although, while she has “glowed-up,” she has also gotten much darker with time. Twitter specifically has made it a point to “expose” Grande’s change in skintone about once every year since 2016. Grande herself has not come out and said anything about this change, although she has stated that she is of Italian descent and has lived in both California and Florida. Regardless, because fans of the show are older now and more socially conscious, they are able to go back to the show and watch it with a more critical eye, re-engaging with both the show and cast members — and sharing their commentary on TikTok.
Grande has mentioned that she would be interested in reuniting with her cast to shoot a true finale for the show, and she even recently brought Elizabeth Gillies (Jade) and Matt Bennet (Robbie) onstage to perform with her at her Atlanta concert. Until that becomes a reality, Grande’s fans have Victorious. Cat was not a standout character on the show, but that does not mean that she was forgettable. Who could ever forget that outrageous firetruck red hair? Certainly Grande, since she has not tried that color again since.
Victorious’ virality on TikTok is one explanation for the show’s major resurgence of viewers. This is less because of the hivemind of Gen Zers and more because of the combination of nostalgia and ability to create memes. Some of the most poignant of these make fun of Justice’s own insecurities about not being the “best singer” of the group (despite that being her character’s whole role) and Grande’s visual transformation over the years. Other TikToks are fanfiction-esque, playing with the show’s transition format of posting status updates.
For almost all forms of media, memes are an accessible way to enter a fandom or community. Poking fun at the things we love can be both an intellectual exercise and a way to bond with others. Modern viewers of Victorious are well-aware that the show was over-the-top and somewhat ridiculous, so being able to make fun of those aspects allows people to bond because they are all watching the same “ridiculous” thing — and they are able to enjoy it more because those memes create a more interactive experience, allowing viewers to laugh with each other and create a sense of connectedness.
3. The accessibility of TikTok
The accessibility of TikTok as a readily-used platform by Gen Z-ers is what circulated Victorious memes in the first place. There are two reasons TikTokers may have taken to the show and created a meme out of simply rewatching it: the app’s algorithm and user demographics.
Algorithm: TikTok is able to take videos and suggest them to people based off of their likes, blowing up a video and turning it into a meme fairly quickly. TikTok first will recommend content to you that is geographically relevant, and then as you explore the app and like and follow more creators, then similar content will be shown to you on your “For You” page — TikTok’s version of an explore page. After a few people saw a video about Victorious, then tons of people in their networks were seeing videos about it. That pushed fans to rewatch it themselves, and making their own videos. Even among people who may not have been interested in the show during its initial run, watching the show is appealing because it feels like everyone else is watching it — or because they want to contribute their own memes.
Demographics: TikTok’s American user demographics also skew right into the age range of who would have been watching Victorious during its original run: the tail end of Millenials, right into the heart of Gen Z. Gen Z was among the first to adopt the app in the United States, so it comes as no surprise how quickly the trend of watching Victorious tore through TikTok. Additionally, with the removal of large swaths of programming by Disney for migration to their new money-suck, Disney+, Netflix has decided to add quite a number of new shows for November, including Nickelodeon shows like Sam and Cat, A Fairly Odd Summer, and Victorious. TikTok and Netflix contributed to a perfect storm that allowed members of Gen Z to easily re-engage with a show from their childhood and create a resurrected fandom for it, all housed within the confines of TikTok.
This perfect storm of circumstances could have happened to any other show. But in the context of this moment in pop culture, technology, and the ability to engage with the show’s characters and over-the-top plot lines, Victorious has re-captivated its original audience — and garnered new fans. Nostalgia is what calls us to re-engage with older media, but it is the creative power of short-form apps like TikTok that are able to make this re-engagement viral. Without TikTok, there would not be hundreds of thousands of memes about Victorious popping up both on the app and other forms of media. Ariana Grande may not have even brought her former co-stars to perform with her if the show was not garnering so much attention online. And without TikTok’s ability to turn a rewatch into a viral community experience, it’s unlikely Victorious would be having its second chance to “make it shine.”