For Variety’s Power of Young Hollywood issue, we interviewed TikTok stars about their lives in quarantine.
At 14, Jalaiah Harmon created the most viral dance the internet had ever seen. The only problem? Nobody knew she made it. After a profile in The New York Times, she finally got the credit she deserved. In an interview with Variety, Harmon (and her mom, Stefanie Harmon) discuss how her life has changed and what she’s planning to do next.
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What happened with Renegade?
Jalaiah: I made the dance one day and I asked this girl if she wanted to do it with me as a collab. Then I sent her my video and she recreated the video, but I found the song off of somebody else’s page. So after that, we both posted the video, made the caption. We posted it on Instagram and nowhere else–not TikTok, Dubsmash. It didn’t go viral after that. Then, I started seeing the dance on TikTok and I just saw people doing it without giving me any credit. I tried to comment under people’s posts saying it was me, but nobody would believe me because I wasn’t really that famous on TikTok. When Charli [D’Amelio] and everybody else started doing it, it became more viral and people started to know what the dance was, but they didn’t know who created it. Then the global head of content at Dubsmash reached out to me and asked me if I created the dance and I said yes. She said she had a journalist write an article about me and about the credit that I needed for the dance. Then Taylor [Lorenz] came to my house and she interviewed me for The New York Times. Then article came out and that’s how everybody started to know who made the dance.
Stefanie Harmon: They brought validity to her claim. When she’s like, “Mom, somebody from The New York Times wants to talk to me, I’m like, ‘What? How do you know this is legit?'” And I said, “Yeah, you can give her my number.”
How did you come up with the dance?
Jalaiah: I’m formally trained so I just found a song and I created moves to go with the beats and the words. I used to make dances all the time. I still do. So it was just normal for me. It was just another dance that I had created one day. But I didn’t know it was going to go viral.
How did you navigate the onslaught of publicity after your profile in The New York Times?
Jalaiah: I wasn’t really ready for it, but I had to get used to it. I was still learning because I didn’t consider myself famous, but all the opportunities started coming to me. People are recognizing me in public, even with the mask.
How did you explain everything going on to your mom?
Jalaiah: I told my mom that I created the dance when we were on vacation and a lot of people were doing it and it was going viral, but nobody knew it was me. She was just like, “Make another dance.” And I was like, “It’s not easy.” I don’t know if that one would go viral.
How did your friends react to Renegade?
Jalaiah: They were excited for me. They were happy that I got my credit. They were very supportive of me. But before that, they did try to get the word out by commenting on other people’s posts and making sure that they knew who it was. It wouldn’t work, but they tried.
Before all of this, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jalaiah: I wanted to be a professional dancer and now more opportunities are coming up for me. I get to dance at Dance 411 now.
Stefanie Harmon: Dance 411 is a very popular dance studio here in Atlanta. A lot of people, even celebrities, come to the studio to get choreography done. She started following dancers who went there and said, “I want to go there.” I was like, first of all, when we get off of work and school at 5 o’clock, I’m not driving all the way into the city. It was just a mom being a mom. Now I can’t see her not going there. So that was like one dream fulfilled that we could check off as a result of this.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Jalaiah: When I grow up, I do want to be a professional choreographer and own my own studio eventually. I think I would like to collab with Missy Elliott, like in one of her music videos.
What would you do if TikTok was banned?
Jalaiah: I would be kind of disappointed because I do have more followers on that than I do on my Instagram. I guess I could tell people to follow my Instagram. I know other people would probably be disappointed if TikTok gets banned because, you know, that’s what they do.
Stefanie Harmon: I mean, apparently it’s a lot easier to gain followers on TikTok than Instagram. You got to fight for it on Instagram. You really got to curate a page.
Jalaiah: Instagram is more professional to me. TikTok, you can do whatever you want.
Who is your biggest celebrity fan?
Jalaiah: Michelle Obama. She tweeted the NBA All-Stars video.
Stefanie Harmon: Her team also reached out maybe a couple months after for her book tour for Jalaiah to be part of that promo campaign. We’re just waiting patiently to see if she wants to hang out with the fam.
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