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Millions are watching the next generation of queer stories on TikTok

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Infamous Delinquent has captured the hearts of millions

Angelknives13

When 18-year-old Kim Fernandez first uploaded a video of herself acting out a scene in after-school detention, she had no idea nearly three million people would watch the clip. As an acting student, Kim was using TikTok as an outlet to flex skills that she couldn’t use in class. It was all for fun — but now, that TikTok has blown up into something resembling a teenage soap opera.

In that initial installment, Kim speaks to the camera with a sly, confident smile. In TikTok parlance, it’s a “point of view” video that treats the viewer as another character in the story — in this case, the audience happens to be a nerd who wouldn’t typically be caught dead in detention. Kim, meanwhile, plays the infamous delinquent who can’t believe they’re both suffering the same punishment.

“What is princess doing in detention?” Kim asks. “Wait, wait, wait, let me guess. You got a tardy while getting all of your teachers coffee to kiss their asses as per usual, correct?”

Kim was hoping that people would take that footage and make use of TikTok’s “duet” feature, which allows users to put two videos side by side. The best duets are arranged to seem like they’re coordinated with one another, even if users never directly speak to each other. Sure enough, about 50 other people started playing the character opposite Kim’s in the video. But about four episodes into the POV series, a red-haired girl resembling Mackenzie Davis in Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” threw her hat into the ring. That’s when everything changed.

It was Allison Ponthier, a 23-year-old musical pop artist from Texas. Allison had seen Kim’s series, loved it, and decided to go even further than TikTok’s features would allow. So, she downloaded another app that let her add her own sounds, and took extra care in adding in the right lighting and props to match the scene. People loved it — the duets have racked up views on both TikTok and Twitter.

“When I saw her first duet, I literally freaked out,” Kim told Polygon via email.

“Usually when people duet my video they say the most reasonable and basic thing that would make connections to what I say next,” she continued. “I feel like Allison took it a step further, she scripted her own dialogue in such a way that I feel really enriched and added to the narrative.”

Of course, it helped that Allison looked perfect for the part, too. The series follows the pair as they try and fail to go on dates, make each other jealous, and go up against bullies. It’s all very high-school-slice-of-life, but the chemistry between the two is undeniable. More than that, the series feels authentic precisely because it’s not flashy or big budget. While I stopped watching the car crash that is Riverdale ages ago, Infamous Delinquent has been able to maintain my attention with its bite-sized bursts of teenage woe. It’s television for the post-Vine age.

“Maybe it was the outfit I wore that day, I did feel pretty rebellious in it,” Kim remarks. “I think it really was just birthed by years and years and years of watching romantic heterosexual media ALL THE TIME. I was just tired of seeing these boring heterosexual romances and I wanted something I could relate to, so I made Infamous Delinquent, the epitome of the bad boy/good girl trope ... but GAY.”

Now that the series has a legion of fans, the development has changed. Allison says that the two now outline what’s going to happen next, though they won’t necessarily share what the specific dialogue will be.

“We both add in special things the other one doesn’t know about until it’s made,” Allison says. “Timing everything is sometimes tricky, but so worth it when you get the right take.” Both women estimate that they spend hours getting getting each slice ready for the larger episode.

As the two aren’t recording together, nailing it sometimes requires a special set-up. Allison says she puts her phone on a tripod, and puts Kim’s video on an iPad that plays while she films, so she knows where the scene is at. She has to hide wires from the camera, and coordinate with the iPad as it runs.

“I can’t see Kim at all, so it’s really hard to do things in sync because I’m just looking at my own face and hearing her voice in my ear,” she says.

As the two stars tell it, Infamous Delinquent is something that could only exist on TikTok. Beyond the unique duet feature, TikTok also makes it easy for anybody to gain visibility.

“Unlike Instagram, it’s not oversaturated with creators and sponsored content,” Allison says. “Also, the ‘for you’ page is unlike the Instagram explore page, it doesn’t only favor the big creators, everyone has a chance to get their videos seen.”

“Having the screen split like that and us being in two different locations isn’t weird on TikTok,” Kim says. “That’s just how it goes and everyone there is used to it. The format definitely wouldn’t ride well on other platforms, I feel like it just would be written off as unprofessional, sadly.”

The point of view format is also key to the appeal of the series — it’s like an evolution of fan fiction, Kim says, where the audience is just as important as the content itself.

“It makes people feel like they’re a part of something,” Kim says. “It definitely whisks you away from reality because it directed right at you, the viewer.”

Even so, TikTok can sometimes be limiting depending on the stories you want to tell. Recently, Kim has been frustrated to see that a new series she developed where she pretends to be a sidekick to an evil got taken down for violating community guidelines. While she’s unsure of the reason, she hypothesizes it’s because the storyline mentions killing a fake superhero.

“I don’t want to have to alter or change my story to fit their guidelines, but I know I’m on their territory and I have to respect that,” Kim says. “I already have to make changes to my new series that I don’t like. I feel like I’m writing a kid’s show.” Meanwhile, TikToks that explicitly mention things like sex or masturbation are allowed to stay up on the platform.

Despite these storytelling constraints, Infamous Delinquent is still going strong.

“I’m shocked that literally millions of people have seen these videos we make in our bedrooms,” Allison says.

“Often times when girls are trying to figure out their sexuality, they’re subjected to watching media that is either tragic and never has a happy ending (the gay gets shot and dies) or it’s hypersexualized,” Kim says. “People have been messaging me talking about how they wish they had something like this when they were younger.”