For the past nine weeks was Johnny Depp TikTok. And TikTok was Johnny Depp. Now, after just one post thanking him for his fandom, his new account has more than 12 million followers. If the injury lawsuit the actor brought against ex-wife Amber Heard turned Depp into a meme, then his appearance on the platform that drove him from Hollywood fame to social media influence is the inevitable endgame in a world where everything is content.
The characters the actor has played – especially Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow – have previously become memes due to their peculiarity, but the actor himself has now entered the world of his major characters. “Depp’s affiliation with TikTok is interesting because I’m not convinced it would have happened before the trial, or if that platform had not had such an impact on producing content and shaping meaning,” said Rebecca Williams, associate professor of media audiences. and participatory. culture at the University of South Wales.
What’s more, Depp’s first post on TikTok – a highlight where he performs and drives past his adoring fans at the conclusion of the trial, where a jury found Heard responsible for defamation for a 2018 Washington Post op-ed, in which she claimed to be a “public figure representing domestic abuse” (she did not name Depp) – is something of a thank you. “The appeal to fans’ sense of connection and recognition here is clear,” Williams said. That feeling was overwhelmed by TikTok’s algorithm, which increasingly pushed Depp content into feeds, creating a cycle that drew more people in and required even more content.
This is what Tom Divon, a researcher in social media, communication and culture at Hebrew University in Israel, calls “common paths to generational general memetic communication” – which translates to not wanting to feel outside of a water-cooling moment. In 2022, the easiest way to engage in a water-cooling moment is to create content… lots of content. Some videos superimposed what Heard and Depp’s inner thoughts were could have been during the trial while others compared each courtroom behavior to attribute guilt.
Since the trial began in mid-April, TikTok has become the 21st century version of Hof TV, and Depp has become a hero for his followers. Footage from the trial and reactions to its twists took over TikTok. At the end of April, videos with the hashtag #johnnydepp had 11.3 billion views and #justiceforjohnnydepp another 5.6 billion. Now it is closer to 34.1 billion and 20.4 billion. Hashtags have proven to be “extremely popular”, according to TikTok’s own hashtag analysis tool, with #johnnydepp trending for the last 71 days and #justiceforjohnnydepp for 58 days.
The popularity of the content created its own momentum, with users creating videos to nurture the almost insatiable interest in the experiment. There were supercuts of the key moments in testimonies collected by users who acted as talking heads about the progress of the trial, and conspiracy theories about whether Heard’s legal representative was a Depp fan, after appearing at a film premiere of Depp’s 2013 film, The Lone Ranger. One TikTok user even claimed, without evidenceto be one of the jurors discussing the case to take advantage of the attention.