There’s a novel trend sweeping across TikTok known as “Corecore,” a sarcastic play on the suffix “-core” that web users tack onto a variety of different nouns in reference to niche aesthetics and micro-trends like bimbocore, glitchcore, and normcore. But as some users on the platform have pointed out, Corecore bears a striking resemblance to the century-old artistic movement known as Dada. Tiktok user @aamirazh and several other art history aficionados have highlighted how both operate through the “artist’s act of choice” to attribute meaning to the meaningless.
Remember when “cottagecore” had its moment and we all wanted to grow gardens, make bread (see: sourdough starter trend), and bounce on top of mushroom caps in the forest in response to our exhaustion with late-stage capitalism and overreaching technological reliance? Well, “Corecore” is stripped of the escapism elements that made “cottagecore” take off, confronting viewers with an onslaught of media tidbits stitched together and overlaid with melancholy orchestral (or piano) compositions and pseudo-deep talking points that waver between encouraging defeat and sparking a revolution.
If you scroll through #corecore videos on TikTok, there’s an overarching element of “We Live In a Society” that permeates through the content in the form of clip arrangement. The more I try to explain it, the more I feel like I’m standing in front of a crime investigation bulletin board connecting related elements with red string, so just have a look for yourself:
Corecore TikToks layer or flicker between clips from viral videos of people admitting loneliness or depression, nihilistic dialogue scenes from popular films or TV shows, deep-fried memes, and other staples of “chronically online” web culture in a curated supercut that hits the nail on the head in terms of our collective feeling of hopelessness and anxiety as we hurtle through continuously “unprecedented times.”
Something that I can appreciate about Corecore is its distinct ability to pinpoint both highly nostalgic and anxiety-inducing moments across a large audience through an evolved use of what I would consider its predecessor, “Weirdcore.” According to the Aesthetics Wiki page, Weirdcore is a “Surrealist aesthetic centered around amateur or low-quality photography and/or visual images that have been constructed or edited to convey feelings of confusion, disorientation, dread, alienation, and nostalgia or anemoia.” Weirdcore primarily resides on the depersonalization and trauma sides of Tumblr, but appreciation for the aesthetic has been renewed on Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok as well.
Corecore utilizes the moving image and capitalizes on the infinite capacity of TikTok’s algorithmic curation to evoke similar feelings of existential dread from those who come across it. You’ll see flashes of viral ASMR content, fast fashion hauls, dating or weight loss advice, influencer drama, and other TikTok trends throughout Corecore videos as a form of metacommentary on how the app itself is a large contributor to the generalized anxiety and addictive overstimulation we’re experiencing in the digital age.
Corecore’s repeated attempts to convey widespread doom and gloom with the state of the human condition do harken back to the dawn of Dadaism. Dadaism was born in Zürich, Switzerland, out of disillusionment with society near the end of World War I. In 1916, German writer Hugo Ball sought refuge in Zürich as the war claimed tens of millions of lives and shared his horror with the world by performing a nonsense poem at the Cabaret Voltaire. Ball wanted to shock everyone who believed that “all this civilized carnage as a triumph of European intelligence,” and thus, the anti-war anti-bourgeoisie absurdist movement of Dada was born. (Though we should also acknowledge that Ball has recently come under scrutiny for his flagrant antisemitism.)
Despite its origins as an “anti-art” movement, Dadaism spread like a wildfire and opened the floodgates for both originality and reappropriation of existing content through untraditional means.
It’s not lost on me that Dada and Corecore have the same sound, either. Apparently, the name “Dada” was coined after the word was found in a dictionary — it’s a term for “rocking horse” in French, and translates to “yes, yes” in Romanian and Russian. And like Dada’s anti-war stance, Corecore props up anti-technofuturism and anti-capitalism by recontextualizing random content to present a new message or meaning altogether.
One Corecore TikToker he spoke to, Dean Erfani, simply defined the aesthetic as “essentially the abstract concept of taking random videos and editing them together to the point that it makes sense to the viewer. Or at least have the viewer interpret it in their own way.” Some Corecore videos actually fixate on specific issues such as the cosmetic procedure frenzy, the loneliness to incel pipeline, rapid climate change, and gross class inequities.
To me, Corecore’s “aesthetic” reads as an art school freshman’s first found-footage project in Adobe Premiere Pro (no, I’m not projecting) presented with the societal dread induced from doom-scrolling on one’s phone at 2am after one too many bong rips on a weeknight (again, not projecting …). But at the very least, it’s an evidence-based manner of expressing one’s frustrations with the world that seems to strike a chord with a large number of TikTok users. In its own way, Corecore is Gen Z’s means of “shocking” sense into the people around them.
Whether or not it inspires change is debatable, but I think the following screenshot from a Corecore TikTok comment section pretty much sums it up: