Taylor Cassidy, like many teens, says she joined TikTok “just for fun.” She quickly found a larger purpose on the fast-growing short-form video platform: shining a spotlight on Black history and promoting messages of positivity and empowerment.
The creator, who turned 18 last month, started on TikTok in November 2019. Her first videos were typical adolescent fare: Her most viral video ever, from January 2020, is set up as a clip for followers to send to their secret crush — with Cassidy breaking the news. (It currently has more than 18 million views.)
Soon, however, Cassidy’s videos on TikTok “developed into me trying to do something about not seeing a lot of diverse voices on the platform,” she tells Variety. “On my ‘For You’ page [TikTok’s personalized video feed], I didn’t see a lot of creators of color.”
Today she has more than 2.1 million followers on TikTok — and counting — and has attracted an audience with her ongoing series “Fast Black History” and “Black Girl Magic Minute.” Now she’s looking to make a full-time career as a content creator and building out her business across various other verticals and formats, including a podcast on Black culture and history.
Cassidy, who recently signed with WME to develop new projects, also wants to expand longer-form content on her YouTube channel. To date, she’s made brand-sponsored videos with partners including Puma, Fruit Gushers and Metro by T-Mobile.
She attributes her rise on TikTok to the “passion I bring to the table for Black history. I’m not just talking at you, I’m talking to you like I’m your friend.” Cassidy sums up her creative philosophy by citing her TikTok bio: “Good energy, self love, and chaos✨.”
“All through my childhood, my mom and dad made it really important for us to know our Black history,” says Cassidy, who lives in the St. Louis area. On Fridays, the family would watch episodes of “Roots” together, and her mother “quizzed us on Black history in the car. I grew up with that as a staple.”
Her favorite “Fast Black History” video is about Mum Bet, the woman who was the first enslaved Black person in Massachusetts to secure her freedom by going to court. “I had so much doubt while creating the video because I was using a lot of different effects,” Cassidy says, including using a scarf to simulate blond hair. But it was a hit, with more than 2.4 million views. “People loved it. It makes me proud I posted it.”
After some of her videos went viral, Cassidy says she felt pressure “to keep going viral.” But she decided that, creatively, she wants to focus more on impact than popularity to keep herself on track. “I have to be able to love a video no matter how many views it gets. If I’m smiling by the end, I know it’s a good video,” she says. For each one, “I have to have a goal — it doesn’t have to be a big one, just something I can focus on and have a purpose for.”
Meanwhile, Cassidy was part of this month’s TokTok Trailblazers program celebrating Black creators and artists, and she was also recognized as one of TikTok’s top 10 Voices of Change: Most Impactful Voices for 2020.
And last December, she was surprised at the 2020 Streamy Awards by popular YouTube comedian Liza Koshy, who awarded her with a special Creator Honor — leaving her speechless and so proud that she’s pinned the link to the video in her TikTok bio. It turns out that earlier that day, Cassidy had said in an interview for her high school yearbook that Koshy was her No. 1 choice for a creator to do a collab with.
“Liza Koshy has been a big influence on me,” Cassidy says. Getting the award “was like a divine moment of confirmation.”
For now, Cassidy is balancing her blossoming creator career with finishing her senior year in high school. She’s already started scripting out episodes of the prospective podcast, centering on today’s Black movers-and-shakers who are making an impact in different fields. Her hope is to book her subjects as guests on the show.
“I have always loved podcasts,” she says, but she felt there’s a dearth of “shows about people of color who’ve made it in an industry.”
Last summer, Cassidy’s “Fast Black History” series took on new resonance after the murder of George Floyd ignited racial-justice protests across the nation.
“I think Americans had an opportunity to come face to face with racism that has been there all along,” Cassidy says. “During that time, I was face to face with the question of: What am I going to do about this?” In response, she created several videos including one explaining the difference between “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter”; another looking at the history of police brutality in the U.S.; and a video about “light skin privilege.”
“It’s always scary to share a personal truth,” Cassidy says. “For a lot of Black people, experiencing racism is a normal thing… I wanted to use my platform to be a home for people to have a better understanding of these issues.”
Cassidy is managed by UNCMMN’s Stephanie Piza and Desiree Ansari with legal representation by Ashley Silver, partner at Brecheen, Feldman, Breimer, Silver & Thompson.