How TikTok is Making Magic Cool Again

While magicians couldn’t make YouTube work for them, newer snappy video apps are enthralling a new generation

Sarah Manavis
Jul 25, 2019 · 5 min read

Magic: it’s the bane of corporate events, the plague of your cousin’s wedding, and a cringe-inducing staple of rich people’s house parties, and perhaps the most painful thing to witness when it goes wrong.

Close-up magicians are oft-mocked members of the wider magic-performing industry, the D-listers compared to the likes of Derren Brown, David Blaine, and other “illusionists” considered impressive for their coup de grace mind tricks and physical feats.

However, on one platform, close-up magicians are rehabilitating their reputation. Dare we say it, they’re even… cool? On TikTok, close-up magicians pull off coin, card, and “things disappearing under a silk cloth” tricks and are some of the app’s most popular creators.

Magicians have long-tried to make a go of social media stardom, but for the most part, have failed to succeed. YouTube is a graveyard of magicians’ attempts at a popular channel, chock full of RnB-backed showreels, painfully lukewarm responses from participants, and obvious tricks pulling fewer than a hundred views. The vast majority of popular magic videos are simply tutorials for how to do tricks at home — or videos uploaded in order to mock them, so cringe that they become a meme.

The meme-tastic Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.

Most video applications have given either too little or too long to creators to make a convincing video; Vine too short to do a magic trick that looks legit without editing, and YouTube better suited to minutes-long videos that give magicians too large a window to perform a snappy, effective trick.

But thanks to TikTok’s 60 second video limit, and more typical uploads lasting closer to 15 seconds, magicians have found the perfect medium to execute their sleight of hand tricks — without having to rely on editing and without being given too much time to let the viewer lose interest.

Photo: Henryk Niestrój/Pixabay, edited by Chris Stokel-Walker

This has resulted in magicians followings larger than many major metropolitan cities. @JoelMagician (392K followers, 6.1m likes), @MagicofY (415K followers, 5.6m likes), @WianMagic (1.2m followers, 10.9m likes), and Luca Gallone (3.4m followers, 62.8m likes) are the David Copperfield or Siegfried and Roys of TikTok.

And bar Gallone, who already had a strong Instagram following before joining TikTok, none of them have cracked six-figure follower counts on any other platform.

This is a phenomenon driven solely by the world’s most talked-about app.

Amardeep Singh Dhanjal, better known as “Magic Singh”, is one of the most successful TikTok magicians. With 1.8 million followers, Singh’s videos rarely get less than 20,000 likes, and regularly hit hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of views. He’s earned brand sponsorship for magic-themed products and has attained celebrity endorsements; as high-profile as the being sole entertainment for a dinner party hosted by Perrie from Little Mix.

While not as popular as Luca Gallone, Singh didn’t have the enormous following Gallone had before joining TikTok. He spent more than 10 years on YouTube toiling in relative obscurity. But after just 18 months on the platform, Singh says that TikTok is driving people to his business — converting TikTok users into well-paying clients.

Singh’s rise to TikTok fame was surprisingly straightforward, simply leaning into the TikTok trend of making videos set to popular music uploaded to the the app. This style of video — TikTok’s bread and butter — is, crucially, algorithm-friendly. “I began making magic videos relating them to the lyrics of the tracks,” Singh tells me. “Six months in, I was hitting large numbers of views and followers.”

He now regularly ties his tricks to topical hashtags and meme trends going viral on TikTok — getting himself promoted algorithmically to a user’s “For You” homepage. Through this, he draws in hundreds of viewers commenting under every video and a loyal following that will only help elevate him for paid magic gigs.

Singh’s TikTok success could be considered a masterstroke — except he had to be coaxed onto the platform by TikTok representatives. “As part of TikTok’s localization strategy, our community management team is always on the lookout for talented and creative people to give them a stage to grow and reach a wider and diversified audience,” a TikTok spokesperson tells me.

“Our community enjoys creating and sharing video content that is real and spontaneous and one of their favorite categories is entertainment, particularly comedy, magic and sports.”

But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and authenticity isn’t just an issue for YouTube’s creators.

Skepticism is rife in the close-up magic TikTok subculture. Underneath nearly every one of Singh’s videos, commenters argue that each trick is faked using canny camera work or editing. Some wiseacres argue over which particular editing trick was used to achieve the video’s effect. The most common complaint is about “the pause” — the moment in a video when you can tell that another clip has been less-than-seamlessly edited in to make it look like a single-take magic trick.

“They are basically a trick shot, a well-played illusion, or just good camera angles,” 19-year-old Asif argues. He is a fan of Magic Singh and watches magic videos on TikTok everyday. Although he thinks some of the tricks he sees on the app are faked, he’s still happy to watch them, simply because he loves the surprise each TikTok magic trick brings.

“Knowing that these are fake or well-rehearsed acts doesn’t keep me from watching more videos of them,” he explains. “You feel magical when you see it.”

Zac, 16, from Halifax, is also a TikTok magic fan, and tells me that his skepticism is relative to the video he is watching. “I think most are actual magic tricks,” he says, “It would depend on the magician. At the end of the day, though, it is the creator’s choice how they do their tricks.”

Despite the controversy around the authenticity of their tricks, TikTok magicians feel like they’re here to stay — and like Singh, actively engage with the skeptics in the comments section. The hashtag #magic has over 7.2 billion views at the time of writing, and #magictrick and #magicchallenge cumulatively draw in over 650 million.

Real or not, we want to believe. “Sure, these videos are not one-take and may be edited for the final version,” Asif tells me at the end of our conversation, “But, regardless of whether or not it is, it’s still a genius illusion.”

FFWD

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