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Expand chart
Data: comScore; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The Chinese karaoke app called TikTok that usually involves people dancing to their favorite songs is gaining traction in the U.S. — and popular apps that also rely on user-generated video are taking notice.

Why it matters: Mainstream social media apps have grown so big that users are flocking to a less crowded and commercialized place, where they can focus on creating silly and fun original videos, without worrying about the stress that comes with widely sharing them on massive networks.

Yes, but: Isn't that what Snapchat is for? Isn't that what Vine was? Don't people use Instagram stories for that? As The Atlantic's Taylor Lorenz explains in her definitive piece on the subject, no.

  • "The category most people on the broader internet use to describe TikTok is 'cringe': It’s so painful and embarrassing that a viewer can’t help but laugh." It's also meant to focus more on lip-syncing, which sets it apart.

Between the lines: You may have heard of Musical.ly, a lip-sync app that had gained lots of traction in the U.S., even partnering with big-time media firms to produce shows.

  • Last year, Musical.ly was sold to a privately-held Chinese internet technology company called Bytedance. Bytedance merged its Chinese version of the app (TikTok or Douyin as it's referred to in China) with its U.S. version (Musical.ly) in August.

By the numbers: While traffic to TikTok in the U.S. is still relatively small, its footprint has more than doubled in the past year, according to comScore.

  • It's currently ranked in the top five U.S. apps in the Google Play and iOS apps stores, per AppAnnie.
  • Worldwide, TikTok, is a massive phenomenon. In total, Apptopia estimates that TikTok has more 130 million monthly active users, with most in China.

The bigger picture: One truism of social media is that there's always a next new thing, and it’s key for the big giants to own it or clone it.

  • To no surprise, Facebook recently quietly launched its own TikTok competitor called Lasso.
  • Still, it's unclear whether this species of app is truly the future of social media or a novelty that will die out.

The bottom line: As Apptopia notes, TikTok has a chance, albeit through acquisition, to be the most successful social app in the United States owned and operated by an Asian company.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

House cancels Thursday session as FBI, Homeland Security warn of threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says extremists have discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

3 hours ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).