2023|Year in Review: Algorithms, Instagram and all that jazz

The things that made 2023 click for a social media buff

The queen who started the #lookingjustlikeaWOW trend on Instagram, Jasmeen Kaur @designmachinesuitslive (screengrab from Instagram page)
The queen who started the #lookingjustlikeaWOW trend on Instagram, Jasmeen Kaur @designmachinesuitslive (screengrab from Instagram page)

Ishani Chatterji

"I got it! Two spots!” was the text I sent to my friend, with multiple exclamations and emojis to express my excitement.

Nope, these weren’t tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour or reservations at a fancy ramen place; these were spots at a Bollywood dance workshop that my friend and I had been trying—in vain—to attend for over a month now. Despite our early-bird efforts, all available spots would invariably be snapped up in a matter of minutes.

Now, here we were, with at least 30 other individuals in the Dum Dum choreography class. A mixed bag of teenagers, young adults and 30-somethings, mostly women, all of whom (barring us) seemed to have nailed the routine after just two tries, and were now busy trying to hold their phones at just the right angle—to record a behind-the-scenes version of the soon-to-be-uploaded dance reel.

Was I planning to jump on to this trend too?

A little context might help.

I plead guilty of being a 30-something millennial with a smartphone. This year, my daily average screen time for Instagram has been 2 hours and 49 minutes.

An article on Forbes Advisor titled ‘Top Social Media Statistics and Trends of 2023’ noted that Indians, on average, spend about 141.6 minutes on social media daily. Perhaps it’s the fact that I spent so much more time than the average that first alerted me to Harsh Kumar.

My Instagram feed was filled with snippets of people dancing to ‘Dum dum mast hain...’, a song from the 2010 Bollywood film Band Baaja Baaraat, choreographed by Kumar.

It was summer and he was taking the country by storm, teaching his routine on an all-India tour of the #dumdumchallenge. While the dance clocked just over a minute, the steps were taught in two-hour classes held in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune...

Kumar’s classes felt more like mini Bollywood parties, which I knew even before attending because there was such a hullabaloo about it on Instagram.

There were reels and reels and more reels of dancers, creators, celebrities and regular folk dancing their hearts out, in groups, alone, on streets, on terraces and even at weddings. It was all over the Internet—a little cult of dancers that Kumar had managed to create nationwide.

He wasn’t the only one though.

In 2023, if your Instagram algorithm had spotted even a single dance reel by an Indian artist on your feed, you would get flooded with many more.

After Harsh Kumar’s challenge, there came the ‘Laung Wave’.

Shehzaan Khan, another brilliant dancer and social media artist, created a routine on ‘Laung da lashkara...’, a forgotten Bollywood tune from the 2011 Bollywood film Patiala House.

His dance reel with Janhavi Motwani went viral sometime in June, a little after ‘Dum dum...’ had died down. The same artists, dancers and people were now participating in a new wave and my algorithm was going wild.

After multiple tries, I managed to secure a spot in Shehzaan’s class. This was at the fag end of his India tour, which meant that I had seen so many videos of so many people doing the same routine that I began to wonder—did I need to go for the class at all?

I did go. And there we were, a tribe of cookie cutters, wearing similar outfits, identical hairstyles and almost identical expressions. The idea of ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ had suddenly turned into ‘dance to make sure everyone is watching, liking, sharing and subscribing’.

If this trend passed you by, I am pretty sure you spotted another that was picked up by practically everyone—brands, creators and everyday Instagrammers.

#AccidentallyWesAnderson, a 2017 trend that resurfaced this year, was more about visual aesthetics like symmetry, long tracking shots and pastel- coloured palettes that turned into cells about neighbourhoods, art exhibitions and a whole lot of people pretending to be in their own Wes Anderson movie.

A bunch of brands picked this up too, but nothing memorable came of it.

Wondering why, I spoke to Shruti Maheshwari, a strategy lead at Brandmovers India, an independent creative agency based in Mumbai. “Reel trends are an engaging hook,” she said, “but if everything is just a copy-paste situation for brands and creators alike, it’s a wasted effort with very little viewership.

"With respect to the Wes Anderson trend, the only brand that stood out was Air Baltic.

"The desi musical mashup was a winner too.

"You could see that these weren’t half-hearted attempts. If you can’t do anything different with a reel trend, don’t do it all”.

I asked Maheshwari about algorithms, to which her response was, “Algorithms mimicking each other is an Instagram reality today.

"In a lot of cases, it’s both a bane and a boon that your feed is showing the same stuff. If I interact with seven friends on Instagram, what they consume starts making its way to my feed.

"So, while I had probably only been seeing a certain kind of content (say book finds), because I interact with friends of varying interests, I also sometimes get content like ‘How to build a green lifestyle—from clothes to your kitchen to composting’. So, it’s an interesting bouquet of things you won’t consume otherwise, which means in some small capacity, it does open up your brain to new things.”

It seems 2024 will see Gen Z overtaking us on social media.

Meta’s Instagram Trend Talk, which came out in early December 2023, stated that ‘Gen Z in India has shifted gears, from prioritising careers to being super on point with meme preferences, and exploring a variety of food flavours. They’re totally leading the trend game, as per our 2024 Instagram Trend Talk insights’.

Remember that line from Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get?”

I’d replace ‘life’ with ‘social media’.

With trends, algorithms and each and every one of us wanting to be seen, it can be pretty unexpected. And while people like me would love to stick to things we truly love, social media is creating a whole other world of individuals who do it for the love of being ‘liked’.

2023 was a colourful scroll of dances, Barbiecore, GRWM (get ready with me) from skincare lovers and fashionistas, and more. Who knows what 2024 holds?

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