Yung Lean. Andrew Tate talking about men being lonely. A meme that says “YOU ARE SO BALD.” Images of cartoon wolves gazing plaintively in the dusky sky. These snatches of media have little in common at first glance. But they’re smushed together in this 15-second TikTok, fading away and flashing into and flying across each other in a mishmash of stimuli. It’s hypnotic and inane. The video is tagged “#corecore”—a riff on the suffix -core, which people have used and abused ad nauseam to coin a torrent of music microgenres and aesthetics over the decades.
I find corecore interesting not because the edits are stylish or audiovisually innovative. They’re so simple—anyone with a spare 30 minutes and even the most basic editing software (Windows Movie Maker booted up from 1873) could craft a “corecore” video. What intrigues me is precisely the emptiness of the scene. The hashtag has racked up 30 million views in the few months that it’s been a TikTok phenomenon. But unlike most previously popular -cores—think cottagecore, normcore, breakcore—corecore has no mission statement, no how-to video, not even a basic description of style. There are no tweets on it, no compilations, no Discord channels where corecore heads congregate; Google offers nothing, and there’s not even a KnowYourMeme post. It’s practically a specter, a trend-hallucination that appears on your ForYou page then vanishes (sometimes literally—my favorite corecore account, “wes1upp,” mysteriously deleted their page this month along with all their videos. There is no archive. RIP).
The rise of corecore makes me think about trend exhaustion, how people are losing faith in fad forecasting and glossy media trendpieces. Whether intentionally or by accident, corecore is an anti-trend: it doesn’t ask anything of you; it’s simply a montage of random vibes. Yet there is still a kind of haphazard communal aspect to it, with dozens of viewers leaving comments about how they love corecore, how they relate to these videos like nothing else. So what the hell is this thing that’s not even a subculture, nor a fully-fledged aesthetic, but is still in some way a community?
When Dean Erfani started making corecore videos, he didn’t even know what it was. “I started using it as a tag,” he told me. “I just thought it would be interesting to compile random videos that have no intrinsic meaning, and turn it into something that makes people feel.” The 18-year-old Californian has amassed over 50,000 followers chopping up “random clips that seemingly appear meaningless, but edited together have one underlying philosophical message,” he said. His videos are a particularly introspective breed of corecore, pairing film frames and surreal gifs with bittersweet songs like Grouper’s “Poison Tree” and Dandelion Hands’ “How To Never Stop Feeling Sad.”
For the most part, corecore edits are intense. They fit within the amorphous frame of what’s sometimes called “chaos edits,” or short rapidfire montages. They feel like a direct descendant or sibling-genre of 21st Century Humor—sometimes called Interdimensional Memes—which involve similarly chaotic edits but less pleasing audiovisual stimuli, like pictures of Dwayne Johnson, fart sounds, and explosions. If there’s any skill or quintessence to corecore, it’s the curatorial component: choosing sound effects, images, and music that combine to create a wonderful or silly or soothing atmosphere. The best corecore videos typically use internet-loved rap—Drain Gang, Izaya Tiji, Carti—and a smattering of zesty visuals, like cute cats bugging out, sped-up dancing, and cartoons. Or they’re fancam-style gems like this clip mourning Queen Elizabeth II with Ecco2k music.
I can’t remember how I found #corecore edits to begin with. I never typed or searched for it, so it seems likely the TikTok algorithm registered the way I probably spend a decent amount of time on associated tags—like #bladee, #axxturel, #weirdcore whatever—and decided to give me it. I didn’t realize that I was watching “corecore” until I started checking the tags and comments, which have started to fill up with people saying “I love corecore” and “What is this type of video?” In a sense, corecore is a completely algorithmically-generated craze that boils down to an amorphous intangible “vibe,” a free-floating aesthetic with no roots outside TikTok. It’s a silo that only people who spend time looking at videos with certain hashtags will get sorted into, like a secret rec hall for meme-montage enjoyers who listen to Grouper and Drain Gang. There are no geographic borders, and the subgenre isn’t limited to English-speakers—one of my favorite creators, babulehov, is a 20-year-old from Belarus named Ignat. He stuffs his videos with adorable cats (“I fucking love cats,” he told me) and eclectic music from Alex G to Yabujin. Corecore videos are kind of like meme-poems, transcending the limits of text with audiovisual mosaics.
These types of “chaos edits” have an eternal appeal on TikTok, which is often overloaded with basic shit—one-camera clips of someone talking to you for two minutes, or a fit check, or a pristine, airbrushed video of dance moves practiced to perfection. Corecore and its hectic ilk have an alluring scrappiness that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to selfishly grasp your attention or cut through the noise like a polished crypto ad. The lo-fi mayhem calls back to an earlier time where YouTube poops and montage parodies were ascendant, even though both of those were often more creative video editing styles. But the medium is key to growth. YTP and MPs evolved creatively into legitimate artforms because the platforms they flourished on (YouTube and partly Reddit) provided the structural functions for creators to talk about each other’s work and form a genuine community. It makes sense that “corecore” probably has no lifespan as an editing style and no real epicenter because TikTok is a black hole of content with an opaque interface.
At the heart of it is a yearning for relatedness—a desire to connect with people across the endless void of hyper-decentralized media, this ether of a zillion and counting microtrends. “There’s a mutual understanding here that i really can’t describe,” a commenter writes on a corecore video. “But i think you get it.” Meanwhile, everything on-screen is delirious and doofy: a clip of trash bags; plastic legs hanging from a ceiling in front of an Old Navy; a Travis Bickle quote; a Piero Picconi soundtrack. What does the video creator “get”? “There is not yet language to describe how relatable this is,” another person comments. But there’s really not much to this video—it’s a jumble of recognizable signifiers and a poignant tune. The way people react to these videos is almost like they’re talking to a therapist, or thanking a close friend for consoling them in a moment of struggle. You get it. U saved my life. Real. Corecore my beloved. No but literally you get it. There’s a dab of irony, maybe, but more often these viewers seem genuinely enthused. “idk why but im obsessed with your page,” one user says. “it brings comfort as i watch more and more.” It’s like visual ASMR for people who feel inexplicable solace when they see liminal space photos and worship the man who perfected the “Out the way” dance.
Ironically, #corecore has seemingly spawned its own offspring. #NicheTok—another meta subculture name, riffing on #BookTok and the sundry -Toks—is somehow even less coherent than corecore. I’ve come across videos featuring Family Guy, Inbetweeners and Peep Show clips; distorted Valorant gameplay footage and stretched videos of soccer players walking aggressively; songs by Rx Papi and The Smiths. These videos look straightforward—probably edited on the simple CapCut, they progress like shitty giga-fried PowerPoint presentations. The videos are pathetic but radiant, at once aesthetically abhorrent and eerily comforting. #NicheTok fans are even more patriotic than corecore fans—I’ve seen multiple comments bragging about how the former is better than the latter, imagining a rivalry between the two.
These sorts of “infant aesthetics” are proliferating madly as creators try to carve out space for themselves in a fractured digital landscape. Earlier this year, I wrote about the surge of bite-sized music microgenres; that impulse has since warped into hyperdrive. Now there’s “hyper r&b,” “depression drill,” “swexcore”; a TikTok promo account claims they coined four separate genres—lo-fi UK drill, chill UK drill, grimey drill, and “UK cloud grime.” The latest purported genre on TikTok is something called “offski.” Even more abound on SoundCloud: operplugg, yepware, pluggdrill, hydrapunk, hypnagrunge. There’s an uncanniness to the way this phenomenon of the self-designating-subculture has grown at the same time as it feels like there haven’t been many radical shifts in popular music recently. It’s like there’s a desire for New Things but it’s expressed through an impenetrable irony about the hopelessness of there ever actually being another New Thing and the futility of even trying to start one. So it comes out as this parodic sort of genre-clickbait—a vestigial trace of that lust for newness.
Still, “corecore” wasn’t coined with the look-at-me fervor of artists ordaining their own sounds. It reflects this attitude toward giving names to things that maybe aren’t all that new or substantial enough to be considered a real subculture, but it doesn’t feel that deep. The creators aren’t branding themselves as making the newest, freshest video edit style because corecore is inherently insular and small, a partitioned zone with no real chance of mainstream penetration. They’re just having fun. At the most basic level, this micro- and nanogenre-izing is like the nicknaming and in-joking that happens among friends in everyday life, refracted through digital interfaces and the viral slot machine that lifts certain people to a million eyeballs. Humans want to create, they want to be seen, they want things in common. Corecore just provides a tickle of community; a quick heart-flutter of relation. It feels good to watch this video, enjoy it, and open the comments and see a stream of Reals.
Erfani described the subgenre’s unspoken manifesto succinctly 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.” It’s arguably transcendental, the way these videos stitch cultural detritus and weirdo media into 15-second wonder-blasts. An oasis of unthinking vibes amid the hellscape of dreary stimuli.