In Autumn 2019, Stella Wunder and Carol Tchiakpe, both 19, met in a Facebook group for NYU’s incoming freshmen class. Two drama majors with a mutual obsession with the Met Gala, the aspiring actors immediately hit it off. “The beginning of May, every year, we were both the type to be on our phones at our respective high schools, checking to see what everyone was wearing,” Tchiakpe told Refinery29. They became fast friends, and eventually decided to move in together mid-pandemic. When last year's April came around, and Page Six and Vogue announced that the gala would be pushed back from its typical first-Monday-in-May date to September timed to the Costume Institute's dual exhibitions — “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” and “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” — Wunder and Tchiakpe, intrigued by the theme, came up with a way to get in on the action.
“When we heard that the Met Gala was officially being scheduled, we were both like, Who’s going to be there? What are they doing to wear? Who’s going to flop?” said Tchiakpe. They began jotting down their thoughts on a notepad before quickly realising just how many opinions they both had. So, they took to their apartment wall, colour-coordinating Post-its in three different sections — American commentary, people who pay homage to an American designer, and those who missed the mark — with predictions for every supposed attendee’s outfit scribbled on them in permanent marker. Then, they documented it all on TikTok.
On May 5 2021, Wunder posted a video to her TikTok account, @lungtimes, titled “Met Gala predictions part 1.” In it, the two roommates narrowed down their laundry list of questions to three big ones: who will be there, what they will wear, and how it will be received. Overnight, the video went viral.
“I thought maybe a couple thousand people would watch and I’d be like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so cool,’” says Tchiakpe. “And then suddenly the next morning, Stella was like, ‘It's fully hit like a million views.’ And I was like, ‘Come again?’”
Four months later, that number more than doubled, with two million views and more than 565,000 likes. In the wake of their viral video, Tchiakpe and Wunder posted the remaining three parts of their initial prediction, made the wall into a shareable spreadsheet, and even considered a podcast. Wunder posts regular one-off predictions about particularly buzzy celebrities like Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, and Zendaya, the least successful of which still got more than 20,000 views. She’s often asked questions only Anna Wintour, the chairwoman of the Gala, could possibly answer — from info about the guest list to what said guests will be wearing — but her 51,500 followers don’t know that. To them, Wunder is an expert — one that’s using her personal opinions and knowledge of the gala, accumulated through years of fandom, to introduce millions to the “Oscars of Fashion.”
But TikTok, a share-everything type of platform, couldn’t be more different from the uber-exclusive nature of the Met Gala. At the annual fashion benefit, phones are not allowed (though some enterprising guests have snuck them in and taken now-legendary photos that show more rule-breaking). Hell, until this year, Vogue had never live streamed the event in an effort to keep every aspect of the evening under lock and key.
Still, social media has long been a place of discourse for all things pertaining to the Costume Institute. In 2015, despite the Institute putting in place a social media ban for those inside of the event, the hashtag #MetGala garnered over 1.5 million tweets on Twitter over the course of May 4, the day of that year’s China: Through the Looking Glass gala, a controversial theme about Orientalism and cultural appropriation that engendered some heated online discourse. There, people shared their opinions on celebrities’ interpretations of the theme in real time, in some ways eclipsing the event itself. The Met Gala also has its own peanut gallery on Instagram, as red carpet images are often shared by both fashion publications and stylists just minutes after a look is debuted, which are commented on and regrammed. The most popular Met moments among Instagram’s one billion users are often ones for the record books. See: Beyoncé in Givenchy in 2016, Ariana Grande in custom Vera Wang in 2018, and Cardi B in Thom Browne in 2019. Twitter took back the Met Gala from Instagramin 2020, when High Fashion Twitter Met Gala, a virtual red carpet held on the platform, exploded on the scene during the pandemic.
“TikTok is going to change the world of media by granting access and reach to [talent] that wouldn't normally have gotten it.”
But TikTok’s algorithm and content style are different from any other social media platform we’ve seen before. The Met Gala’s hush-hush and rule-bound structure could use some of TikTok’s levity, and its ability to make anyone an overnight sensation could prove to supercharge the event’s fame-making and trend-setting powers.
“TikTok is going to change the world of media by granting access and reach to [talent] that wouldn't normally have gotten it,” Wunder says. For example, if the Met Gala was able to make or break a young designer before it was introduced to TikTok’s 100 million-plus monthly active users in the U.S., think about what it can do now that it has an all-powerful algorithm behind it, which can turn any small business into a crown jewel with just one video. The same goes for wardrobe and hair stylists, makeup artists, and even first-time attendees. If the two million people who watched Wunder and Tchiakpe’s Met Gala predictions were to rally behind a certain look from the night, it could reach viral Rihanna-at-Heavenly-Bodies status many times over, giving all those who played a part in the look on a digital pedestal.
Since we already know that Gen Z enjoys an underdog mission, especially when it comes to fashion, it’s likely that Met Gala fans on TikTok will root for looks that aren’t heavily publicised elsewhere, giving opportunities to those among the new guard at the event. And for the first time, TikTokers will have a platform to amplify their opinions in a way that could potentially be even more popular than the PR-filtered messages put out by the fashion establishment. Not only does this create an entirely new kind of Met Gala experience, it also democratises the event, which is famously elitist and exclusive.
No, the 74-year-old benefit isn’t going to be overrun by TikTokers, nor will iPhones suddenly be allowed to vlog every detail of what happens inside. But the Met Gala in the age of TikTok is different, if only because it’s opened itself up to millions of new, young, and opinionated people, all of whom can get in on the action simply by posting their thoughts regarding the star-studded event, speaking about it in the same off-the-cuff way so many do on TikTok, in one 15-second video. It worked for two 19-year-old drama students who’ve been fangirling over the Met Gala since high school. What’s to say it won’t for you, too? (Just don’t forget to hashtag #MetGala).