Annemarie Rose is bent over a sheet of glass, hair is tucked into a messy half ponytail, following the outline of a heart in the glossy surface. She breaks it apart, sanding the edges and etching a simple message on the smooth surface: spit in my mouth. “Something warm for Valentine’s Day,” reads the description on her TikTok video.
Commentators go wild, a chorus of longing fills the section. “WHERE CAN I BUY”, writes one eager viewer, gripping their caps lock. Another helpfully adds a backstory: “I NEED THIS because I was blocked for telling my crush to spit in my mouth and pull my hair so sadly.” Back in the real world, a stunned Annemarie watches as the numbers skyrocket on her video. refresh. 100 new followers. refresh. 500 more. By the end of June, the video had been viewed around 954,000 times, and her account has jumped from a few hundred followers to over 10,000.
For Annemarie, virality meant more than just views and comments. She had a surge of interest in her job when potential clients started queuing up. In one day, she said 2,000 people had joined her mailing list, a number her subscriptions had never reached in total. “The effect of that one video was really powerful for my business,” she said. When she opened up pre-orders for mirrors, including the cheeky “spit in my mouth” version, she said they sold out in 18 minutes (a fact I can personally confirm after failing to buy one) .
Her success from that one video is the result of a combination of things: the timing of a heart mirror collection coming up on Valentine’s Day, and the half-joke, half-kink humor that permeates TikTok. But the platform is also important. TikTok is “a great place for artists,” she said, more than platforms like Instagram or Twitter. “You can really get a lot of eyes on your work,” she said, pointing to the platform algorithm’s uncanny ability to provide users with hyper-specific content tailored to their interests.
“There’s never been such an exciting time to be an artist,” she said. “There are no more gatekeepers to prevent you from entering the art world. All you have to do is make art, say you’re an artist, and put it online.”
If you want to go viral, TikTok is the best choice right now. The constant stream of trending sounds, remixable jokes, and the opportunity to land on someone’s “for you” page puts it above platforms like Twitter. There, real virality inevitably leads to, at best, degeneration of your original message, or worse, becoming the dreaded main character from Twitter. For artists like Annemarie, platforms like Instagram are also in a constant state of free fall. “Instagram is very miserable for small artists,” she said. Over time, she’s noticed her analytics decline drastically as Instagram pushes pay-by-post visibility. “Every time there’s a new Instagram update, it actually gets worse.”
Annemarie began selling her work at farmers’ markets, but soon discovered that it is a difficult audience for art. People are there to buy freshly baked bread and fruit above supermarket quality, not mirrors to hide from your mother. “I don’t sell all my products in a marketplace like I do online,” she says. “When I drop an online collection, I sell more than 60 mirrors in five minutes.”
A “spit in my mouth” mirror is perfect bait for TikTok, where taboo trends are discussed as openly as blue diamonds showing a new dance. Creators are intrepid, discussing everything from mental health issues to their interest in shibari and daddy kinks. It’s an exploration as a joke. In a popular trend, a girl exclaims, “I would never let a guy spit in my mouth. I don’t know why you all keep saying ‘oh spit in my mouth, spit in my mouth,’ that’s damn nas-” before the audio stops with a few pictures who would actually have them spit in their mouths.” There’s also a lot of talk about the question ‘How do you express your needs to a partner?’ But then also make funny skits about it,” says Annemarie.
The video platform allows her to reach a wider audience in different states or countries, and a thriving online business allows her to work from home – a major factor due to the chronic pain and migraines she suffers from. “I kind of have a balance between work and pain,” she says. She describes her migraines as debilitating, so intense she can’t even get out of bed. “By working as a self-employed person, I have the flexibility to take time off,” she explains. “I like to work late into the evening; optimal working time for myself is from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m..”
Despite the popularity of her work online, Annemarie says it’s difficult for her to define success within the parameters of cash flow alone. She makes personal contact with other artists at markets. But online, her products sell out in minutes — especially the “spit in my mouth” mirror. “It is by far my best seller. It has been for every collection.”
Why is it so popular? “People like it as a joke — or in all seriousness, they want someone to see it and spit in their mouth.”