Meet Jalaiah Harmon: The Faceless Creator of TikTok’s Biggest Trend

While others reaped the follower and monetary gains her dance attracted, she was forced to sit back and watch.

Meet Jalaiah Harmon: The Faceless Creator of the TikTok’s Biggest Trend
Meet Jalaiah Harmon: The Faceless Creator of the TikTok’s Biggest Trend

You don’t have to be a TikTok user to have come into contact with one of the many iterations of the ‘Renegade’ dance over the last couple months. Having reached every corner of the internet, the viral dance trend took over the social media platform at the end of 2019 – if you hadn’t participated, you couldn’t call yourself a proper ‘Tik Tok-ker.’ It’s not just internet personalities joining in – Lizzo and Kourtney Kardashian (alongside her 10-year-old son) have also posted videos mastering and, well, attempting the dance, respectively.

The dance has seen multiple TikTok users become beneficiaries of its viral powers, but Charli D’Amelio may just be the luckiest. The 15-year-old from Connecticut posted a video of herself recreating the dance in October 2019 after which it spread like wildfire, largely due to D’Amelio exposing it to her already millions-strong fanbase. Since then, her account has now amassed a following of 29.6 million – had you asked TikTok users a couple of weeks ago who they thought the ‘Renegade’ creator was, and you could be sure that the vast majority would credit D’Amelio. She also appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Sabra hummus, in what would’ve been one of the most expensive ad spots of the year; it goes to show how advertisers are now embracing the emerging generation of internet celebrities and their ability to increase a brand’s engagement.

@charlidamelio♬ RENEGADEEEE – prod.og

However, in recent weeks it’s been discovered that the origins of the dance could not be traced to Charli, or even TikTok, as so many thought. In fact, 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon created the dance in her room, recording the original video in September 2019 in which she both literally and figuratively, in a display of serious talent, owns the moves. Who exactly decided to copy the dance, and how it gained traction, will take some more serious internet sleuthing, but what is baffling is that while the ‘Renegade’ dance traversed the interwebs at lightening speed, hardly a soul knew its creator’s face.


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A post shared by CREATOR OF RENEGADE??? (@jalaiah) on

Harmon could’ve easily been the one taking the D’Amelio’s spot in that Sabra ad if she’d been credited as the dance’s original choreographer. As she told to the New York Times in its profile of her, “I think I could have gotten money for it, promos for it. I could have gotten famous off it.” The uncovering of Harmon as the internet’s rightful dance sensation has sparked important discussion on why a young black girl’s creation went uncredited, with this latest instance linking into the long-standing black culture appropriation theme that has a problematic history across a variety of internet mediums.

Thankfully and rightly so, Harmon has rightfully been given the attention and platform she deserves. K Camp, the rapper whose song ‘Lottery’ accompanies the dance, posted a video on Twitter of Jalaiah and a friend dancing the ‘Renegade’ on February 15th, finally bringing the internet’s attention to the rightful face of the trend (which largely resulted due to justifiable outrage from Twitter’s black female community after they uncovered her original recording). She took centre stage at the NBA All-Star weekend, has filmed a collaborative dance with D’Amelio which was published to her TikTok (where she also credited Harmon as the dance’s creator) and has just appeared on The Ellen Show.

It’s going to take a while for Jalaiah Harmon to catch up to the follow counts of the TikTok stars who profited off her dance – her follow count currently stands at 1.4 million, which unbelievably is substantially low for the platform’s most famous. But hopefully the attention that she deserved, and that the media has assisted in bringing to her talent, will allow her to profit and thrive off her own dance moving forward. This instance of missing credit will be a lesson to the internet about the impact that neglecting creators can have, both in a cultural sense and in a business sense.
Let us know what you think about the ‘Renegade’ dance in the comments or across our socials.

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Elli Murphy is a Law/Arts student, born and bred in Melbourne, with a passion for creative communication/media, politics and policy change. Her overt childhood confidence first led her to journalism after discovering that acting wasn’t the only way to get in front of a camera. While a camera is not now vital to her plans, she aims to work towards a career in media presenting and long-form writing. Her hobbies include cooing over dogs, chocolate-eating, podcast-listening and cooking.