Annemarie Rose is bent over a sheet of glass, hair tucked into a messy half ponytail, tracing the outline of a heart into its glossy surface. She breaks it apart, sands the edges, and etches a simple message across its smooth surface: spit in my mouth. “Something hot for Valentine’s Day,” the description reads on her TikTok video.
Commenters go wild, a chorus of desire filling the section. “WHERE CAN I BUY,” writes one enthusiastic viewer with a grip on their caps lock. Another helpfully adds a backstory: “I NEED THIS because I got blocked for telling my crush to spit in my mouth and pull my hair so sad.” Back in the real world, a dumbfounded Annemarie watches as the numbers on her video skyrocket. Refresh. 100 new followers. Refresh. 500 more. As of late June, the video is sitting around 954,000 views, with her account up from a few hundred followers to over 10,000.
For Annemarie, virality translated to more than just views and comments. She had a surge of interest in her work as potential customers began lining up. In one day, she said 2,000 people joined her mailing list, a number her subscriptions in total had never touched. “The effect of that one video was really powerful for my business,” she said. When she opened pre-orders for mirrors, including the cheeky “spit in my mouth” version, she says they sold out in 18 minutes (a fact I can personally attest to after failing to buy one).
Her success through that one video is the result of a combination of things: the timing of a heart mirror collection coming up against Valentine’s Day, and the half-joking half-not brand of kink humor that permeates TikTok. But the platform is also key. TikTok is “an amazing place for artists,” she said, more so 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 eerie ability to feed users hyper-specific content tailored to their interests.
“There’s never been a more exciting time to be an artist,” she said. “There aren’t any gatekeepers left 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 now your best bet. The constant churn of trending sounds, remixable jokes, and the ability to land on anyone’s “for you” page puts it above platforms like Twitter. There, true virality inevitably leads to, at best, degeneration of your original message, or worse becoming the dreaded main character of Twitter. For artists like Annemarie, platforms like Instagram are also in a constant state of free fall. “Instagram’s very miserable for small artists,” she said. Over time, she’s noticed her analytics drastically drop while Instagram pushes pay-for-post visibility. “Every time there’s a new Instagram update, it basically gets worse.”
Annemarie started selling her work in farmer’s markets, but quickly learned it’s a tough crowd 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 out of all of my products at a market the way I do online,” she says. “When I drop an online collection, I sell over like 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 checks showing off a new dance. Creators are fearless, discussing everything from mental health struggles to their interest in shibari and daddy kinks. It’s exploration by way of jest. In one popular trend, a girl exclaims “I would never let a man spit in my mouth. I don’t know why you all keep saying ‘oh spit in my mouth, spit in my mouth,’ that’s fucking nas–” before the audio cuts to a smattering of photos featuring whoever they would, actually, let spit in their mouth. “There’s also a lot of conversation around, ‘How do you express your needs to a partner?’ But then also doing funny little skits about it,” Annemarie says.
Through the video platform, she’s able to reach a wider audience located in different states or countries, and a thriving online business allows her to work from home — a key factor due to chronic pain and migraines she suffers from. “I kind of have a work-pain balance going on,” she says. She describes her migraines as debilitating, so intense she can’t even get out of bed. “Being self-employed has allowed me the flexibility to take time off,” she explains. “I really like to work late in the evening; optimal work time for myself is like 8PM to like 2AM.”
Despite her work’s popularity online, Annemarie says it’s hard for her to define success within the parameters of cash flow alone. At markets, she connects with other artists in person. But online, her products sell in minutes — especially the “spit in my mouth” mirror. “That one is my best seller by far. It has been for every single collection.”
As for why it’s so popular? “People like it as a joke — or in all seriousness, they want someone to see it and spit in their mouth.”