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2020 was the year supreme for Instagram Reels. In 2021, it’s a stale mix of old trends

2021 has been a disappointment. Except for dancing to Badshah's songs or marketing 'Atrangi Re', Reels have lost creativity.

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Instagram Reels was launched on 5 August 2020 to challenge the worldwide domination of TikTok. It began as a bite-sized, 15-second video feature that has now been extended to 60 seconds. The banning of TikTok in India and the US opened up a market that Instagram was quick to capitalise on, and with lockdowns due to Covid, Reels became the next big thing.

But in 2021, it has been quite a disappointment. Except for dancing to various songs — be it Badshah’s ‘Jugnu’, or more recently, ‘Chaka Chak from Atrangi Re —  the Reels game has become stale at best.

The year of Reels supreme

Ever since its release in India, users latched onto Instagram Reels, having been starved of content from TikTok. They were churning out video after video. In 2020, Instagram saw 6 million reels per day from the country. With nowhere to go and caught in the web of a deadly pandemic, people took to Reels to bring some cheer. From making Dalgona coffee to baking banana bread, and even doing fitness challenges, Indians’ hopped aboard ‘Reel life’.

Keeping in mind the importance of masking and sanitising to prevent the spread of Covid, numerous celebrities used Instagram Reels to promote the #SafeHands challenge too, taking cue from the World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr Tedros Adhanom.


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A post shared by Priyanka (@priyankachopra)

In a nutshell, 2020 had people getting creative with whatever they could lay their hands on. Instead of ‘let’s endlessly copy someone’, there was some originality to be found. A social message ran throughout — people were trying to cope with the lockdown, which impacted not just the income but also the collective mental health of the population.

Also read: 2021’s meme game was simply bleh. Reels have taken over, but it’s not making us LOL

‘Bachpan ka pyar’

In 2021, we took only some of that creativity forward.

One of the most viral Reels trends in 2021 was ‘Bachpan ka pyar’. A video of a 10-year-old school student named Sahdev Dirdo singing the song before his teachers went viral on the internet.

The video, which was nothing but a casual upload, triggered an online trend as netizens not only watched it on loop but also rolled out their own renditions.

Celebrities too were quick to jump on the trending Reels bandwagon. Former Indian Idol and Bigg Boss contestant Rahul Vaidya and his wife, actor Disha Parmar, did their rendition, and so did comedian Bharti Singh.

Sahdev was also felicitated by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.

Indian rapper Badshah even created a whole music video out of it, featuring Dirdo and titled it ‘Bachpan ka Pyaar’. Manforce Condoms, which rarely lets any viral trend slip by without turning it into a marketing strategy, also used the tagline ‘Bachpan aur jawani, dono ka pyaar :)’ for its condoms.


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A post shared by Manforce Condoms (@manforceindia)

‘Temperature’, ‘Bajre da Sitta’ and ‘Buss It’

The Instagram ‘Temperature’ challenge hit the platform earlier this year and was the first in line to be a part of the 2021 lockdown trend. It mostly involved being your wackiest best with your friends or family at home. While some sang Sean Paul’s ‘Temperature’, others got creative in producing the beat — they clapped, slapped chappals togetherand drummed up the rhythm with belans. Actor Jahnvi Kapoor’s Reel managed to gather wide attention in India.


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A post shared by Janhvi Kapoor (@janhvikapoor)

We also had Bajre da Sitta that would not let you escape it when you opened Instagram. It was mostly a body transformation challenge with before-and-after pictures of people.

Celebrities from Hina Khan, Kusha Kapila to Karan Sareen took on the ‘Buss It’ challenge, in which users transformed from a regular look to a glamorous version of themselves. These celebrities either followed it through or made a parody of it.


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A post shared by Karan Sareen (@gorgeouspotahto)

But again, the transition in ‘Buss It’ was not new. It had been used and overused by content creators long before in 2020.

Also read: Instagram Reels are the new Billboards. And Badshah’s Jugnu has got people ‘hooked’

Reel it, feel it, and make it a hit

In 2020, singers like Doja Cat and even Dua Lipa owed the success of their songs to the phenomenon of ‘reel it, feel it’. While Doja Cat really ruled the roost with her songs becoming wildly popular audios in Reels, Dua Lipa’s ‘Levitating’ really levitated on Billboard as it flooded Reels section.

The massive success of Reels was brought further close to home when Badshah’s ‘Jugnu’ became a smash hit, thanks to Bollywood A-list celebrities grooving to its hook step on Instagram.

Atrangi Re’s ‘Chaka Chak’ dance trend caught on in December this year as film actor Sara Ali Khan’s famous hook step was enacted by celebrities and common users alike. It ended up contributing to the song’s marketing and the success of the movie, which was released on Disney + Hotstar in the same month.

Instagram Reels might have seen an upshot in 2021, but nothing much was added to it in the meantime. The creative spark has fizzled. It is ultimately the same formula– a song made hit by a hook step and made into multiple Reels, and the more the Reels, the wider the reach and curiosity generated.

While 2021 did manage to make some foray into original reel ideas, most of it still felt largely stale. The one-minute videos now feel like short trailers of IGTV videos that have been around for some time. We are out of content, and with the third lockdown probably in sight, we need to up our game at creating original content that is not a remix of the OG 2020.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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