Teen TikTok Star Jalaiah Harmon Talks About New Docuseries, ‘I AM: JALAIAH’

I think these conversations really shed a light on what many Black creators understand are the differences in how creators are valued and paid,” Harmon says.

In 2018, the “Renegade” was the dance craze sweeping the nation. Like with Beyonce’s “Uh Oh” and Ciara’s “1,2 Step” before it, people from all walks of life found themselves trying to master the intricate choreography set to K-Camp’s song “Lottery (Renegade). The problem? A then 14-year-old created the dance but she wasn’t receiving the credit. Other entities were able to put their spin on Jalaiah Harmon’s innate skill, but she wasn’t able to take advantage of her creation — at least not until a major reported article brought her to the fore.

Harmon has appeared on “Ellen,” participated in the February 2020 NBA All Star Game, had her dance shouted out by former President Barack Obama and overall, capitalized on her what she made. On October 13, lifestyle media platform TOGETHXR gave the 16-year-old her just due in the form of a docuseries. In “I AM: JALAIAH,” the Black, Gen Z roots of popular culture are explored and most importantly, we also get to the see the girl behind the dance.

In the first episode, we meet Harmon’s parents, Dr. Stefani Harmon and Dr. Brian Harmon. The pair identified their daughter’s immense talent when she was a young child and promptly looked to enroll her in dance classes. Jalaiah advanced quickly, making it to the front of the stage during recitals, an honor only reserved for those who’ve fully grasped the moves. Within a few years, she was a viral content creator whose career was skyrocketing.

“TOGETHXR’s mission is to tell the stories of women who move culture forward. So often, those who do — many, women of color — are not centered or made visible,” says Jessica Robertson, CCO of TOGETHXR. “Jalaiah is an incredible talent who created the culture we all participate in, yet wasn’t given proper credit. But her story is bigger than that. We wanted to elevate her where so many haven’t. She embodies everything TOGETHXR stands for.”

Although Jalaiah created the “Renegade” dance one day after school and posted it to Instagram, the choreography took root on video-centric social media platform TikTok. The teen realized she was going viral but wasn’t being tagged in the caption, therefore making it difficult to track where the dance originated. Barrie Segal, the former head of content and community for Dubsmash, another popular video service, reached out to Jalaiah, asked her if she was the dance’s architect and connected her with The New York Times. The subsequent article was shared far and wide, mainly to showcase how crucial it is that culture shifters are identified.

“I AM: JALAIAH” gives a look into Jalaiah’s community, her thought process and what being acknowledged can do for a budding career.

Read our interview with Jalaiah below.

ESSENCE: Can you share some details about “I AM: JALAIAH?”

Jalaiah Harmon (JH): I collaborated with the platform TOGETHXR to create a docuseries about how I balance my life right now, growing up as a teenager and creator. My team and I thought this would be a cool way for people to see what my day-to-day life is like outside of social media as a regular teenager, spending time with my family and friends!

ESSENCEYour story contributed to the trend of Black creators being credited for their cultural additions. What are some of the benefits of Black innovators getting to take ownership of what they’ve made?

JH: I think creator credit is a hot topic that affects all creators and artists on every platform..and I’m glad that my story really started the conversation to help bring awareness to the subject and help creators like me to receive the proper recognition for their contributions to art and culture. Getting credit is really like the first step in helping creators to get paid and maybe even jump start a career for their art, which is why we need to make sure creators are always credited! 

I think these conversations really shed a light on what many Black creators understand are the differences in how creators are valued and paid. Black culture contributes so much to the overall internet culture that credit is the first step in making sure things like brand deals are more equally given.

Enjoying this? Read our interview with Cleotrapa West here.

ESSENCE: In July 2021, choreographer JaQuel Knight partnered with Logitech to grant content creators the copyright to viral TikTok dances. Are you looking to copyright your dances?

JH: JaQuel is super talented and someone I really look up to as an aspiring choreographer. His team did reach out to me about attending the Logitech awards awhile back, but I was tied up in another project, but YES!, my legal team has been involved with me from beginning of my dance going viral and we already got the ball rolling on the paperwork to copyright Renegade.

ESSENCE: Who are some of the dancers you look to for inspiration?

JH: There are way too many dancers to name specifically, but there are a lot! There are so many artists and creators that I admire and look up to, so just make sure you follow me on Instagram because I’m always sharing their art on my IG Stories!

Photo credit: TOGETHXR

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