This emoji has been with us for over a decade, yet is now more popular than ever.
Above: ✨ Sparkles emoji as it appears on major platforms.
What's going on here? Did we just collectively decide this set of three stars has a distinct meaning? Or has this been the case all along?
📈 Sparkle Stats
While always popular, a recent surge in use across TikTok and other social platforms has seen the ✨ Sparkles emoji overtake 🤣 Rolling on the Floor Laughing, ❤️ Red Heart, and even 🥺 Pleading Face to become the third most popular emoji in the world.
Based on data collected by Emojipedia, almost one in every 100 tweets now contains a ✨ Sparkles emoji. The trio of glistening stars just topped 🥺 Pleading Face to become the third most popular emoji on Twitter in September 2021, for the first time ever.
While there is still a considerable gap between 😂 Face with Tears of Joy and ✨ Sparkles, if the growing global dislike for 😂 continues, it's possible sparkles could become the second-most popular emoji on Twitter in 2022.
📜 Origins & Historic Use
In fact, ✨ Sparkles is one of the earliest emoji designs, originally supported by Japanese cellular carriers back in the late 1990s.
Documentation from 2008 proposing the encoding of Japanese phone carrier emoji sets into Unicode includes the descriptive note "sparkling new", referencing one of this emoji's early perceived meanings: to convey a sense of newness, cleanliness, and an associated sense of impressiveness.
Both of these traditions have an extensive set of visual shorthands that are deployed to emphasize characters’ various emotional and physical states in reaction to what's happening to or around them.
In the case of ✨ Sparkles, this visual metaphor has historically been deployed to encapsulate a broad range of positive sentiments. Symbols closer in design to ✴️ Eight-Pointed Star and 🌟 Glowing Star can also be used in this way, as can the 💖 Sparkling Heart.
In manga and anime, ✨ Sparkles-esque symbols are often presented either alongside or surrounding a character, object or scene.
These sparkles are intended to engender a sense of beauty, novelty, impressiveness, or, in the case of a character, internal joy or happiness.
When a character is being portrayed as attractive (even intimately so), they may be surrounded by bishie sparkles. These sparkles can also be accompanied by other metaphorical visual elements associated with beauty, such as the 🌹 Roses shown below.
The bishie sparkles trope is so well established it has also come to be used humorously or ironically.
Take, for example, its frequent presence alongside Fullmetal Alchemist's Major Major Alex Louis Armstrong.
This humorous usage has particular relevance to some of the ✨ Sparkles emoji's more recent interpretations, which we will come to shortly.
✨ Sparkles can also be used to encapsulate a sense of awe or excited energy on the part of the characters they engulf, either earnestly or humorously.
Additionally, ✨ Sparkles may surround a character during a magical transformation or the casting of a spell.
As well as surrounding characters, ✨ Sparkles-esque design is often embedded within the "windows to the soul": a character's eyes.
As shown above, the conversion of a character's pupils to ✨ Sparkles is also often combined with additional sparkles surrounding the character(s).
This historic association with positive mood, attraction/beauty, excitement, or even frivolity can be seen across how this emoji continues to be used on social platforms to this day.
A New Kind of ✨Emphasis✨
Alongside these more traditional uses for the emoji, there is a new method of using ✨ Sparkles that is a likely factor in its surging popularity: bookending certain words or phrases ✨like this✨ to emphasize them within a sentence.
This ✨ Sparkles-based emphasis is comparable fashion to how italicization has historically been used in text.
The emphasis created by the use of italics is used to echo prosodic stress of the spoken language in written text, where emphasis is placed on certain words to provide narrative disambiguation and/or semantic clarity.
This emphasis can be used earnestly to convey sentiments similar to how ✨ Sparkles is traditionally used: positive sentiments such as appreciation, excitement, or joyousness. Such bookending can also be used for aesthetic purposes, especially if alongside other emojis or text-based aesthetic choices such as extra spacing between letters.
Sparkles can be a humorous coping mechanism. Posing for selfies, then realizing it's a tinted door when the worker walks out? I would simply ✨pass away✨ says the top comment.
This TikTok from Marcel has him printing a receipt as proof of purchase because of systemic racism, noting:
Nearly forgot that I'm ✨Black✨
The sparkles in this instance indicate that while this might be a serious topic, it's being presented as a joke. It's the wink to the audience of those who are familiar with this kind of situation.
✨Sarcasm✨ and ✨Mocking✨
A certain type of ✨emphasis✨ can also often be used to represent a mocking or sarcastic tone of voice. This is thanks to a growing association with the Mocking Spongebob meme and the CHaOTIC cApiTALiZATIon now known as "SpOnGEbOb teXt" that is often found in the meme's accompanying text or captions.
When used in this manner, the ✨ Sparkles is emulating prosodic stress in an overly-performative manner evocative of a mocking or sarcastic tone of voice. A common convention here, as is often emulated by the Spongebob meme, is the repetition of what someone has said right back to them in this mocking tone.
When combined with SpOnGEbOb text, ✨ Sparkles-based emphasis can often belie more negative sentiments than the emoji has historically been associated with.
This association between ✨ Sparkles and the SpOnGEbOb text has also likely led the emoji to be frequently used to indicate irony, sarcasm, or humor when bookending text even without the alternating capitalization.
Ultimately, as with all emoji interpretations, the context in which ✨ Sparkles is key to understanding how it should be understood: earnestly, playfully, or ironically.
The content of the text, image, or video accompanying has to be considered, along with other emojis used in the same message. Is it being used alongside a simping 😍 Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes or a mocking 🤪 Zany Face?
While 🙃 Upside-Down Face has come to commonly represent sarcasm or insincerity in recent years, sparkles can also represent sarcasm, but also so much more.
Before we go, let me leave you with a last example of sparkle-markup (sparkleup?) which sees this used a multiplier, in emoji-only form:
Something is cute? 🥺
Something is very cute? 🥺✨
📖 Read More
- What Happens in the TikTok Comments
- 😭 Loudly Crying Becomes Top Tier Emoji
- Emojiology: 😪 Sleepy Face
- Emojiology: 😍 Smiling Face With Heart-Eyes
: Twitter data files from October 2019 to May 2020 were obtained via The Internet Archive’s Twitter Stream Grab. Data from June 2020 onwards was collected by Emojipedia. All data was obtained via Twitter's free Spritzer API: a real-time stream of a random sample of 1% of all tweets.
: Two contemporary types of design divergence do exist, however. The stars are multicolored in Microsoft and JoyPixels' designs, while Samsung's has a night sky backdrop that is shared with their 🎇 Sparkler emoji design. Microsoft's design was updated in a Windows 10 beta release, with all three stars appearing yellow in color. A similar design is also due to be released in an upcoming Windows 11 update, which will introduce the new "Fluent" emoji set to a wide audience.