The newest objects of teen crushes don’t sing — that is, unless you count lip-syncing. They don’t act, unless acting includes contorting one’s face into a smoldering pout. They do dance, with varying degrees of talent, but even that isn’t what they’re really famous for.
They’re e-boys, and they’re quickly becoming part of an industry with the potential to rival the boy bands of yore. E-boys and e-girls, the subculture of young, hot, and online teens who went viral last year on TikTok, are known mostly for making irony-steeped videos of themselves in their bedrooms wearing tragically hip outfits composed of thrifted clothes. Now they’re breaking out of the internet and scoring lucrative deals in the fashion and entertainment spheres.
On January 13, the Hollywood Reporter confirmed that 17-year-old Chase Hudson, an e-boy with more than 9 million TikTok followers, and his LA creative collective Hype House had signed with one of the world’s biggest talent agencies, WME, for modeling, music, film, and more. Meanwhile, the fashion brand Céline recently recruited Noen Eubanks, an 18-year-old TikToker with 7.5 million followers, to be the new face of its campaign. Management companies like Vivid and TalentX are stacked with teen clients whose claim to fame is millions of TikTok fans with supernatural cheekbones and a sellable personality.
E-boyhood, it seems, is now a viable career path. When the term became a meme in the fall of 2018, it mostly referred to an aesthetic: As I explained in a piece last summer, e-girl and e-boy style takes inspiration from skate culture, hip-hop, anime, cosplay, BDSM, goth, and the ’90s; the e-boy look often involves decorative chains and Chandler Bing polos underneath a mop of middle-parted hair dyed shades of purple or green.
Now, however, “e-boy” is perhaps a lacking term for an increasingly visible brand of influencer: the teen creator collective. In a piece for the New York Times, Taylor Lorenz explained the phenomenon of Los Angeles mansions housing TikTokers who capitalize on one another’s clout to generate more for the whole. Hype House, which is one of such collectives and also an actual house, includes both Hudson and his rumored girlfriend Charli D’Amelio, a 15-year-old in Connecticut who gained 5 million followers within three months and became TikTok’s most-talked-about star this fall, known mostly for dancing and lip-syncing in her home (she doesn’t know how it happened, either). As of January 15, Charli, her sister Dixie, and her parents Marc and Heidi signed with UTA.
Digital creator mansions are not new — YouTuber Jake Paul has infamously annoyed his neighbors in not one but two Los Angeles homes with his Team 10 crew — but it’s the next logical step in TikTok’s rise to become the world’s fastest talent incubator.
TikTok teens, most of whom have yet to break into mainstream entertainment, know they’re stronger together. Videos showing kids’ favorite influencers all hanging out together in a gorgeous mansion tend to garner huge numbers of likes and views, but it’s also part of what makes e-boys and e-girls so ready-made for the talent industry: Many of them share a similar look — which happens to be very white, middle or upper class, and thin — and make similar content on TikTok. A major business deal could come to virtually any of them.
TikTok, the platform, has also begun focusing on how to incentivize creators to stay on the app. In November, it began testing a feature that allows creators to add links to their videos, which can be used to promote merch sales or other brand deals. Though it’s still new for TikTok, Douyin, the version of TikTok that exists in China and is also owned by parent company ByteDance, has included in-app shopping for more than a year. In December 2018, Douyin facilitated nearly $30 million in sales in a single day.
The feature hasn’t yet been rolled out in the US, but last month, TikTok general manager Vanessa Pappas said the company is also focusing on finding more ways for creators to potentially get rich off their followings. “We’re at the beginning stages of exploring different models and ways we can connect creators with brands and opportunities,” she said. “We’re definitely in that exploratory phase, but we’re focused on what ways we can best serve our creative community.”
There’s no way to know how many TikTok kids will hit it big out in LA, but more of them than ever are certainly trying. The fashion and entertainment industries have noticed, and it’s only a matter of time before others do too.
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