TikTok is the second most popular app in the world, bested only by the necessary WhatsApp. Political, racial and data-mining scandals have erupted out of the app run primarily by teenagers. Still, very few videos have sparked as much interest within the insular TikTok community as point of view (POV) content.
POVs serve as a form of expression, escape and monetary interest for many creators. Under the tag #POV, there are over 39.8 billion views, and that does not take into account the untagged videos. Because of the massive market of videos to be found and consumed, there are many different ways to produce such content. Some creators create dangerous content for young audiences, some act, opt to make lip-syncing videos, some revive relatable memories and others send political messages.
TikTok POVs began gaining popularity in the summer of 2019. The videos were sweet, and usually involved lots of retro themes and Paul Anka. Typically, it was boys pretending to go to a party in the ’50s and ’60s. While there was lots of Converse, leather jackets and limited historical accuracy, the videos were harmless. Innocent videos still exist. Alternate universe and dystopian videos still have a great deal of popularity, but there’s more than meets the eye.
Video via 18-year-old @michaeljaroh on TikTok: “It’s 1960 and I’m going to meet my greaser buddies at the bar 🤟🏼”
A Darker Side
Videos began to shift midway through the summer of 2019. Violence, darker themes and higher stakes crept into the TikToks. Tweens ate up the “violence,” and so the view counts of such videos increased. As these videos gained traction, the violence featured in these TikToks became more popular. A fair number of creators on the app like to make videos featuring false gunshots, abusive elements to relationships and even fake blood. The #Mafia tag has over 303.4 million views alone.
Noen Eubanks is a maker of mafia videos, or at least he was. Noen now primarily focuses on his YouTube channel, clothing label and more lighthearted videos for his 10.6 million followers. One of the most popular videos to ever hit TikTok was Noen’s POV video of a kidnapping. His “pov: holding you hostage but caught feels” video shaped much of what POV TikToks are today. The duets (reaction videos) were everywhere and the views were incomparable, with 39.8 million views on the first video. He made it into a series of videos, and the second one soon had 15.6 million views and the third racked up 17.8 million. The comments were full of mostly young girls losing their minds over the videos with glee. Their excitement helped to propel the video and the trend into the forefront of TikTok popularity.
Videos featuring “guns” (flashing lamps), fistfights and murders are likely not made with malintent. Still, the trend of people pretending to be violent has helped to glorify and romanticize violence on TikTok. Comments and trends on the app show that young girls, more than any other apparent demographic, are attracted to (or are at least being groomed to be attracted to) videos featuring high risk situations. Boys kidnapping, murdering families and killing the people him in a restaurant are all found in highly popular videos.
Studies show that women are attracted to “bad boys,” as they typically exhibit more “biologically favorable traits.” This does not usually impact older women intensely, except for during ovulation when hormonal flairs are experienced. Young girls who are going through puberty, however, experience a constant barrage of hormones.
66% of TikToks users are under the age of 30, with the majority of its base of users being around the age of 16 and below. Violence in POVs is a concerning aspect to the trend and should not be permitted or propagated, as it spreads a misconstrued and dangerous perception of love and affection. This also can lead to obsessions similar to people who are infatuated with serial killers, school shooters and other forms of violence.
“Women Who Love Men Who Kill,” author, Sheila Isenberg, told Huffington Post that many women are attracted to violent figures due to coercing from media and the acceptance of violence and outsiders in the US. Adults and creators preying upon young users on TikTok is not uncommon, especially as famous mafia POV creator “Clapdaddie” was recently exposed for making advances on young followers of his, particularly young trans boys, after ensuring they were intense fans of his. Exposure to and the normalizing of violence in every form is dangerous.
Video via @noeneubanks on TikTok: “pov: holding you hostage but caught feels.”
Escapism & Intense Effort
An actor separated from this trend of violence, known on and off the app, is 20-year-old Tyler Brash. Eye contact with the camera, floppy hair and lots of passion have made him a common focal point for commentary YouTubers and TikTokers, primarily internet star Cody Ko. Cody’s video was released on Tyler’s birthday, which Tyler shared with me made him think it was a prank until he realized it was real – very real. The two are on good terms now, which has even helped Tyler’s popularity on the app (Tyler is verified with about 653, 5000 followers and 15.9 million likes).
Tyler is considered one of the most confusing TikTokers on the app because people are never quite sure if he’s joking or not. When you talk to Tyler, he is so earnest that it feels like he’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes — in an interview, Tyler walked me through his day, from waking up and eating rice cakes to filming Cameos and TikToks. He told me about how he can’t go in public anymore because he is so easily recognized. He painted his vision for the future to me. Maybe he is tricking us all, but the devotion to what he does is palpable when you speak with him.
When Tyler was questioned about whether he is being sarcastic in his latest video, he replied, “I can’t say. I really can’t say, because if I break character…That’s what keeps me kinda relevant. Well, I don’t know if I’m still relevant,” he laughed, “but if I am relevant that’s what keeps people going. Because they’re like, ‘Dude, is he serious or is he not?’ So what I really want to do, what my plan is, is when I’m making bigger movies they’re gonna be like, ‘Alright, kid can like actually do some s**t.’…But I just wanna keep the people guessing about seriously whether this is a character or not.”
Tyler was asked if he was in character when speaking to me, and replied, “I might be. My life’s a movie! My life is a very crazy movie, and I think I’ve been through a lot emotionally, and I think that’s why I’m so good at masking the way I act and the way I talk, or even the way I treat other people. So I think, right now, I’m actin’ pretty normal, as you would think, but maybe I’m not, to other people.” He later clarified that the responses I was receiving were genuine. If Tyler is in character, it’s certainly an interesting one.
Rare for TikTok, an app designed to be simple and casual, Tyler puts an unparalleled amount of effort into his videos. The more hate he receives, the more energy he puts into the videos. Tyler explained that even though people laugh, “maybe even you,” the idea of standing on stage accepting an Oscar someday pushes him to keep going.
Tyler wants to be an actor, and he said that he is currently in talks with studios. He uses his videos as a way to showcase his acting abilities, though Tyler shared he’s never received any form of training. He is laughed at a lot on TikTok, though that trend has begun to die out as people have noted that he’s not hurting anyone and Cody Ko seems to like him. When asked if he ever knows a video will be mocked after he posts it, Tyler laughed, “Oh yeah!”
However, when asked if he ever posts videos that he is not proud of, Tyler paused for a moment before responding, “I mean, that’s a very, very, very good question. So I am proud of every single video I make. Very proud. I mean, I put in a lot of effort, and I think it shows in my video… Name another TikToker that’s putting that much effort. And I mean, now I direct all my films. I script everything. I mean, I have one [videographer] and do all this on my props. I mean, I just spent like $70 propping this last video. I mean, no one’s doing that… Like the universe, you manifest what you believe, and I believe that I’ll be bigger than what’s been going on… With or without all the drama, I’m going to be something… You just gotta watch.”
Tyler explained that in terms of his demographics, his viewers are a mix of teenagers and what he referred to as “moms” who wanted to check out the content he is making. He barely entertained the idea of feeling odd that his viewers were young, as he launched back into discussing his aspirations for the future. There is clear no intention to exploit or prey upon here. He has grown miraculously fast in the eight months that he has been making POVs. Still, Tyler said that he just wants to help provide a form of escape, build his résumé and avoid making lip-syncing videos (he has recently released a few, which he explained was due to his inability to prop and film his videos because of COVID-19). To Tyler, his videos are auditions, they are “films,” they are part of the reason he dropped out of college — they are something more than 60-second blips to him.
Video via @tyler.brash on TikTok: “pov: there was an earthquake and the building collapsed but only you made it out….”
Trendy Creators & Content
Tyler was spot-on about the existence and popularity of lip-syncing POV creators. In essence, they typically look at the camera up and down and use trending sounds to create a personal feeling for viewers. A prime example of such a creator is 16-year-old Ryan Clements. With 5.3 million followers on the app, Ryan has signed to TalentX Entertainment, a premier management and production agency that’s taking TikTok by storm.
Ryan’s videos are primarily POVs, with some dancing and friend-based content sprinkled in. He explained that his videos are made to create virality (he said he does not try just to bring in girl followers, but his account has a specific draw to it). Ryan walked me through his process and shared that he starts by scrolling through his own For You Page (his is mostly dancing and a few POVs). He finds sounds that he thinks are trending and from which he can get creative ideas. Then, he tries to make videos to “emphasize” the emotion of the sound.
Ryan explained that he wants to make POVs with things that “are real.” When asked what is real in his videos, he pointed to bullying and heartbreak. While bullying and heartbreak are real, Ryan is most well-known, in terms of POVs, for his “devil’s son” videos. These videos are what started to propel Ryan into TikTok stardom (he began making videos in August of 2019 and hit a million followers in December of that same year). Ryan shared that he got the idea from another creator, and that he asked to use the concept. Ryan said that he wanted to do “more” with the character than what was previously found on the app because the other boy “wasn’t doing it like that.”
After being asked whether he features violence in his videos, Ryan said that he has used audios that feature gun sounds, but he is wary of “sensitive topics.” His videos have shown him getting shot as he pretends to be an abusive husband returning home from robbing a bank or him reaching out with gun beats, but no flashes or dramatic gun kickback like most videos of the short feature.
For the most part, Ryan’s videos feature him as a “bad boy.” These videos cash in on the previously discussed biological imperatives that help to steer tweens in his direction, without the glorification of violence. Usually, his videos feature him wearing a black shirt and rings, and that’s enough for his audience of what he shared are 14-16-year-olds and 88-90% girls. Sometimes he pretends to be “your friend’s older brother,” but that’s the closest he ever borders to any kind of rapacious behavior, especially as a younger creator, himself. Ryan stated, “I feel like some of the stuff I make might be a little too mature for them, but at the same time I feel like it’s not too bad, ‘cause I’ve seen a bunch of other people do things that get like criticized for a lot, but I don’t feel like my videos are too bad.”
Ryan will be taking part in his first tour this summer, “The Boys Of Summer Tour.” These tours offer fans the chance to meet 20 boys and three girls who are famous on TikTok, as they tour around the country (for hundreds of dollars per ticket. When I asked Ryan about this, he seemed interested in meeting fans but was completely unaware of the controversies of similar past tours, like the now shut down Magcon tours.
Ryan took pause when I asked if he ever feels objectified, or if he feels like the young girls who idolize him do not see him as though he is a real person. He said, “Oh, I haven’t really thought about that. No, I just feel like people don’t really realize that we are actual people and we actually have feelings and the things that they say actually do affect us, whether they believe it or not.”
That was one of the multiple questions that seemed like it provided revelations to Ryan: Ryan said he’d toyed with the idea of making non-lip-syncing POVs (his sometimes have text written over them, which is semi-rare for his style of POVs) but was not sure “how.” When asked about what his goals are going forward, he paused again, saying that maybe he will get more serious about acting in his POVs if he is going to continue working in social media, professionally.
At the end of the day, Ryan Clements is a teenage boy. He is not putting on any airs or pretending to be something he is not. He goes to school, where he said he gets more attention for his videos but is never picked on to his face. He is uncertain about his future, and discussing it with his parents. He avoids drama and most contact with creators beyond his circle of friends. He is trying to make some money from his TikTok fame and tries to enjoy his time on the app. There is nothing genuinely or overtly malicious going on behind the camera.
Video via @ryanclem on TikTok: “#pov you cheated on the devil’s son and once he comes to cut it off you realize how big of a mistake you made.”
Nostalgia & Niche Relatability
Relatability is vital on TikTok, and certain creators have completely honed in on this in their videos. Lily Liu was one of the first TikTokers to gain massive popularity for her relatability, as her “POV: you asked where Sarah got her new bracelets and now you’re in front of the rainbow loom dealer” video completely dominated the app in the summer of 2019. Lily is 16 and has over 1.2 million followers and 61.2 million likes in total. Many similar videos came out around the same time in 2019, featuring sleepovers, playground games, teachers scolding the class and other forms of nostalgia for the average TikTok user.
Video via @lilyisalilsleepy on TikTok
Another popular creator, known for his relatable characters, is Alvaro Chavez. He started making POVs in the winter, and ultimately found great success with his super-niche content about liberal arts boys and professionally unfulfilled mothers. Alvaro shared, “I think there’s something super fun and relatable about the trendier POVs, that’s why they end up being trends! I think ultimately, my POVs are more sarcastic or deadpan and can often read as more satirical and comedic than an actual storyline. I eat all the POVs up though, I think TikTok is a great place to have fun and flex your acting.”
Alvaro is invested in going into acting after he graduates from college, as he is 21 (what he calls “32 in TikTok years”). Because of his less flashy or romantic-themed videos, Alvaro’s content pretty much absolves him from any accusations of intentionally trying to draw in young fans. Alvaro explained, “I have actually have no clue [what my demographics are]. I imagine some of them must be quite young but they always crack me up with the stuff they leave in the comments, so I bet the biggest demographic is like a bunch of pretty funny high schoolers. I know there’s plenty of college kids too though, since a lot of my POVs feature an annoying liberal arts boy persona. I’ve also had a couple of hilarious Gen X moms reach out to me, so I know they’re there too.” While some creators are focused on garnering more followers, many creators are also focused on simply entertaining.
Video via @alvarochavez on TikTok: “pov: liberal arts boy breaking up with you part 2.”
A Bigger Message
COVID-19 is impacting the world, and many teenagers are anxious and social distancing. Some, however, are carrying on about their everyday lives as though a global pandemic is not killing people. Sarah Ellenwood, an 18-year-old from New York, made a POV about being “just a kid.” Captioned “#POV – She thought her age granted her immunity,” Sarah’s video brought her over 400,100 views. Sarah explained that she wanted to reach as many people as possible and that making a POV was the best way to do so. Using the trend of POV TikTok’s has been a way for teens to express their opinions on what they find to be important topics. POVs have explored worlds with and without war, experiences with their sexuality and peer pressure.
Video via @sasssss3 on TikTok
TikTok will likely never cease to be controversial, and POVs are not exempt from such scrutiny. TikTok POVs have provided a great deal of good and bad content in many ways. While some creators are harmless, some are predatory and some are unknowingly impacting young viewers’ early years. What creators choose to do with their up close and personal style of video making can have lasting effects on the people who consume their content.