TikTok, a social media app with 500 million active users per month, enables those with an account to watch, duet, share and create short videos between three and 60 seconds.
Living examples of viral notoriety in the community include the six current members of “TAMU Hype House.” This Aggie group, inspired by the TikTok influencer-filled Hollywood mansion of the same name, functions not as a physical house, but as a figurative collaboration opportunity that aims “to make videos together and get more creators involved,” according to founding member and animal science sophomore Sierra Grucella.
Other TikTok stars in the Hype House are Dylan Waggoner (@dylanw19), Taylor Harrison (@tater_tot2000), Andrew Ewing (@redassaggie), Daisy Day Woods (@daisydaywoods) and Ben Hurlburt (@benhurlburt). The group remains open to student auditions.
Grucella, who goes by username @howdy.sierra, has hundreds of thousands of views on her “A&M-focused and wholesome” account, which she started in December 2019.
“The first word that comes to my mind to describe my account is ‘redass,’” Grucella said. “I want my content to be a good representative of A&M. And once people started noticing me, I’ve been careful to make my appearance and the university’s appearance better.”
While Grucella could cite her growing number of followers as her career highlight, she said she finds meaning in smaller-scale instances in which she communicates how valuable her school is.
“My biggest moments of accomplishment so far are always when I get messages from high school seniors that want to go to A&M, maybe they’re waiting for admission, saying that I’ve made them feel closer to the university,” Grucella said. “This just makes me smile. I want to make other people happy to go to attend a university that offers what we have to offer.”
Portraying her admiration of the university through her content, Grucella uses her platform for two main Aggie core values: selfless service, in her eventual charity fundraising goal for the TAMU Hype House, and loyalty, in her frequent usage of the Aggie subcultural lingo.
Sport management freshman Ben Hurlburt, who has 12.6 million likes and 470,000 followers on his TikTok account, is no stranger to the negative side effects of newfound Internet notoriety.
“It can be really creepy to have unrelenting or possessive superfans,” Hurlburt said. “Some girl got my phone number; people know where I am and it can get uncomfortable. I try to keep a low profile.”
TikTok fame, just like traditional celebdom, is built on the foundational commitment of fans, but the widespread glory comes with logistical troubles. Hulburt said on one instance he was stopped five times during his walk to Blocker, which caused him to be tardy for his class.
“The only challenges are the demanding DMs, but overall, TikTok has opened doorways to different and exciting opportunities,” Hurlburt said. “My goal is just to keep growing the account. I go through swings where I’m on fire, consistently creating great videos. I’ve been posting every single day for five months.”
In a UCLA study concerning the impact of likes on the teenage brain, researchers concluded the online influence of peers neurologically alters the decision-making cortex of the mind. While Hurlburt understands the pressure to change his content, he tries to stay true to himself.
“My videos are goofy and clean so that I can be open about who I am online to the greatest number of people,” Hurlburt said. “Though there is a pressure to conform to what my viewers want, I’ve not really had a single type of video or ‘brand.’ I’m just always thinking about allowing my faith and personality to come through.”