How Ben Awad became TikTok’s unlikely crush

I don’t remember the first time I saw a video of 24-year-old bespectacled software engineer Ben Awad on TikTok. All I remember is bumping up the comments and almost choking on my coffee. “I’m running away everywhere, Ben,” is just one example of obscene comments left by hundreds of users, whose responses to Ben’s videos range from wacky lust (“I would literally turn into a keyboard for you well” ) absolutely wild (“Well, it’s been 48 hours since my waxing. I’ve allowed the friction now well;” “Well please, just a little glass of your brogurt.”)

What shocked me about these comments wasn’t their content, exactly – wanting to, say, get run over with a truck by a celebrity crush is a long-standing mainstay of Stan Internet – but rather l object of their affection. Awad is certainly cute, in the same way that the kind of nerdy kid in your math class is cute, but he doesn’t pout in front of the camera like so many others do online, people who clearly know that the crux of their content is “Look at me, I’m hot.”

He’s been making popular coding tutorials on YouTube since he was 19, and only started doing TikToks in earnest last year as part of a stunt to see if he could go viral by hacking it. algorithm (it worked a bit!). Since then, he’s been explaining memes programming and putting together videos of girls while making dry, niche coding jokes that act like punchlines.

TikTok didn’t invent the concept of the thirst trap, but democratized it enough that even the most average people, many of them men, become massive, thrilling, and often quite crass desire recipients. There are many names for these types of videos – “POV Boyfriend”, “ThirstTok”, “Acting POV”, in which people make any facial expression or hand moment in fashion at the time ( currently it is “smile while speaking”) to a popular audio. It’s a centuries-old tradition developed before TikTok was TikTok, back in the days of Musical.ly, where teens shared videos of dizzying transitions and jerky movements. There, the algorithm winners were mostly sleek preteen boys and girls who met mid-2010s beauty standards. On TikTok in 2021, it’s a lot more varied.

Of course, there are the kinds of guys expected to appeal to the female gaze: there’s an absolutely wanked and tattooed man chopping wood in front of the camera; there’s a 21-year-old man with a mule that syncs to 80s hits, much to the delight of his predominantly female Gen X fans; there are many who cook really beautiful dishes while being hot. The most famous examples are those that end in squeaky compilations and mocking duets – Devin Caherly, who claims as if, say, he was your husband seeing you for the first time on your wedding day and broke down in tears, was a long-time target, as are e-boys whose attempts at coolness are so often frightening.

It was in March 2021 that comments about thirst started arriving on Awad’s page. “I used to talk about people on the internet, and I don’t mind,” he says. “But I’m not at all used to those kinds of comments.” They started out relatively chaste: “hi, I’m literally in love with you”, “are you free on February 14? “. In just a day, however, they got better: “I’m down, bad omg”, “hello I’m a CS major who could use your tip”, “my ring finger looks really empty rn”, “He could literally do whatever he wants with me.” Now, of course, they’re beyond parody (“I’m just a hell of a hole;” “scratching walls and foaming profusely”), and have mostly turned into a competition to see who can write the most shocking observation. He’s been given so many DMs that he’s completely stopped reading them and says if he’s in New York or in any situation with a lot of college age students, there’s a 50% chance that ‘he be recognized.

Awad has his theories as to why this is all about, uh, fervor. “I think it’s due to several things: one is that my content is the opposite of savage, I’m very stoic. I’m not desperate for that kind of attention so it’s a yin and a yang. The dissonance between a video shared to elicit a specific reaction and the actual reaction it gets is a mainstay of TikTok comedy: “You may think you want to lead people in a certain way, but often times the [commenters] will be like, ‘I noticed this little detail in the corner of your video, and that’s what we’re talking about,’ ”he explains.

I have a friend, who we’ll call Katie, who is extremely active on the TikTok alternative thirst trap and who is also a huge fan of Awad. However, she is at odds over how she should feel about it. “I hate that my stupid little hormones and my stupid little heart do a stupid little flip when I see a hot guy on TikTok,” she says. “I open comments to those girls or guys who are going absolutely wild for that person and all of a sudden it just seems silly to me to throw my comment on the pile.” Like, what do I think is going to happen, will they notice me? “

There’s also the issue of consent, and whether it’s ethical to publicly thirst for someone who asks for it or not. “If we saw these kinds of comments from men on a girl video, the reaction would be much more negative,” Katie says. “But because now men only get a fraction of the thirst feedback we get for just being online, are you okay?” I do not know.”

Awad hasn’t seen anyone cross the line, per se, but he does feel weird about certain types of comments. “The ones that go a little too far are when they get possessive or protective, like, ‘Are you talking to another girl? “”

The TikTok Thirst Trap rules are different from Instagram or Twitter, and they certainly apply differently to people of all genders. As popular TikToker Brittany Tomlinson told me last year, “There’s this hyperfixation of being a cute little baby. Like, why? I do not understand. It’s like, ma’am, you have to pay taxes. These conventions are much heavier on women, who are encouraged to look as young as possible until it gets scary.

Meanwhile, men are portrayed as heroic idols for being what some would say is privileged to be average in appearance and put little effort into their videos. “There’s a part of me that’s almost angry that it’s so easy for these men to get that kind of attention by literally posting a video of them sitting at a desk and smiling for the camera,” adds Katie. “If they know they’re hot, I don’t want to fuel their egos any more!” “

Awad commentators, for example, love to debate if he’s in the joke, if he knows exactly what he’s doing. “I’m not unaware of it,” he tells me, adding that he prefers to be shy when answering the two most popular questions asked by his followers: his height and his relationship status (to fans: I tried , but he refused to answer either, my sincere apologies). Being a TikTok hunk, he says, has made dating both easier and more complicated: While he can tap into a much larger pool, it takes a specific type of person to be okay with it. the content it creates.

However, he has yet to experience the kind of attention that rocked the world that haunted accidental hunks of the past: in 2014, when a 16-year-old boy became “Alex from Target” afterwards. that someone slipped a photo of him while he was working as a cashier, he and his family have been the subject of defamatory lies, rumors and death threats, and he is no longer publicly online. Awad was also not offered a model role, unlike Jeremy “Prison Bae” Meeks, whose handsome mugshot went viral that same year.

What Awad and others with similar fan bases on TikTok – @ bradleywebber20, @steezynoodles, @thecodyfromtotaldrama, @archiedonohoe – are experiencing are the effects of going viral in a relatively niche corner of the internet; maybe not as viral as equally nerdy and cute news anchor Steve Kornacki in the 2020 election, but maybe more accessible than, say, the guy from Planet Money TikTok, who sort of looks like Awad but doesn’t. not recognize his league of thirsty fans.

It’s a common topic on TikTok to discuss whether someone is “designed for the feminine look”, or to use colloquial language, “hot girl”, ie not necessarily the portrayal of ultra masculinity. – aggressive that many men consider masculine. standard of beauty. TikTok hunks belong to Lisa Simpson’s Non-Threatening Boys magazine, but far more accessible than someone like, say, a Timothée Chalamet or Harry Styles, and therefore more rewarding to get thirsty.

An example: Awad, which currently has more than 650,000 subscribers, expects to reach one million in January or February. As a gift to his fans, once he hits the mark, he promised to make a video in maid outfit. Timothée Chalamet never could.

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