Break the Internet ®

Adam Ray Okay Has Reached a Pop Culture Peak

Story by Rose Dommu / Photography by Michael Spencer / Styling by Star Burleigh

Even if you've never actually used TikTok — and as each day in quarantine goes by, that gets less likely — it's near impossible that you haven't been exposed to Rosa.

The character has reached a kind of internet singularity in the few short months since she debuted courtesy of 20-year-old Adam Ray Okay, who has become one of the platform's most highly followed creators almost overnight. No matter what social media feed you scroll, Okay's Rosa videos have been disseminated there as clips and reaction videos, with Rosa's catch phrases like "open your purse" becoming a favorite amongst locals on Twitter.

Okay's flame is burning so bright that it even caught the attention of Rihanna, securing him an invitation to the Fenty Beauty TikTok house, where he joined creators including Emmy Combs, Makayla and Kamaboko Gonpachiro. If a co-sign from Rihanna isn't proof that you've reached a pop culture peak, what is?

PAPER spoke with Okay about his massive rise, how he's handling quarantine and touching the same doorknob as Rihanna.

Earring: AREA, Necklace: APM Monaco, Watch: JBW

The world's pretty crazy right now. How are you handling that?

I'm just trying to stay positive [and] I want to make other people feel positive. So I'm just trying to put as much content on there as possible, on the internet. Just because right now both the internet and the actual real world are in a really dark place. So yeah, I'm just trying to stay positive.

I guess, as a TikToker and content creator who largely makes content by yourself, you're very well set up to keep making exactly the kind of content you make in quarantine.

For sure. Yeah, that's been helping me out too.

What inspired you to get on TikTok? And what inspired Rosa?

I had downloaded the TikTok app and I was just scrolling, doing my thing. I wasn't really thinking of making my own content. And then I just got inspired by myself, my childhood growing up and, like you said, everybody knows this Rosa character and I felt that she had been forgotten about... So once I brought her back, everybody was just so familiar with her and that's why I felt she did really well.

So often when I see people share your videos on Twitter, especially Lantinx people are constantly saying "I know this girl." Do you think that's part of why Rosa has resonated so much with people?

For sure. She's everywhere. So, even if you didn't grow up with somebody like her, you know how she is. She's predictable in an unpredictable way. She's just so familiar... she is part of everybody.

What was it like when you started realizing that you were going so viral?

I was honestly shocked. Like I said, putting my first video up there, I didn't expect any of this to happen. So it made me feel good because I'm able to put my community out there like that, in a positive way. And I don't know, I just... Even today I get the same exact feelings that when I first went viral because I just feel it's so crazy that I can give Rosa this platform and express who she is and where she came from and stuff that.

Where would you want to see Rosa go? Is the goal to stay on TikTok or eventually move to a different platform?

I wouldn't mind putting her on other platforms, especially other streaming services, just because I feel like she deserves to have her name in the light. She was a bold character that everybody just loves. And if they don't, they learn to love her. So I feel no matter where you put her, she's going to do really well. So I just want to make her succeed.

Earring: Nicko Rey, Right Ring: LMJ, Left Ring: Nickho Rey

What has it been like coming up on TikTok as the platform itself is having this incredible boom and expansion into every facet of pop culture?

It's a good thing. I don't really know how to explain what I feel whenever I see my content doing so well. It's just this feeling that I'm able to impact other people's lives in a positive way. And that's always been something that I've tried to do that you've been in my personal life. So, to see that I'm able to do this with millions of people. It's really just this feeling that I can't explain. It's so good. It's so crazy in a good way.

Your videos often get recreated by people, which obviously is a huge part of TikTok, and I sometimes see commentary online from people who think it's appropriative for white folks to recreate your Rosa videos, like your comedy is being gentrified.

Like I said earlier... the fact that I'm able to put my community out there like that, for everybody to understand who she is and where she came from; is a good thing to me. So the fact that Rosa's able to go worldwide and everybody just loves her and is able to get happiness out of it — I love it. My videos in the beginning were made to make people happy. So that's still what they're there for. They're not there for anything else.

So imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery?

Correct.

You were recently at the Fenty Beauty TikTok House, were you living?

Yes. That was so iconic. I was able to go with other creators and they were so stunning. I just found out that there's so many other creators that create their content in different ways. So it was cool to see how putting a room full of creators together and how we can come up with so many different ideas. But yeah, it was so dope. That experience was crazy.

Did you get to meet or interact with Rihanna at all?

I didn't but I did touch the same doorknob as her. So I'm winning somehow.

You should never wash that hand again. A lot of the other TikTokers were beauty TikTokers, not people who do comedy. Did you feel welcomed and that you were all on the same page?

Yeah, well as Adam, I enjoy beauty. Makeup is something that I enjoy doing. So it definitely was a huge welcome and there was so much that I got to experience from the other beauty creators. I definitely enjoyed it, especially because everybody just does their makeup in a different way. So being able to see how everybody else does it differently. It's so dope to see other creators discuss that.

Earring: Nickho Rey, Necklace and Bracelet: Adinas Jewels, Ring: APM Monaco

I have a confession to make: I'm not on TikTok. I've never used it. If for some reason I decided, right after I hung up this call, to download TikTok; can you give me some entry level tips?

Well, what's your goal for that? Did you want to just view content or did you want to become a content creator?

I think I have enough stuff going on that I probably don't necessarily have the time to be creating content... but also we're all in quarantine, so maybe it's the time to start. If I just want to start by watching other people's content and then maybe get inspired and start making my own. What are some beginner tips?

Well the "for you" page is going to be your best friend. That's where I saw so many different talents. I was able to see so many different varieties of comedy, or art, or even makeup. So the "for you" page is definitely where you want to be. That's going to be where you see all the talent. If it's on the "for you" page, it's great. It's work, you know? And then hashtags too. If you have something specific that you want to discover, you can hashtag that and there's millions and millions of something that you want to discover all on one page. So whether you're going there for one thing to look for or you're going to just see everything, you'll find it there.

That's a good little tip to start out. Maybe I will download TikTok today and I'll be able to say that it was inspired by you. What's your favorite kind of video to watch on TikTok?

Makeup videos and comedy videos. Comedy skits for sure.

Do you think that TikTok is the future of comedy?

For sure. Yeah. It gives you 60 seconds to just be exactly who you want to be. And people are so creative. So it's so good and that's all it is. It's just so much content that you can release it to so many different creators and so many different talents. So I feel like TikTok is for sure the future of just everything.

People always say that if you can't get someone's attention in the first 10 seconds, or make someone laugh in the first 10 seconds, then you've already lost them. So do you think that we're now at this place socially where that's the way our attention span works, that we need to be consuming things in these small increments and that that means the content has to be even better?

That's a good question. Different content creators work differently. So if you are able to be who you are and if it's funny [or] people enjoy it, they're going to stick with you. But I feel you do definitely have to take into consideration; you're on this huge platform and not everybody is going to enjoy what you're doing. So there's always going to be that other person who does. So even if you don't get noticed right off the bat, you should just keep going. I had six followers when I first started. I was posting makeup and I gained 14 followers. And then I ended up doing something else and it worked out for me and now that's my biggest platform.

Earring: Nickho Rey, Left Ring: LMJ, Right Ring: Nickho Rey

Would you ever want to do something that's a little more long form? Like a Rosa sitcom?

I would. I would just have to make sure that I put my all into it, which I already do with my content. I don't want to make something that's going to... because sometimes short comedy skits don't do really well when it turns to episodes or whole shows for them. But I feel if I put enough creativity and enough thought into it, I can make something happen like that.

Maybe a guest appearance. If Rosa could be a guest star on any TV show, what would it be?

Oh, it would probably be Project Runway. She has a lot of constructive criticism, so I feel that would be something that she definitely enjoys.

What would her number one fashion tip be?

Let's see, she'll probably definitely consider angles, but all in all it would be creativity. She wants everybody to be themselves, she wants nobody to be afraid of who they really are, and to express that in their own way.

If Rosa could have a feature on anyone's album, who would it be?

Ooh, I would have to say Rihanna's.

I know that you have a lot of celebrity fans, what has been the biggest gag of seeing someone like or share your content? Besides Rihanna.

Ooh, that's a good one. I would say Troye Sivan. I love him.

As someone who identifies as male, has Rosa allowed you to play with gender, or is it solely about comedy?

Definitely comedy. She's just a character that I created. Yeah, a very strong character, so even when I do talk about Rosa, I have to use she/her [pronouns] because that's just her. She's a really bold character that has to have her own identification.

I know that I am currently interviewing Adam, but if you could ask Rosa a question, what would it be?

Probably relationship advice.

Earring: Nickho Rey, Necklace and Bracelet: Adinas Jewels, Ring: APM Monaco

Would she give good relationship advice?

She would. She's been through some things, so she's experienced. She's not afraid to tell you how she really feels and she, even if there's going to be some type of backlash, she's going to stick to what she believes in. And that's just the way it is.

In the midst of this pandemic, are you motivated to be creative and produce a lot?

For sure, yeah. I feel like right now is a time where I have to be on my grind with making content, just because there's so many people that look forward to it and so many people get joy out of it. So this, like I said, this is a time where it is deeply needed.

And Rosa telling people to wash their hands and stay home might actually get people to wash their hands and stay at home.

Right.

What's your go to quarantine snack?

Oh, it would have to be Maruchan. It's ramen noodles, but the brand of a noodle that makes it, I have to stick to the Maruchan.

We love brand loyalty. What do you think Rosa's quarantine snack would be?

Hers probably has to be something spicy because she loves the heartburn. So definitely some cucumbers with [hot sauce] with some hot Cheetos.

Photography: Michael Spencer
Styling: Star Burleigh
Makeup: Lilly Keys
Nails: Jolene Brodeur

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Intro by Abby Schreiber / Illustrations by Taylor Roberts