Meet the Kim Kardashian of FishTok
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Meet the Kim Kardashian of FishTok

by Eitan Levine

While you probably have no idea who Luke "The Goldfish Guy" Hagopian is, there's a very good chance you’ve seen his mega-famous fancy goldfish bobbing around your TikTok For You Page.

The 21-year-old Illinois native is the brains behind Luke’s Goldies, a social media behemoth devoted to chronicling the lives of his fancy goldfish. The channel exploded in popularity at the beginning of the pandemic and has since become one of the hottest properties in the FishTok universe with 3.5+ Million TikTok followers, 400k+ YouTube subscribers and 220k+ Instagram followers. Every day, millions of people tune in just to watch Luke play around with his dopey little army of multi-colored sentient floating matzo balls.

“Fancy goldfish” is their technical name, by the way. We aren’t talking about janky plastic bags full of thin, slimy, ticking death bombs you get for tossing a ball into a bucket at the carnival. Adult fancy goldfish can cost between $300-$500 with certain large Asian breeds running as high as $2,000. Currently, Luke's most expensive fish is named Brad and is worth about $350. (He gets all his fish for free now, thanks to a sponsorship from Goldfish Island, the StockX of Fancy Goldfish.)

@lukesgoldies Who is Clarence? Do you reallt want to know? #clarence #fish ♬ original sound - The Goldfish Guy

Luke’s Goldies has become so big that he’s been able to launch a successful Goldfish-themed merch line off the channel and has secured enough sponsors to make documenting Goldfish a full-time job. This is all thanks to his roster of internet all-stars like Big Bubba, Lil Dumpy and Clarence, a cute orange blob with stunning flowing white fins that went viral after choking on a plant.

Clarence is far from the most popular fish in Luke’s tanks. That title currently sits with Big Bubba, who gained popularity after wreaking havoc in Luke’s tanks and attacking all the female goldfish during breeding time. Another one of his fish stars is Mr. Cow, who predictably looks like an aquatic cow. This fish has grown such a following that a recent fan art contest for the speckled black, white and orange goldfish received more than 120 submissions.

One unintended consequence of being the biggest name on FishTok is women “swimming” into his DMs. “They’re mostly in their 40s and 50s,” Luke says. “One lady on YouTube kept saying I was cute, but she was over 50 and I don’t think she realized I’m only 21. Also, I’m a religious Christian, so right now I’m only looking for someone to eventually marry.” When asked what he’s looking for in a potential partner, Luke chuckles and responds, “They just have to like goldfish and Jesus.”

At no point did Luke think his obsession with goldfish would translate into any sort of social media following or income, as a chemical engineering student from an unassuming religious Armenian family. His father and grandfather worked as chemical engineers, while his two older brothers and one older sister all graduated with, you guessed it, chemical engineering degrees, as well.

Being Armenian, the obvious connection is to suggest that Luke Hagopian is like the Kim Kardashian of FishTok. While he appreciates the title, he’s quick to point out, “My fish are the celebrities. If I was walking around the street with Bubba he would have a higher chance of getting recognized.” So maybe he’s more like the “Kris Jenner of FishTok,” a stage mom for fancy fish.

The rise of Luke’s Goldies to social media glory was partially the result of COVID lockdown boredom. Luke was studying at Illinois Institute of Tech when everything shut down in March 2020, forcing him to move back home. Back then, he was an irrelevant social media user who had been posting pictures to an account, called “lifethroughluke,” with around 2,000 followers.

A few weeks into quarantine, Luke’s brother, who also didn’t have a big online presence, posted something unrelated to goldfish that went viral on TikTok. Luke was fascinated by how videos could circulate the app without having a following, which seemed impossible to do on something like Instagram. So he started posting videos of his goldfish to TikTok and, after three uploads, one hit 10k views — by far the most views on anything he had ever made.

Luke kept posting videos and, in under a month, had his first mega-viral TikTok: a memorial for a goldfish, named Nubbin, that had recently passed. It got more than 1 million views. At that point, his account only had around 1,000 followers. “It was crazy to think. I had never thought a video of mine would reach a million people,” he says. “That’s massive. A million people are watching my fish.”

He began posting three or four videos a day and immediately became the hottest property on FishTok, pouring himself into Luke’s Goldie’s and spending 15-20 hours a week on fish maintenance (cleaning tanks, changing filters, dealing with sick fish) and another 30 hours alone producing content. Within two months, he had more than 100k followers on TikTok.

@lukesgoldies Touching goldfish is not what kills them. 9 times out of 10, it’s poor water quality. #fish #goldfish #aquarium ♬ Sunset Lover Night Trouble - SelteMemset

The secret to Luke’s success was branding each fish with a name and personality. He noticed people starting to follow individual fish storylines and pick their favorites, like Lil Steve and Bethany. Nubbin was frequently compared to a real-life version of Gumbo from The Adventures of Gumball. Followers even began tagging their spouses in videos of the fatter fish.

His next big breakout star was a controversial jet-black lumpy chode of a fish, named Bubba, who rode the coattails of the #MeToo movement to FishTok infamy. Bubba was part of a gift package he got from his sponsor GoldFish Island and came in the same shipment as a female he was supposed to mate with. When Luke put them in the same tank, Bubba became too aggressive with this egg-ramming and he had to separate them to chill out for a bit.

Quick anatomy lesson: Goldfish mate by having the male ram the female to knock her eggs out of her egg sack. Once the eggs come out, the male fertilizes them and, after two to seven days, the eggs hatch. Luke doesn’t keep decorations in the tank because males and females could hurt themselves on sharp corners during rough goldfish sex. (Goldfish are freaks in the sheets, apparently.)

@lukesgoldies Reply to @estelle_1976 And especially being new fish, being stressed from spawning is no good for a fish right after shipping. They need peace #fish ♬ Coffee for Your Head - Vinyll

Luke posted a video of this saga and it went viral on FeminisTok with people labeling Bubba a “typical male” because of his behavior. Commenters went as far as to call for Bubba to be euthanized because of his “history of sexual assault.” Luke eventually responded to the controversy by showing a video of him pretending to execute Bubba in clove oil, the equivalent of a gas chamber to goldfish. (It was actually just a salt bath to help heal up a surface injury he’d gotten the day prior.)

“The FishTok community definitely has some toxic people in it,” Luke says. “If they see people posting videos of alternative ways to raise fish, they will often not accept it as the correct way. Some people get very grounded in their own ways and express their distaste through hate comments.”

A good example of this was “Heatergate,” a FishTok debate over whether you should use heaters directly in the tank. Things got so “heated” in the comment section that users began threatening others with physical violence. “I’m not here to create any enemies,” Luke continues.

@lukesgoldies Reply to @bartwatson1 so how do they survive in the wild? They don’t... these fish are domesticated. #goldfish #fish #ranchu #aquarium ♬ Morning Mood - Ave Maria

Some people say Luke’s fish shouldn’t even be in a tank to begin with. “These are domesticated fish,” he clarifies. “If they were released into the wild, they would be killed. If you release these fish in an open and connected freshwater system, you might have an invasive species problem on your hands. Over time, these goldfish could de-evolve into common breeds that could become an issue, or they would die. Domesticated breeds are not made for the wild.”

Luke contends that he gives them a good life. “You can tell their emotions and mood based on how active they are,” he says. “I’ve been around them enough to know when they’re stressed out and when they’re fine. In hospital tanks where they have little room and no friends, they don’t swim around much and are calm, but in their big tanks with their sand and other fish, they swim, are active, and have a great time.”

Fans of Luke’s Goldies have become so connected to his fish that when one passed over the summer it turned the comment section of his channel into a viral virtual wake.

@lukesgoldies Day 44 Final Viola Update: She is Gone. He cause of death and dissection are discussed in my YouTube video. #fish #goldfish #viola ♬ A sad but beautiful chorus like a church funeral - Kurippertronixxx

Meet Viola, Luke’s third FishTok all-star: Viola was a huge orange female with a red head and yellow eye circles. In July, she became sick and her reproductive tract filled up with liquid. Luke posted a video where he used his thumb to aspirate some of the liquid out by pressing on her belly. This forced a stream of water to shoot out of her like a water balloon that had been punctured. The video got 41 million views and grew an audience of people checking in regularly for updates on Viola’s health.

Unfortunately, after 40 days of medication and TLC, Viola’s condition wasn’t improving and Luke decided to euthanize her. This was devastating to the community of people who had rallied behind Viola during her struggle. (Then, Luke posted a video autopsy explaining how she died, which was somewhat weird to watch. We’d been following Viola for a month and suddenly was watching him knife through her like the fish guy cutting lox at Zabars. It was like if a favorite celebrity died and then you also got to watch the coroner hold up their liver and be like, “Brittany Murphy died from mold, look!”)

In recent months, Luke has decided to scale down the amount of fish he’s looking after because of how time-consuming and expensive it was becoming. Right now, he has around 45 fancy goldfish, but at the height of his collection had close to 140.

@lukesgoldies Thank you guys for an amazing year! We’ve come a long way in 2021! #2021 #2022 #newyear #happynewyear ♬ original sound - MaguireMemes

Raising this many fish is not cheap. With tanks, filters, feed and more, Luke spends around $500 per month to maintain his pod (some months he’s spent as much as $1,500). Now that his account’s gone viral, his costs are covered by sponsorships and merch, but before he was just a guy with a massive goldfish obsession shelling his entire salary from Potbelly into this wildly expensive hobby.

Luke plans on graduating college in a few months and is looking to buy his own property, so he can build a greenhouse, bigger goldfish ponds and maybe even a turtle pond. This will enable him to focus on making more aquatic educational content and continuing to grow Luke’s Goldies.

Though it should be noted, Luke’s Goldies was recently dethroned as the top FishTok account by a rival channel, called Fish4Ever, that now boasts 3.8 million TikTok followers. Luke’s still a whale in the universe though and, because of the money he makes from his brand, can work on the channel full-time after he graduates. Needless to say, he has no plans to work as a chemical engineer anytime soon.

Photo courtesy of Luke "The Goldfish Guy"