Noen Eubanks has a following unlike any other, both in a proverbial and a hyper-literal sense. The label-resistant lip-sync influencer built his following on TikTok — a social platform only a few years old — rather quickly compared to the long term come-up required for finding an audience on Instagram or Twitter. Eubanks discovered the radically new audience through the app's cringe-favoring algorithm and fandom-activating features, effectively sketching out a persona that's clearly of-the-moment, but changeable.
He's quite aware of it all; after watching his TikToks, especially some of his Point-of-View (POV) videos and smoldering performances, it appears Eubanks is oblivious to his image or place in 2019's pop culture yearbook. After all, outside of the Gen-Z social media monolith, recording yourself staring into a front-facing camera and publishing it on the internet might be seen as a rather self-indulgent way to spend an afternoon. Eubanks is in on the joke, though, and he's ready to laugh along.
When he first walks into the PAPER offices, he's reserved and dressed in a loose-fitting hoodie that speaks to a generation more enamored with Billie Eilish than what's on the runway. He's on level with what I expected from his shy and playful demeanor on TikTok; then, once we sit down one-on-one, he's 100% forthcoming. It's a shift that doesn't seem affected as much as it seems telling of the mystique and narrative that creators on TikTok can build for and around themselves. He speaks about trends, fame, and social pressure openly, as well as the labels he's been slapped with as a result of his status.
Much of the mythology around the "e-boy" persona and accompanying monikers has to do with the following: skateboarding, blush, dyed hair, houndstooth prints, chains, and of course, breaking hearts. While Eubanks might be in-conversation with the e-boy aesthetic, and nearly became "the face" of it at one point, he's moved fluidly through emerging styles. He talks about his affinity for the "flower boy" aesthetic, a look rooted in soft colors and vulnerability versus the edge-leveling "e-boy," and worse, the true-bro "f-boy." When he talks about these subcultures, developed specifically on TikTok, it's clear that he's sitting perched on his For You page just like the rest of us.
Whether or not his presence is truly bathed in awareness, and thus, irony, is another topic entirely. His dedication to making his fans smile surely isn't just for inside-jokes; he recounts dedicating himself to a regimen for postings, and with TikTok growing in cultural potency by the day and trend, Eubanks has made it past the pack. When speaking with him, it becomes clear that he's wanting to leverage multi-platform approach to fame, gaining followers on Instagram and even considering branching out with the "Noen brand."
PAPER caught up with the Gen Z sensation below, where he talks about his beginnings on TikTok, his style mantras, and the proliferation of digi-fame into real life.
How did you discover TikTok?
It was actually a year ago. I first downloaded the app and I recorded a video just to send to my brother as a joke and that was pretty much it, and I deleted the app. That was that for two months. It was really popular, I had a lot of traction, people were still talking about it so I re-downloaded the app. Part of the reason I started posting videos was that the first video I made got 100-something views and after that I lost my mind. That's when I started, like, "Oh, maybe I can do something with this," so I just kept on posting. That was what started it.
So it started in this post-ironic space?
Which is so interesting because the audience that you've built has become half that: Half who recognize and half fan-girl type?
It is definitely split, for sure. But for the most part, after a certain amount of time, everything meshes together pretty nicely.
Is TikTok what brought you to LA?
I am in LA, not directly from TikTok, but influenced from it.
I wonder what it's like in terms of Instagram culture, comparatively. You know how there's such an influencer base out in LA. Do you feel like there are a lot of other TikTok-ers concentrated in that area?Yes, but for the most part the people that are out there are already established, and they're not from TikTok. They're from Musical.ly or from Vine. They're still in that loop, but most people out in LA are not from TikTok directly. Most people that I really look up to and watch their stuff, they're from everywhere.
The audio component of this is much more different than Twitter, Instagram — you can express everything differently, so how do you decide which audios to use?
It depends. Because sometimes I'll hear a sound, scrolling, and it will make me feel a certain way. I'll feel this fire and I'm like, "I need to capture this," and sometimes I hear a sound and I'm like, "This is funny, I'm going to just do this," and there's a punchline and a joke so I'll do whatever. Sometimes I hear a sound that's popular and I think, "Oh, I can do it this way." Do my twist on a trend or whatever is going on with it. Sometimes I hear a sound and I just like it and I save it, and I have a bank.
I'm just curious about this because I've had other people on TikTok say they get messages from artists saying, "Could you use my song in a video?" because it's become such a music launching platform.
Absolutely. A lot of people are trying to take advantage of it and it works in an interesting way, because there are so many people on the platform, and they'll come to me and they'll say, "Hey, we'll give you $75," or something like that, and if I tell them, "No," then they're just going to go to someone else. There's so many people on the platform that someone is going to take it.
Does that make you feel interchangeable within the TikTok scope? The categories of user seem very defined for each person. Do you feel kind of limited within those categories?
No. I feel like a lot of people try to categorize me, but it's never like that. You're familiar with e-boys, soft boys, so many different categories and subcultures and I kind of just don't fit into any of them. So people will be like, "you're," and I am actually just not at all. You're saying that. I am not defining myself by that, whatsoever, it's just what people assume. Most of the time if I do say anything about it, it's ironic, it's a joke.
Could you think of a certain audio or moment where there was a huge jump in your following on the platform?
January 2nd. It was something I was avoiding for a very long time because my content, up until that point, was like the stupid jokes that weren't actually funny whatsoever, but I thought that I was going somewhere with it. So January 2nd — I had said that I was going to do it if I hit a certain milestone — was the first time that I posted an un-ironic video. It wasn't me making a joke. It was just me being me for a minute. People really liked it. I didn't leave the video up, I took it down after an hour, but for the time that it was up, they enjoyed it. And I was like, "Maybe that's the route I go down." Of course, I tried a little bit of that but also continued the stupid, not-funny jokes.
Then after a little while, I was doing so much of me just being me, and that's what people wanted to see. I started to get more traction and more traction, and then that's right about the time the whole e-boy thing began. Then I got thrown into that category and then that was just a thing for a while. There was a group of these e-boys, and by that time e-boys and f-boys were two different things. Now, that is a part of e-boy culture, and part of the reason why is because there were other people that came into it with a little bit more style. I don't want to say that I had more style than anyone else, but it wasn't like explicit sexual content.
So you started growing in that direction?
Yeah, because I was an e-boy and that's when all these other bigger people saw it and were like, "Oh, this is a new trending thing, this is catching on, I'm going to do it." And that's pretty much how TikTok works. People are just waiting and watching for something to catch on, and as soon as something starts to catch on, they're like "Oh, I'm going to do that, too," or "I'm going to do it this way." It's all this copying each other. I mean, that's how the trends work. People seeing the video this way and they're copying it and putting their own personality into it and putting their own twist on it, and then it starts to grow. So then the e-boy thing turned more into an f-boy thing, so the e-boys and f-boys were synonymous.
That's when I changed myself because I didn't want to associate, and I started doing the softer stuff. I think that "flower boy" is a better term than soft boys, because people understand it a little bit more. So then I started to go with that and the growth was still fairly consistent, going pretty upward, and I was that way for a very long time. And then, of course, when that started to catch on everyone started to go the softer route. And because I don't like to associate at all I just was like, "I'm going to go back a step, and just go really hard with it." So I dyed my hair, I think this is very edgy. A lot of people think that I am trying really hard, but I enjoy dressing this way, that's why I do it. If I didn't enjoy it I wouldn't dress this way. I'm not wearing it right now but, you know, doing a lot of makeup, I had the grills, I went back to painting the nails. Just full-sent it, really edgy. It was at the same time that I started putting a lot more productivity into my TikTok.
The first TikTok I saw of yours was the running away from the cops video. And then I just binge watched because there was such a conversation around that video. I think that helps sometimes, too, to have people talking and dueting. What's that culture of dueting like for you?
That video in particular was a huge opportunity. It was, "I'm going back to being the edgy and I'm going back to the bad guy vibes." At the same time, that video, there was a lot of emotion behind it. That was something I felt like I did a really good job of, was portraying the emotion I was feeling. And that's an example of, "I heard this sound, this is making me feel a certain way, I want to capture that and I want to portray that." It was also me showing off the new look that I had just done. The way that it was set up, it was a really nice opportunity for duets. So because of all three of those big pieces of it, it made a pretty good video. I think it has 30 million views now. And all the views together, I think close to 60.
Do you have any crazy fan interactions on the street? Are people recognizing you?
There are a lot of factors that go into it. If someone spots me and is like, "I saw you on TikTok, I wanna take a picture, I love what you do," absolutely, I'll give them my 100%. That's perfectly fine. When it comes down to it, those people, the people that follow you and are your fans are literally what makes you. I am nothing without that. So, why not give them everything that I have for that moment? I really just don't mind. There are other situations. I don't know how to say this — I can't post where I'm at. For example, when I was in London, the day before, I was like, "Hey, I'm going to go to this park at this time..."
For a meetup? How Viners used to do meet-ups?
Yeah. I just threw that on my story. And then the next day we showed up and we shut down the block. It was crazy. And London is a very small percentage of my audience. They're fourth or fifth down. It was a little crazy.
Do you find that your personal style has changed since you've been on TikTok? You really have built a style beacon for the platform. I am going to be surprised if you don't go into fashion.
I used to not dress like this whatsoever. I would never even think about it. Most days I go out I'm wearing makeup and my hair is dyed crazy colors and I'm wearing these crazy clothes. A year ago I would have never done anything like this. Not that I wouldn't want to, I just wouldn't have the confidence, I wasn't comfortable enough. Especially where I came from, it's just not an acceptable thing.
Where are you from originally?
I say Atlanta because it's easier, but I am from the quiet suburbs not too far from Atlanta, but around that area.
That's so interesting because except the For You page — where you get into literally any area in the world — it's like traveling without a passport. A lot of the times, TikTok is anti-suburban, anti-normative expression.
It's what people want to see. TikTok does a really good job of giving people what they want to see, whether they know it or not.