T-shirt Gareth Wrighton

Noen Eubanks: I am a TikToker, I do TikTok”

Volume 4 Issue 003: He’s TikTok’s first crossover star, a walking, talking embodiment of NOW, with a following the size of Hungary. He’s the face of Celine. He’s the stuff of dreams. But Noen Eubanks is more than just a face and a tight pair of jeans.

Arti­cle tak­en from The Face Vol­ume 4 Issue 003. Order your copy here.

From 20 feet away, a girl glides across the pavement of New York’s Washington Square Park on a skateboard. She approaches like a slow emergency, wearing a brown, faux-fur coat and gold hoops. Her phone is held aloft, recording, like a Planet Earth crew member spotting a beached seal. Freewheeling towards us, she shouts: OK, the answer’s probably no’, but are you from Tik…” – her board stops just short of knocking over the nearly six-foot frame of Noen Eubanks – Tok?”

Yeah,” Eubanks says. The girl freezes. Her friend trails behind her. She clearly meant on TikTok, because TikTok is not a geographical location you can be from, but rather a digital stadium where 30-second video clips play on loop to its dedicated base of 1.5 billion users worldwide. Noen Eubanks is 18 years old and his 9.4 million followers watch him goof off and apply blush under his ice-blue eyes in a variety of eBoy outfits, like graphic anime tops and a stack of thick chains.

Oh my gaaaad, we didn’t think it would be you,” the girl says, only half-believably. She skipped her class at NYU today because she was feeling sad or whatever”. Now she stands wheel-to-toe with one of the biggest stars on the app, staring blankly. Eubanks looks uneasy. He would rather be at home in Los Angeles playing video games. Yet he’s out here in public and will be recognised many times over the course of this one day.

Can we film a TikTok with you?” she blurts. He agrees, shaking out his nuclear-yellow hair to prepare, and both umm” at each other about the video’s concept for a TikTok eternity, until the girl wings it and hits record. Just two TikTok influencers hanging out in… New York,” she says into the camera. Yes,” Eubanks adds from over her shoulder, throwing up a peace sign. I am a TikToker. I do TikTok.”

The awkward humour will result in about 82,000 likes in its first 24 hours for the girl. Eubanks is trying to finish his own video, which he was working on before the interruption. He’s anxious to get something up already. It’s noon and Los Angeles is just waking up. He wants to let his fans know he is in New York, but he is reluctant to reveal his new hair colour. It was Dory blue and was dyed yesterday to this cadmium-yellow hue. My fans are going to hate me,” he says. They really liked the blue.” Until he posts, and still after, anxiety will gnaw at him. Being a slave to the algorithm is real. 

It’s a genuine pressure that I’m always under,” he admits. I mean, I haven’t posted yet today. Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do, don’t eat sometimes. I get sick if I try to eat,” he laments, adding: Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”

It’s worth it because a little over two years ago, Noen Eubanks was tossing pizzas at a small restaurant chain in Georgia. He wanted to make a joke video to send to his brother Damon. That post on TikTok – his first – received 100 views. Eubanks knew from previous attempts at making YouTube videos that with continuity and a USP – a genderless, sensitive soft boi look and offbeat humour – he could crack this new app’s algorithm. He’s a self-proclaimed numbers man, after all. What the algorithm demands, he delivers on. It worked. Lucky it did, because it was around the time he began experimenting with different hair colours and painting his nails black that the pizza place fired him for being too feminine”. Of course, they didn’t say that exactly, but what is worth a human rights lawsuit in LA is worth barely a shrug in the fifth circle of Georgia.

  • Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”   Social media is not a very glamorous thing, but it’s worth it.”  

Now, TikTok is the spindle of his fame around which all of Eubanks’ other projects are spun into golden thread: The Noen Show is a YouTube series made with social media production and management company Kyra TV (Kyra provides a team for his short skits). Recent ones include slapping clay with the bois” or camping out overnight on a haunted ship with prominent TikTokers such as Benji Krol (follow count: 6.7 million) and Chase Hudson (follow count: 12 million). The videos notch up more than half a million views apiece. The first season of his Not Noen line of merch, another Kyra-backed project, has sold out completely.

In September of last year he had only three million followers. In December, 7.5 million. He is now edging towards the big one-zero. His videos have been viewed a total of 228 million times, or exactly double the number of people that tuned in to the most-watched television broadcast of all time: Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. His future ambitions are to become a video-game streamer, developer and an actor. Kyra’s here to help with that.

For his TikToks and other video experiments, Eubanks follows a motto he has come up with. Funny first,” he says, beaming. If it’s funny and the funny prioritises over everything, then screw it, do it. You know what I mean?”

He pulls out his phone to show me an example and cues up a TikTok of the user Brittany Broski’s head on a virtual prawn whimpering about being called a shrimp. Another example: one of his first TikToks to really blow up was a point-of-view video. The concept was a twist on Stockholm Syndrome. Its caption reads pov: holding you hostage but caught feels”. In it, Eubanks removes a balaclava and blue steels into the camera as though his victim cannot resist him. It’s been viewed 39 million times and spawned countless duets”, where other users can add their own content next to the original. Most are distressed-looking girls whose tears and fears subside once the mask comes off to reveal their hot captor. Eubanks is the sole architect of his kooky humour and his fans notice the effort he puts into his content.

It was at a dinner last year with friends that his virtual influence solidified into the real thing, when Eubanks converted his digital renown into an advertising campaign with French luxury fashion house Celine. A woman approached him outside the restaurant. She’s like, You’re beautiful. What do you do? Who are you?’” he recalls of the fateful meeting. She worked at Celine and asked him to come to a casting for the brand. He flew to London from LA for the casting and headed straight there on no sleep. Not only was he unfamiliar with the label’s elusive creative director, Hedi Slimane, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t know what Celine was”. It wasn’t a prerequisite. They liked his look. He got the call that he would be the newest face of the brand. After rearranging flights he was immortalised by Slimane, photographed for their campaign in black-and-white wearing a leather jacket and a cropped T‑shirt.

Jacket, shirt, tie and jeans Celine

Celine introduced Eubanks as a teen idol” rather than a TikTok star – a way to package his novel type of fame in a digestible way for consumers of this august brand. The teen-idol moniker was first glued to 50s child star Ricky Nelson, and has since chased after pouty-lipped and sad-eyed men all the way up to Patrick Swayze and Leonardo DiCaprio in the 80s and 90s. The concept of being – as broadcast journalist Barbara Walters once put it – a face and a tight pair of jeans” does not appeal to Eubanks any more than it did to Swayze, who despised the term. I’m more than just a face and hair,” Eubanks argues. I’m a person. And [the objectification] sucks, but it’s another one of those things where, technically, I signed up for it.”

Eubanks is now sitting in a booth at Dimes café in the Lower East Side. He orders what’s called Love Toast, tahini-slathered bread topped with honey and raspberries, and nothing to drink. Nobody here bothers him, except for the occasional side-eye at his hair. He’s fine-tuning the anime look, wearing combat boots and an oversized MSGM sweatshirt with the words Energy Charge” across the top, which hangs on his frame like a duvet on a clothesline. His fingers are thin and long, knuckles outfitted like he works in a medieval role-playing store. On his left ear hangs a tiny pair of ­handcuffs. And the fluoro-hued hair, middle-parted, hides most of his unblemished, seraphic face.

So, well, my family history,” Eubanks begins when I ask, shifting in his seat. He’ll talk about VR or Star Wars or TikTok for as long as there is coffee in your cup, but initially clams up over the subject of his childhood. It was my mom and my dad, and my dad was in the military. I moved around a lot – Hawaii, Georgia – and then they split up.” His mom, Tabitha, filed for divorce from his dad, Bryan, when Eubanks was four (around that age, Eubank’s memory is hazy). Tabitha took her two sons to Texas, where she remarried.

My stepdad, he was not very nice to me and my brother,” he says, muddling the raspberries on his toast between the tines of his fork. “[My mom] was always working. Never saw her. We lived in an apartment complex, and it wasn’t a nice complex either, but when you’re there, you don’t know anything different.”

Dress Moschino, headband Stefan Cooke, leg warmers and socks Falke, trainers Jaffa Saba and handbag stylist’s own

Eubanks stops. His phone keeps buzzing with notifications and texts pleading for his attention. He ignores them and pockets the phone. I don’t think I’ve ever told it like this,” he says. He continues talking breathlessly, coyly, about how his mom divorced her husband, moved them back to Georgia, and in with a new stepdad. His second was a SWAT officer named Josh. I couldn’t stand living there. I felt like nobody there actually liked me,” he confesses. Me and my brother, at the time, were fighting. I fought with all my siblings, and with my parents…” They were extremely strict and thought the internet was bad.

Halfway through his sophomore year, he could no longer take it. He moved out of his mom and stepdad’s house and relocated an hour away to live with his father, Bryan. He told no one. Eubanks just disappeared”, he tells me. Ended up at this new school. I was like, This is my fresh start, this is my chance.’ That was actually the first time I tried parting my hair in the middle.”

A combination of bad circumstances – family alienation, lies about his parents’ divorce, incessant bullying at school (“People just hated me. They’d call me faggot’, make homophobic jokes…”) and a close friend’s death – contributed to a spell of depression. In crept the suicidal thoughts. It’s in recounting all this that Eubanks breaks, fighting back tears. 

I gave up. I was like, I can’t do this any more,’” he says, voice wavering. I tried to kill myself a couple of times. I went to a mental hospital, couldn’t afford it. I’m supposed to be on a prescription, couldn’t afford it. I was like, Just let me disappear…’ And that was when I started TikTok. What stopped me from actually doing it [killing himself] was that I started getting fans, and there were people telling me, I’m depressed. My family is getting divorced. I’m miserable. I look up to you. You make my day better.’”

Dress Marc Jacobs, pearl necklace Celine

His parents today are supportive of his social media career, but neither knows he is in New York at the moment. He hasn’t heard from his brother, his closest family member, in months. My brother was planning on going into the military. He was the only person at the time that I trusted, and my stepdad convinced him to [enlist], basically,” he says. He’s probably in Iran right now, if I’m being honest with you. I have no clue.”

His family members have some idea of how successful he is – and he is successful. He has a place to stay, provided to him by Kyra TV, in addition to an annual salary that is closer to, he would say, a 42-year-old’s salary than an 18-year-old’s. He signed with the London-based youth entertainment company last July. Kyra also produces the streetwear series PAQ and the fashion-and beauty-themed show NAYVA

Eubanks is its first TikTok signee. His is a slightly different situation than other TikTok superstars, who can make up to $20,000 per post from brand deals and thousands from followers in donations” simply by live­streaming on the app. A salary was key for Eubanks, who had little in the way of financial stability before this and was couch-hopping before he made the move out west.

The tragedy of his young life makes this new success that much more bittersweet. When I ask whether he is fully out of that deeply unhappy mindset, if he can look back at that period like a shrinking road sign in a rear-view mirror, he says no. I still believe I had every reason to feel the way I did, and if [ending my life] was what was gonna stop it, then that was what was gonna stop it,” he says. I’ve been very lucky or blessed – however you want to look at it – to be given the opportunity I had, and I just hold on to that now.”

  • Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.”  Through my life I constantly have anxiety. I think two, maybe three nights a week, I can’t sleep. I’m just up all night. Don’t know what to do.” 

Eubanks moved out to LA last year, where he can live freely. He can dress however he pleases without heads cocking in his direction. His father posted on Instagram in September of last year: I keep getting PMs and DMs about Noen wearing make-up and his clothes and earrings [and] about him being gay,” the caption reads along with a slideshow of Bryan wearing guyliner or sporting grunge-era piercings. First off, none of it matters,” his dad writes. He’s happy. To me that is all that matters. That is all that should matter to you. If you really want to know, ask him. He will tell you if he wants you to know. If not, don’t concern yourself with it, just be happy that he is making it out there doing what he loves.”

Half an hour later, after an unsuccessful stop at Best Buy to see if they have the new Oculus VR rig (it’s sold out), he’s shopping at Buffalo Exchange, a mid-tier, second-hand clothing store in NoHo. The way Eubanks surveys the racks is akin to how a golfer sizes up a putt: he looks from afar, then up close, and finally he goes for it. Eubanks snatches a hanger holding a giant metallic Nike overcoat. His sartorial hole-in-one. It’s half silver, half gold. Its shine is eye-catching, something the algorithm favours, he explains.

His other purchase here is a sheer, cherry-blossom crop top. Cute, tiny, and something one of his young fans might wear to meet him at the mall. It’s cool, he announces without searching for secondary approval. He chooses not to try either of these items on before buying them. They will sit in his closet until he deems them worth wearing for a TikTok. If not, he will give them away to a friend.

Jacket, brooch and pearl necklace Celine, jumper Gareth Wrighton

Fifteen minutes down the road, at the Israeli restaurant 12 Chairs Cafe, we walk in for a late lunch. Immediately, a group of friends rubbernecks to gawk at Eubanks. At least one recognises him. Can you sit on that side?” he politely asks me, gesturing to the chair positioned closest to the group, hoping to shield himself from the uninvited attention. It could be because he’s a celebrity, or because of the way he’s dressed, or because he’s tall and striking. Eubanks slumps down in his chair and orders a schnitzel, which he’s never heard of before, with French fries and a Coke. He sips at the Coke, contemplates a couple of fries, barely touches the schnitzel. I’ve been invisible my whole life, and now people won’t stop looking at me,” he says.

To millions of teens in middle America who hyperventilate over every new post, Eubanks acts as a sort of bat signal for soft boi style. Rings, chains, shirts graphically engulfed by flames (he buys his from Skoot Apparel), nail polish and eye make-up – these are the raw materials he uses to craft his image. Heteronormative society be damned! How many thoughts about what people think about his outfit choices occupy his anxious brain, I ask. I just don’t think that deeply about it. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Someone’s going to be annoyed?” he says, bemused at the thought. Maternity clothes are the only clothes that really have a gender, and I’m not ever gonna get pregnant, soooo…” He trails off, poking at his schnitzel.

Top Ashley Williams, boxer shorts Gareth Wrighton and trousers Dsquared2

But you can bet that even one painted nail can act as an invitation to speculate over someone’s sexuality. Eubanks has ten. He fields these Are you gay, are you bi?” questions daily from fans trying to crowbar their way into his personal life. I don’t think I’m old enough and experienced enough to say I like this or I like this. I like a lot of people,” he says as Lady Gaga’s Heal Me belts over the restaurant’s sound system to this midday lunch crowd. Looks aren’t important to him. He makes an analogy to a VR game. If we all could shed our human bodies and have our personalities adopt an avatar, then why worry about gender or looks? If you’re a good person, I don’t care if you’re a guy or a girl,” he concludes, it doesn’t really matter.”

That said, Eubanks has a girlfriend. He’s dating the TikToker Abby Roberts. She posts her make-up looks on the app to more than six million followers. He jokes that maybe he’ll make an official announcement of their relationship in the coming days, but he’d rather people just knew, somehow, and decides to leave clues in comments on others’ posts.

Had it not been for the novelty of meting out short clips of his personality, Eubanks might not have found himself. Posting is his raison d’être. He sees it as the game it is. I love algorithms and stuff like that,” he says. He checks his TikTok and frowns. The post he made earlier was doing well at the start, but now the views and likes are plateauing. He shrugs, annoyed at its performance, but not enough to delete it.

At some point I will have my last great video,” he says. That is factual information. Realistically, you never know when that is. It could have been just now. And I could just not be trending any more. People lose interest and that could be it for me. But I also [believe] if you just keep on working for something, it will turn around. Realistically, anxiety is not grounded in anything. But I can’t make it go away. I can’t talk it out. It’s just – it’s still there.”

Once back home, he plans to treat himself to thousands of dollars’ worth of lightsabers when he heads to Disneyland – not for the rides, but for a shopping spree. Don’t think he doesn’t know how ridiculous it sounds – to pay admission to the Happiest Place on Earth simply to visit the Star Wars-themed store, The Star Trader. He is also setting up a video-game system so he can stream his game play online. Right now, he’s into Call of Duty. He’s going out on acting auditions, engineering collab videos and roping off a sizeable chunk of TikTok all for himself.

What he lives for now, what he sacrifices in his own mental health, he gives back to his fans. Without them, he says, he wouldn’t be here. They saved his life. He’ll do the grip-and-grin thing, film a duet”, as long as demand exists. If I can make people smile, laugh, any kind of positive emotion, I’ll keep on doing it.” 

To what end, I wonder, as he pores over analytics and loses sleep and force-feeds himself so he doesn’t wither away and evaporate into the algorithm. He has an ambition, though, that anxiety cannot kill and hair dye cannot mask. He has a quality that engenders empathy. Noen Eubanks will give it all to us like a drip-feed, if we ask him nicely. Underneath this lemon-peel hair, there’s valuable content to be juiced. I just hope he doesn’t get too tightly squeezed.

Read next: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio are the CEOs of TikTok The story of how two teen girls came to dominate the video-sharing app by dancing the Renegade.


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