Photo Courtesy of @josh.bastin
If you were on TikTok in August of this year, odds are your For You page was flooded by a new account: @handsomesouthernboy. Josh Bastin seemed to have come out of nowhere, but took the social media platform by storm reaching over 800,000 followers and getting verified in a matter of months. TV Wasteland sat down with Josh to talk about his rapid rise to fame and a crazy couple of months in the spotlight- from Noah Beck to the Four Freak Show.
Your account initially started off as a social experiment with humor versus “thirst traps”. What was that beginning process like?
I remember I made a video on my old account and I was like, oh I wonder what it would be like [to do thirst traps] because considering the sway house, I kind of look similar. White, brown hair, just basic looking I would say. So I wondered if people would appreciate that. It honestly kind of frustrated me at first because I’ve always tried to be funny as opposed to like, attractive on the app. It was just interesting to see that the thirst traps do well though because I don’t think I’m that attractive.
When did you realise that you had a platform on Tiktok?
I wouldn’t say that I felt like I did until the beginning of August. I always kind of had a following, but, I used this online calculator once and I was the 95th percentile so I was like, oh I’m not even in the top 1 percent and I have 200,000 followers. I would say when I hit 500,000 I was like, okay I’m pretty set right now, I do have an audience, a platform. That’s when I finally was like, okay this is pretty big.
Why do you think that people gravitated toward your account?
Obviously my humor, we talked about that, and my looks play a part in it. I think that, for me it’s just that I’m not the funniest person. I know there’s a lot of funny people. I’m also not the most attractive person. But I think my account is just a good combination where it’s not one type of content. You’re going to get a lot of different things on there and I think there’s something for everyone on there.
What was your reaction to the very, very large fan community that’s developed for you?
It’s honestly comforting I would say, because I know I have a fan base, a community that would kind of stand up for me, defend me, be the majority in an argument. So I know that if I get, which I don’t foresee happening, but if I did get into an argument with another TikToker or something and I knew I was in the right, then I think I would have people behind me. And so I think it’s just- it’s honestly just surprising though because I never would have thought that I would have this kind of fanbase.
I feel like a lot of teens- almost every teenager has confidence issues, has self worth issues. Do you think that being on Tiktok and having this community has sort of helped you with that? Or has it been detrimental? What was that like?
I actually would say that it kind of helped me because it does provide reassurance that I am funny, I am attractive. Sometimes, if I struggle to find that confirmation in person, like with a friend, with them being like “oh you’re so funny”, obviously they’re not going to tell me that all the time. So if I’m lacking in that in my real life then I know I can get that reassurance I need on the internet.
How quickly did you become a part of the creator community? And what would you say that connection is like?
I was honestly very lucky because Chase Rutherford reached out to me first and he put me in the groupchat. It’s Chase, Haley, Hamzah, and it’s got some other creators on top of that and they put me in. I’m very grateful for that because that introduced me to them and then they introduced me to their friends. When I hit 200,000 followers I got put in this one Snapchat group chat that ended up evolving into a ton more stuff. So that’s when I started becoming friends with a ton of creators. We talk about it all the time, we don’t like the label “alt”. But in the “alt” community, I’m friends with almost all of them now because of these group chats. It’s awesome.
Would you say that there’s a level of gatekeeping with verified creators and, you know at a certain following mark, or is it all sort of jumbled together?
I think it’s been really good. Noah, Claire, Chase, Hamzah, they weren’t all verified obviously. We’ve been friends for like, forever so it wouldn’t create a difference. But, in general I don’t think there’s any sort of gatekeeping, besides obviously, the Hype and Sway House people. But anyone in the “alt” community, they don’t care. They all love to be friends with each other it seems.
You sort of already mentioned how you got into the groupchat, but how did you get involved with the Freakshow on Twitch with Hamzah and Haley and Claire? And what has your experience on that show been like?
Chase reached out to me because in the groupchat they were like, we need to add something to Freakshow, how about we bring a special guest. They asked me before I reached a big following in late July if I would want to be a special guest on it sometime and just kind of for fun. They had me on one of the times where Claire wasn’t there. I love being on with them, it’s super fun. I think they’re some of the funniest people ever. To be honest, sometimes I feel out of place there because like I said, I do think I’m funny to a certain extent but they are like- genuinely comedians, but it was fun for me to be there.
What has it been like working on the group account that you’re a part of?
That is just like, so much fun. There are some things I think are too out of pocket to put on my main TikTok because I would say that my main is where I’ve made mutuals with a lot of people that are made fun of sometimes. The Hype House and the Sway House members- people like to make fun of them just because it’s easy targets I would say. So since I’m friends with them we follow each other, on my other account I don’t want to post something about them. If I were to ever do that I would do it on the group account. But honestly we all just treat it like one big group chat. We just post and make fun of each other on it and it’s just- it’s been a lot of fun. It’s just crazy to see that we’ve gotten as many followers as we have just for having fun on that account, not really caring what type of content we put out.
Speaking of the Sway House, you’ve had quite a lot of interactions with Noah Beck recently. What’s your relationship like with him?
I completely made that first video as a joke where I was doing the trend- if you’ve seen it right now where it’s like (singing) “I like you”. I made it about him “dating Bryce Hall” or whatever I did as a joke and he commented on my video. He commented like ten more times after that first video. And he followed me after like, the second one. So, we kind of DMed for a little, just like chatted. And then he added my Snapchat so we like, we talk now, he’s cool, he’s actually like really nice. To be honest I think that it’s hard with his big platform to handle a lot of the hate and stuff he gets. And I do think he’s a good person who makes some mistakes, but everyone does. It’s really cool to talk to him and kind of see what it’s like not from a fan perspective I guess.
There seems to be a lot of conversation around homophobia and transphobia from creators right now. What do you think a creator’s responsibility is in calling out that behavior?
I think it’s kind of up to the creator. Two of my best friends, Noah Miller versus Chase Rutherford both kind of have similar audiences but very different types of content. Noah has always been like an activist, like he was very vocal during the Black Lives Matter at the peak of its movement. Chase is obviously in support of those things but I think that he wouldn’t necessarily bring that type of content onto his account, he’s there for humor. You have a choice on what to do with your platform and I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s anyone’s responsibility to call out homophobia. I think especially with the whole Donelij argument that was going on recently, it wasn’t necessarily anyone’s place to speak out but the original video was @Toborowitz, if you know who that is. He made the original and he got so much hate for it. But I have so much respect for what he did because he started a movement and an argument which eventually got multiple of his accounts taken down. I think it’s your choice to speak up on it but I have a lot of respect for anyone who does.
Obviously you have a very large positive community that appreciates the videos that you make, but have you been a target for negative reactions or hate? Sort of the way that Toby was.
I’m very grateful that I didn’t- I never posted anything about it on my main account, like I said earlier like the group account I was a part of was where I would post all of that because I just wouldn’t look at the comments necessarily on that account. I feel really bad because a lot of my friends were getting a lot of hate on their main accounts and in their Instagram DM’s, and I got probably the least of anyone so I was grateful for that.
What are your thoughts on the “white boy of the month” mentality?
It was a lot of fun to be honest. It’s not really a real thing, but it is really weird how it works because the TikTok algorithm does pick some person every month and they just boost their account whether you’ve been producing the same concept for months or you just made your account. Noah Miller had been making content since December, but not consistently. All of the sudden, his account rocketed in May and June, and it blew up so he was like the “white boy of the month.” I don’t think it is necessarily always like a white boy but it’s kind of the joke because it seems like TikTok is tired of someone and picks someone new every month. It happened with @Collinb963. He was a great example, he shot up like 100k to 1 million in a month. It was fun though because I had never experienced the hype and everyone on TikTok- scrolling through my own for you page, every video would be about me and it was just weird to see that since I’m the person that everyone is talking about. It was fun and I kinda self proclaimed it then it actually happened so it was cool.
Yeah I remember there was a two week period where I could not open the app without seeing you like ten times in a row.
(laughs) It was interesting how that happens because I don’t think that I changed my content too much, it was just how it happened where these videos started blowing up.
What’s one message you would give to anyone that is a fan of yours?
My biggest reminder to anyone who’s a fan of mine, or any big TikToker in general, is as cool as we seem through the screen, I would like to remind everyone to not worship them. As much as people worship me, and I am grateful that I have such a fanbase, I’m a normal person in real life and I can be funny through a screen, but I’m just pretty basic. I’m still a kid and I still make mistakes, I’m not a perfect person. When you see these people get “cancelled” for things they did, it’s just a reminder that everyone makes mistakes, they’re not perfect people. You shouldn’t worship them just because they have a following. I’m grateful for all the fans I have and all the appreciation I get, but I’m just a normal teen, a normal eighteen year old, a normal college freshman.
What are your plans for the future regarding your account and general career, and what are you studying?
Tiktok was always just a fun thing for me. I’ve been on the app for a really long time, like 2018, and I would always do a fun little dance, like the “say so” dance and the renegade. When they were all trending my videos would get six likes. They would never actually be on the For You page and I didn’t start trying to make content until March of this year. I don’t really see a career in TikTok and a lot of people asked me when it was supposed to get banned, “Are you going to make a Youtube channel? Or move to another platform?” and to be honest, I would never do that. Tiktok is just fun and easy for me, Youtube seems like so much work and editing.
In terms of my career, I’m studying psychology at school right now and I don’t necessarily where I wanna go with it yet. I’m looking to do a minor in neuroscience eventually. I love psychology so I’m like “it’ll take me wherever it goes,” so we’ll see. Hopefully I’ll know soon.
If you could switch lives with another creator for a day who would it be and why?
I would, this is so basic, but one of the D’amelios because I just would want to see what it’s like to be the most followed person on the app and to be a dancer on an app and be a real celebrity basically.
What trend do you want to be totally over with?
I don’t know if this is really considered a trend, but it’s getting really old- the people will post these things like “your sixth @ is whoever has to live in a mansion with you.” It’s so annoying because I like to check my mentions when people make videos about me, but my mentions are flooded with those and I’m like “ugh, I don’t care” so I want that trend to be over with.
Who is someone that you were starstruck to interact with or become friends with online?
I would say the biggest for me was Big Baller Claire, who was kinda big at my peak of watching TikTok, when I was most obsessed with it in Fall/Winter of 2019.
What’s a major change you’d like to see the platform make ranging from viewers to content creators?
Not everyone can ever be happy with the algorithm, but it is frustrating from my experience because the whole reason that I made a new account in the first place was because it seemed as if my old account had reached a peak and I was never going to escape it. No matter what type of content I made, how much a made, consistent every single day, I would gain 1k followers which is great, and I’m grateful for it. For this past week I’ve gained the same amount of followers everyday, but some days I definitely feel like I’m putting more effort into my content. I would say a better balance between how many followers and how many views you get based on how much effort you put into your content that day, how hard you work. I wish it was more rewarding sometimes based on how much you put into it.
This interview was edited for length/clarity. Interview by Ryan Flaherty, editing by Nona Nishigawara and Avery Cather.