It’s hard to identify what invisible string ties TikTok’s most-liked videos together. You’ll find professional-grade footage of a man lip-syncing on a mountain, a woman bobbing her head to a British diss track, an intensely gorgeous drawing of lips, a pop star trying out a new trend and an incredulous fellow peeling a banana. That’s just the top five.
Quickly ascending to the top of the list is a post from @totouchanemu, aka David Allen, which contains elements from all five of those distinct videos — a stunning backdrop, impressive camera equipment, authenticity, talent, reliability and self-deprecation.
Clocking in at just shy of 35 million likes and 207 million views (numbers that are rapidly rising), Allen’s mega-viral hit utilizes the infectious power of the song “Stay” by the Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber, “dumpy”-shaking dance moves inspired by @maxtaylorlifts and picturesque drone shots enabled by his job as a professional photographer.
Allen, a 32-year-old Texas native, told In The Know that his newfound viral fame (which he’s converted into 5 million followers and counting) doesn’t feel real yet. He doesn’t quite know how to describe it.
He has plenty of time to figure it out, though, because even his own spinoffs and adaptations of his original viral video (such as one co-starring Bella Poarch and a couple of alpacas) have gone massively viral as well.
Like many other creators, Allen started posting during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.
Allen doesn’t really remember where he got the username “@totouchanemu” (read: “to touch an emu”) from exactly, but he does know that it all began with a real-life emu he often saw at a friend’s house while growing up in Texas and that he never actually touched it.
Slowly but surely, his videos started going viral. He admitted he was having a 2-week dry spell with low views when his post — that post — took off in a way that would see him written into the TikTok history books.
In trying to dissect what he thinks made his recent videos so legendary, Allen credited “research” from other creators, which is taking inspiration from others and building on it to create a trend. That’s one of the most charming aspects of TikTok — a tribute to another creator like @maxtaylorlifts, while fully giving them credit, can become a phenomenon in its own right.
“A couple of things caught my eye,” Allen said of @maxtaylorlifts’s initial post, laughing. “First of all, he was his rear end is ridiculous. But then the second thing that caught my ear was the song.”
Allen explained that he refused to be elitist about what music he included in his post. The song “Stay” was catchy, and he liked it. Sprinkle in some “crazy visual effects,” and boom — history made.
Another layer that Allen said may have added to the appeal of his post is the fact that he slowly eases the viewer into the big climax. It’s not just drone footage. It’s clips of him watching a video, getting inspired, grabbing his equipment and then comes the big finish.
Lastly, he knows that the reason that both he and other users like @maxtaylorlifts can get away with those rump-shaking dance moves is confidence. He said he does what makes him happy over what impresses random strangers, but in the process, he managed to do both of those things on a massive scale.
“I have probably the worst butt in the world, but I’m going to shake it just like Max, because who cares?” Allen said. “I think that just comes with age. Like, I think 10 years ago, I would never have wanted to do these videos because people do see it and point and laugh at me sometimes, but I don’t stop.”
Though TikTok has a whopping 100 million monthly users in the U.S., people still assume it’s an app designed for teenagers only. That’s just not the case. It’s inclusive of young people within its community standards, but plenty of millennial and older creators thrive on the app, and its base of early stars is starting to grow up as well.
Allen offered a few words of advice for the young folks who stumble upon his content.
“I don’t mind being in my thirties. I’ve never been happier than now,” he said. “I would just like to tell [the younger people on the app] it gets better. Your joints start popping a little more, but other than that, it gets better.”
Although the comments on his posts are 99% positive, a few naysayers have broken through “like a parasite” to tell Allen he’s overdoing it. He said he knows his schtick won’t last forever and that’s why he’s having so much fun with it right now.
“I kind of agree with people who say I’m milking it. I’m like, you know what? I think from their perspective, I could see that, but I’m going to do it anyway because this is an opportunity,” he explained. “Not many people have it.”
Allen said he has quite a few future collaborations in the works, but he’s hesitant to announce who they are because he’s just rolling with it. Maybe that’s part of the appeal to his posts, as well.
“Will I always be the drone or booty shake guy?” Allen mused in one of his posts, before deciding that the “booty shake guy” is actually a great thing to be. “Okay! 😎”
For unabashedly authentic creators like Allen, the sky is the limit. It also doesn’t hurt to have a drone.
Here’s everything coffee lovers need for a better cup of joe:
In The Know is now available on Apple News — follow us here!
If you enjoyed this story, read about the TikTok user who sparked a debate about bone collection.
More from In The Know: