Are the Himbos on TikTok Actually Serious?

Michael Thomas White is a musician, model, and entrepreneur hoping to find fame by posting his heart out.

I spend a lot of time on TikTok. I watch a lot of guys pining for attention from anyone willing to give it, usually by posting thirst traps in the hopes you’ll watch them over and over and catapult them into TikTok stardom. Maybe they’ll even end up on my curated TikTok thirst crap Instagram page, @favetiktoks420

Michael Thomas White (aka MTW) is on a completely different wavelength. I found his TikTok about a year ago with a video titled “A Day in the Life of a Model/Actor Living in NYC.” It was a short montage of him making eye contact with someone or something that seemed distant, as if beyond the camera, while he went about the most mundane everyday activities, scrambling eggs and walking down the sidewalk. This guy had the attitude and confidence of a seasoned celeb, yet the video had been up for a week and only had a total of three views, one of which was me. I couldn’t tell who he was or what he was doing. I couldn’t get enough. And eventually, I wasn’t the only one. 

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“Is this guy for real? This has to be satire” is a common comment left on his many TikToks. “I just spent two hours trying to figure out if this is a joke.” Newcomers scroll his endless feed, a product of an engagement strategy he described to me as “quantity over quality.” While his follower count remains low, his engagement is high and his micro-celebrity is growing. He has started to appear on other New Yorker’s For You Pages, and I was even added to his extremely active fan club group chat, full of people who have made it a hobby of endlessly discussing this stranger they all have in common.

Like a lot of men on TikTok, Michael Thomas White presents himself with a mix of earnest self-expression and self-awareness that many people cannot really comprehend. Is he a model? A musician? A delusional himbo? A satirical genius? It’s only when you stop trying to figure out if he’s “serious” or not that you start to see the bigger picture: If you truly love and are passionate about expressing yourself artistically, who has the power to tell you if you’re doing it right or not?


Michael Thomas White (aka MTW) poses on the steps of Union Square | All photos by Leia Jospé

Introduce yourself! Tell us your name, age, where you're from.
My name is Michael. I am from a small town north of Columbus, Ohio called Grandville. I'm 26 and I am a musician. I do some TikToking as well, which is probably why we're here today. I live in New York City and model there. I also have a job managing a brand that sells on Amazon. But I grew up on a farm—my mom rode horses and worked at a college as the primary breadwinner for the family. My dad was in hair metal bands. He taught me how to play guitar.

Do you receive support from your family and friends back home? Has anyone tried to get you to give up on your dream of moving to New York and starting a music career?
I don't think anybody at first supported it. Now they kind of do. I view it as, it's my vision and until I paint the picture more clearly, you can't expect them to understand it. There were comments from my dad where he was like, “Yeah, you should do music as a hobby.” My mom was never all into the risks I was willing to take, either, whether it was starting a watch company or doing music or modeling. In her mind it was always like, I should be doing a steady 9-to-5. After two years, when I got a job to support myself while I was doing all this, everyone was really ecstatic around that, and I feel like there's like part of them that hopes that that's what I do full time. But for me, it's never been a doubt in my mind what I was gonna do—and that was to do music, at a big level.

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What is your current job and do your co-workers know anything about your TikTok or your music?
I’m a brand manager for a business that sells things on Amazon, specifically. They sell dog leashes, which is cool. I like dogs. I also built a watch brand. None of my co-workers know about my TikTok. When they ask, “Oh what did you do this weekend?” I’m very good at being like, “Oh nothing!” 

One exception is the founder does know. Early on, we had coffee, and he asked me what my plans were with it. I explained to him that the way the music industry works now is you can’t really make a lot of money unless you’re touring. I'm seeing so many artists and bands who have more followers than me and are more established, but they're living what to me seems uncomfortably on the road out of vans. Like, I just didn't want to do that. I have this Northwestern degree, so I might as well apply it in the meanwhile. He said to me, “You know, the day you can come into my office and quit, for the music, will be, like, the happiest day.” That was great for him to say that. And he didn't have to. But he also asked me if any of my co-workers knew about the music. I told him no, because that's the truth. And he said, “Let's try to keep it that way.”

Has anyone in your life found your TikTok without you telling them?
Yeah, like definitely and especially with your page in particular. A lot of people that I went to school with follow your Instagram account favetiktoks420. And, like, I got added to a group chat even the other day. And they were sharing posts that you had shared, that I had made. With each passing day, it’s starting to be less of a thing that only exists on the internet and starting to like, be my real life.

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What was their reaction?
They were making fun of me, I think. In that example, yeah, they were making fun. Other people have been like, “Oh, wow, you made it on this page.” Like that's like, you know, a huge credential. So it goes both ways.

MTW doing a TikTok dance in Union Square

When exactly did you start making TikToks? And why did you start?
I started about a year ago. And, really, it was with the idea of promoting the music. I felt like I had made this incredible EP, and at the time I was practicing so much both singing and writing. I had the best producer in the world. I felt like all the ingredients were there for this to be, like, really good. But then you put it out there. And, you know, 30 people listened to it. But that's as far as it goes. 

The first time I found your Tik Tok account, I couldn’t tell if it was a bit or not. Did your TikToks start out sincere, then become funny? Has the tone shifted at all?
At first, I was trying to be sincere. I would just do guitar covers of songs. Then I started to do dances on TikTok. At some point, I got better at those. I feel like at first, I knew they were bad, but they were close. I think that was part of the fundamentals of people being like, "Is he serious? Because he's not actually good at dancing.” I think I'm better at the dances now, but they're still not great. I don't know how I've stumbled into the satire category, the POV style. Those were sincere at first, but then I realized I could make them funnier. It comes to just being self-aware. There are people that do those sorts of videos where I feel like maybe they're not kidding as much—but maybe they are, you just don't know.

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You're good at compartmentalizing these types of things. How? 
I never went by Michael Thomas White. Like, that's my full name, but I've always gone by Mike or Michael or something like that. I kind of early on just said, “If I'm going to be doing this, I understand that it's a brand at its highest level.” Not getting caught up in whatever it is that I'm posting on the internet as defining who I am as a person. It's more like trying to build up this thing, but ultimately, it gets me on stage and lets me perform the music that I want to. That's been my relationship with it: not breaking character and letting this person, MTW, be fun and its own world. If you meet me in person, you’re probably going to have a different perception of me even after just a few minutes of talking to me. I'm not going to be like that character of, “Oh, look how great I am” and all the POV stuff. It's a fine line. There's a tricky balance.

That’s a good way of dealing with haters that leave mean comments or enjoy your music in an ironic way. What would you say to people that are like, “You're delusional, you'll never make it big.” What is your response to that?
I can understand where they're coming from and in some ways agree. I think if you want to do this, you have to be somewhat delusional. I heard Matthew McConaughey say that in an interview, and it really stood out to me because you're asking a lot from the world if you want to do things like acting or music. Not a lot of people get to do that or ever reach that moment. For me, I always just thought I could do it. It never occurred to me that I couldn't. People are entitled to their opinions. I feel like maybe they're projecting that they couldn't do something. For me, it's not a matter of if I can't win. I stuck with it. I still have a long way to go, definitely. But if it's like a really mean comment, I'll believe it. I’m my biggest critic, of course.

MTW posing with his fans

What was the first time you were recognized? What was that like for you?
It has probably happened half a dozen or a dozen times in New York now. First time, I was in Union Square Park. I was filming a TikTok. I was just doing a dance and I heard from behind me “Michael Thomas White!” Like, "Who? Me?" A girl and their friend came up to me and said, “You're my favorite TikToker, can we make a TikTok together right now?" I said yeah, sure. They opened up TikTok, and on the app I was the first TikTok on the feed. That was super cool. Another time, I was on a date. We were at a bar in New York and someone came up and patted me on the shoulder. I had tried to explain to this date, like, you know, I do music, it's going well. But there's that classic stereotype of the artist trying to “make it” in New York City, whatever. But then like some kid comes up to you and says, “Hey, good luck in your career, I'm a fan of your TikToks.”

Great timing. Like, “Thanks man, here’s that $20,” and you slip it into his hand.
Haha, right? I was walking down the street and a car passed by and someone yelled, “You're that guy!” I looked around like “What guy?” and realized they were talking to me. Then they said, “I just DM'd you, I invited you to a party in Brooklyn, come!” I never saw the DM.

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What are some of your musical influences? Favorite artists?
I learned how to sing by listening to One Direction. In my head, I was like, “They probably have the best people training them to sing.” I lived in Australia for a bit, and I wanted to learn how to surf. I didn't want to pay for the surf lessons, but I would go near the people that were taking the surf lesson. Like, how'd you get up on the board? So it's like, oh, that's how you sing that now. OK. Just practice it over and over until I lose my voice type stuff. I like people who are really obsessed with their craft, I think Shawn Mendes would fall in that same category. I like guitars. So if there's guitar in the song, that helps.

How’d you meet your producer?
I approached him online. It was coming out of my time in Bali. I knew I wanted to make music, and I didn't know how. I started with the people I knew in my network. I reached out to people I went to school with who had done music. I was going to pay them and everything, but like, they weren't eager to work with me. They knew me as one thing. I studied economics. I had this watch company. They couldn't wrap their heads around it. Then I had to get creative with it. I got on Upwork, llike Fiverr. I started looking for music producers in Stockholm because I knew that outside of places like New York and Los Angeles, Sweden is the largest exporter of music.

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They love music over there.
So I reached out to him. I had him play me some stuff. It was great, but it wasn't like, “Oh, this is gonna be a pop hit.” But just hearing him play a little bit, I was like, “This is the guy.” I've been extremely loyal, to and I only want to make music with him. He believed in me then and he has put in so many hours that are like, beyond what I'm paying him. He now owns 50% of the song when it comes out. I think in the music industry, it's a lot more common for that to be like 5 to 10% in a production royalty deal. We spent six hours today doing a recording session for one song, and now he's gonna probably edit it for like, another eight hours. Then we'll do the same thing tomorrow. We'll work on a song for four months. 

Have you ever gotten any crazy people contacting you that are obsessed with you? Or have you ever found love via TikTok? 
Yeah, that part's fun too. And there's quite a bit of that. On TikTok, like, 80% of my audience are females.

Women be using TikTok, yeah.
The first video where it really went viral for me was, I did one that was cringy and funny, that was like, “I’m having a difficult time being in New York City, no one thinks I'm real.” That was a thing that was happening, like I would be on Hinge, all the dating apps and like, people wouldn't respond and ghost me and they would even say, “I don't think you're real.” I was like, I can make a really funny TikTok about this. So I did. And then like it got, like 150,000 views. At that point, a lot of just DMs were coming in from Instagram and I was shocked. Ther’'s people who've been like, “I will move across the country and we can get married,” and it was like, what is going on?

MTW and one of his fans getting their picture taken

Since this is a Vice interview, do you have any crazy drug experiences?
I don't do drugs now and I don't drink. But that wasn't always the case. I was in Amsterdam and I took mushrooms and went to the Rijksmuseum. It was just the craziest experience. All of a sudden, the floor started moving. Paintings were talking to me, their eyes were moving. I got thrown out of the museum. I had walked into the Christianity room and Jesus was on the cross and he started talking to me. When I was having the conversation with Jesus, a security guard came up to me. They were cool.

They’re probably like, “You’re the 10th guy to talk to Jesus today.”
And then I ended up going into a pond nearby and taking off all my clothes and going swimming and, like, hugging a tree.

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So you’re sober, is there a reason for that?
It’s professional. It helps the singing for me. The modeling too. Once I stopped drinking, the inflammation went down. I felt better, healthier. I feel a lot younger now than I did even when I was in college. If you're taking drugs or drinking to escape something, then like, you shouldn't. If you're taking them to enhance an experience… The mushrooms thing, it was a profound, life-altering thing. The next weeks and months afterwards, I was a lot more relaxed and looked at things differently because I was like, “Oh, the world can actually look like that sometimes.” Vincent Van Gogh's paintings made a lot more sense to me. He was probably on these.

That guy was eating moldy bread for sure. Like poor as fuck eating moldy bread tripping the fuck out in his room.
That was what my experience was like. If the entire world was painted by Vincent van Gogh, that would be what it was like.

Do you want to plug anything you have coming up? What’s this song you’re making a video for?
It's called “Are You Proud of Me.” I’m super proud of this song. The video was filmed in Sweden. It feels like an evolution for me, musically. It's not a love song, but it can be if you want it to be. The costar character is “my sister.” I have a real little sister, so I also wrote this song like, I want to know if she's proud of me with all this stuff. And she says she is, so I think she is. I'm in love with this song. I'm kind of hoping that it’s, like, what gets me over the edge because I would love to sign with a record label and do music full-time and do shows, like on big stages. I have my first show in New York, July 26, in the East Village, and I'm really looking forward to that. And that's kind of where my head's at right now with those things.

Tagged:

TikTok, Michael Thomas White, MTW, Interview, favetiktoks420, fame, comedy

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