TikTok, famously a “dancing app” for kids, has changed a lot in recent years. It’s now a fully-fledged promotional vessel, creator hub, and fame machine. My feed, too, has changed a lot over the time I’ve been on the app, which is why I was flabbergasted when, six months ago, the algorithm churned out something usually unfamiliar to my “for you page”, something I hadn’t seen in years: A dancing video.
But this dancing video was different. Surprising cuts, masterful editing, and original dance moves, seemingly breakdancing-influenced, kept me watching. Then again. And again. The song was a TikTok mashup of Owl City’s “Fireflies” and Sage the Gemini’s “Gas Pedal” – a masterpiece – and the video depicted what looked to be three young dudes at the skatepark, having a good time, dancing.
There was something wholesome about it. I watched it again. And again. I shared it on my Instagram story. Heart reacts rolled in. “I LOVE THEM,” replied one friend. “I can’t stop watching,” responded another. I returned to TikTok. They were called “Gnomeboys”, masters of “premium Tok”, and their videos had countless views and likes.
Months later, another Gnomeboys video popped up on my feed. The location in the background – bluestone walls, steel bars on yawning spaces where windows might once have been, incongruous fake grass – seemed strangely familiar.
It was RMIT University, in old Melbourne Gaol.
I was shocked. The Gnomeboys were from Melbourne.
And so, on a crisp, bright Autumn day, I met with three of the four Gnomeboys: Mike, Nathan, and Chris. Jamane was home sick for the day, but he dialled in on Facetime. The location, the IMAX entrance at Carlton Gardens, seemed perfect to me: skater mecca. But, as I soon found out, despite a huge majority of their videos taking place at skateparks, and their baggy pants, graphic tees, and Nike sneakers, the Gnomeboys weren’t just skaters, weren’t just dancers, and weren’t just TikTokkers, either. They were entrepreneurs.
Incredibly shy, endearingly sweet, disarmingly humble entrepreneurs.
I had expected a boisterous, confident lot of jokesters, accustomed to spotlight and attention. But as we sat down to chat, the three boys seemed almost timid.
“I think we’re just a group of friends,” smiled Nathan, hunched with his hands tucked under his arms against the cold, or awkwardness. Around his neck he had a pink bandana tied jauntily, matching the graphic on his sweater, and a cute little plush keychain dangling from his belt.
“We’ve known each other for a while, and have always wanted to do creative things, multiple creative things together,” he said, looking to Chris and Mike for confirmation.
“And we just wanted to bring it into a thing where we can… I forget the word,”
“Hang out?” I butted in.
“Yeah, hang out, but also, make money off of it,” he laughed.
“To get the resources to do what we want to do… And support each other.”
Even when I pried the boys to be playful, they gave measured, thoughtful answers on everything we talked about, from art, to TikTok, to dance, which was pretty important to them. Mike, Chris and Jamane once danced competitively.
“But as we grew older, we started to see there were other avenues it could take us,” Mike said.
“We use it to express ourselves, it’s a very big part of who we are, and how we met. We really respect the culture and the community, and dance itself.”
Then I discovered they weren’t from inner city Melbourne, either. Nathan and Chris were from Williams Landing, way out west. Mike was based in the south-eastern suburbs. The four boys were aged 22 to 23, and had met in high school, through dancing.
“We joined a dance school called KSTAR, in the western suburbs, probably when we were 15/16,” Mike said, “Since then, we became closer, then we became best friends, and eventually we got into making videos, just for fun.”
It wasn’t until 2021 that they became the Gnomeboys. Nathan, who was a graphic designer by trade, had come up with the name when he was in high school.
“I don’t even know where it came from, though,” he laughed. “I just liked the way it sounded, and it was just for me. But when we decided we needed a name, it was something that was always there.”
“It sounded cool,” said Mike.
“And, visually, it looks good. The ‘O’s are symmetrical,” said Nathan, who designed all of the Gnomeboys’ merch. They were all wearing their own merch tees, I realised. Just one of the many facets of Gnomeboys was, of course, the drip.
“I assumed it was because you’re all short kings,” I said.
“That too,” they all laughed. “Actually we’re all about the same height.”
At the time of meeting, the Gnomeboys had 700,000 followers on TikTok and 25k on Instagram. While not household name status, they were clearly getting their bag, with several partnership videos on their page, including with Champion and JD Sports. Each sponsored video was more unique and entertaining than the last. I’d barely realised I was being marketed to – these boys had me wanting to buy Champion undies. I wondered what was next for them.
“When we do sponsored content, we want it to still be us. It’s our creative direction, and adding a product in it is another challenge on top of that to make it still entertaining,” Mike said.
“Next, world domination,” Chris laughed, “But nah, we’re focusing on our merch, the clothing brand. We launched it in February, and we’re using TikTok and Instagram to promote it.”
“The brand, Gnomeware, is kinda separate to the Gnomeboys, under the same thing, but it’s kind of a different side?” Nathan chimed in. “The way I see it, Gnomeboys is our personality, and the brand is a brand but also where we can get other people involved, not just us. Does that make sense?”
It did make sense, on many levels.
The confluence of skate-dance-fashion-art is a proven gateway to success for many young creatives in a small city like Melbourne. TikTok is just a new-age accelerator.
“A lot of people I look up to are multidisciplinary artists, and I’ve always liked that. You know, I like skating, designing and art. I also make music. That’s really reflected in the group, everyone has their own things they do,” Nathan said.
One of the most surprising outcomes of our chat was that the boys edited most of their videos in-app.
“We just found something that works, and is very easy for us to create freely,” Jamane said, “It’s not something we’re getting sick of, it’s so fun for us. And editing on-app is easy for us – we see the outcome of the content as we’re making it.”
It’s inspiring, and wholly impressive, that the level of creativity and filmmaking prowess displayed in their content came from a free app, accessible to all. But not everyone has the Gnomeboys’ tenacity and talent.
“We really didn’t expect any of this like a year ago, but we’re really grateful for the amount of support and love we’ve received, especially being able to be ourselves and make content that’s fun and create freely. It’s cool to have people fuck with that and support that,” Mike said.
“I think there’s a long way to go, and still a lot to achieve for us, but so far it’s been good.”
“Our dreams and aspirations coincide really well with each other, so every day we work together it’s beautiful,” Jamane chimed in, from the phone.
“We’re family,” Mike said, smiling around. “I’m the biggest fan of these guys, I love their work and their drive, and their creativity. You guys are fucking sick cunts.”
We said our goodbyes, and I left, impressed by four incredibly creative and talented young guys, finessing Gen Z technology to weave a name for themselves.
Not an hour after I left them, I noticed a new Gnomeboys video, already with hundreds of likes and “early” comments. It was filmed at Carlton Gardens, of course.
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