This article first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The November 2022 issue is out on newsstands now.
SINGAPORE – One afternoon, while at a roadside stall in his home town of Battambang, Cambodia, David Eung Hao, 20, received a text message from his mother with a photo of him taken just a few minutes ago, squatting and eating mookata with his friends.
He was baffled. “I remembered my first reaction was to look around me. I mean, how did she even get this photo? Plus, we were not even in the city centre.”
That was the moment the aspiring Singapore-based model and actor realised he had become TikTok-famous (his handle is @mr.davidd__).
“I guess you always have to be conscious of everyone around you because you never know who recognises you and is watching your every move. Until today, I still do not know who sent my mum that image, but it is a funny memory I’ll never forget,” he says.
Fellow TikTok content creator and actor David Matthew (@davidmatthew_), 26, shares a similar experience. “Recently, at a wedding, a friend took a photo to share with their friend. I do not know how the photo got around, but my mother’s friend saw it and forwarded it to her. My mum then texted me to ask if I was at a wedding and why I was wearing a suit.”
Being recognised in public comes with the territory. Raynold Tan, 24, a final-year psychology major at the National University of Singapore, is often approached by fans who call him by his TikTok handle @Raytyr. “Some of my course mates do recognise me, and after speaking to me in class, will then ask if I’m the ‘guy from TikTok’. For the most part, they have all been very nice to me.”
For these three rising TikTok stars, being on the platform has led to acting roles and commercial work. In the last year, Tan has appeared in a short film, Web drama and TV commercial. Eung and Matthew can both be seen in local English action drama Third Rail.
To get started in the entertainment industry these days, all you need is a mobile phone, a trending piece of content and a large follower count to make it go viral. Eung, Matthew and Tan have a combined following of more than 250,000.
“It is all still very surreal to me,” says Eung, who is also affectionately known as HaoHao to his friends and fans. “When people come up and are very excited to take a selfie with me, I always wonder what I’ve done to receive this kind of attention and love.”
He, Matthew and Tan are typical of Gen Z, who favour TikTok for posting content that is rawer and represents a more authentic version of themselves, as opposed to Instagram’s more polished, curated content.
Tan says what he posts on TikTok is an accurate reflection of what he is like in real life. “On Instagram, there is a certain benchmark I have for each photo I post. Basically, I have to look good. But for TikTok, that is not really important and I don’t really plan what I want to post. It is more about what is trending, or what I can do to have fun and show off my personality.”
“For HaoHao, though, it’s very easy. All he has to do is to stare at the screen, press record and post. The video will explode,” Tan adds, before breaking into laughter, with Matthew joining in.
Eung does not deny Tan’s observation, but says: “I think all content creators have some sort of plan in terms of posting schedules. However, when it comes to content, it is whatever feels right at the moment. Too much planning makes it look forced.”
All three are represented by artiste management company TCP Media Group and have collaborated on various videos. While each has his own online persona, their rapport is unmistakeable.
Throughout the interview, they support one another in their responses, often paying compliments to one another, though they do not shy away from a good-humoured jab when the opportunity arises.
“When the three of us come together to do a video, we just go to our ‘liked’ section on the app and scroll through to see what the trending song is at the moment,” says Matthew before adding, half-jokingly, that if all else fails, just “show some skin”.
It is a strategy that seems to have worked for him. In 2021, he took part in a viral TikTok trend called the Infinity Challenge, which had creators using a light source, usually a ring light or glow sticks, to show off the bodies they are proud of. “After I posted that video, which I did two versions of at the request of some followers, my follower count jumped dramatically,” he says.
To keep his fan base happy, he now chooses clothes that show off his toned physique. “Previously, my style was quite simple – usually black, oversized tops with jeans and sneakers, or maybe tucked-in T-shirts with cargo pants,” he says. “But now, I’ve been exploring tank tops and vests, and I am becoming a bit more experimental in my choices.”
Matthew, whose style icon is English singer-songwriter Harry Styles, is not averse to shopping in the women’s section, as it offers “so many options that fit me just right and show the outline of my body”.
Tan also admires and aspires to Styles’ brand of sartorial flair. “He is a good example of who I try to be in terms of style, because I like to try different styles and outfits too. He is adventurous, bold and not afraid to experiment with his own femininity. And I think that is very cool.”
Eung, on the other hand, looks up to Hong Kong-born K-pop singer Jackson Wang, who founded luxury streetwear label Team Wang. “He does not really have a specific style, I think. But he is also not afraid to be experimental.”
Does Eung want to be like Wang, asks a curious Matthew. No, not really, says Eung. “I want to be David Eung Hao. Having said that, Jackson Wang, if you see this, please call me.”