The unstoppable rise of boyfriend point-of-view TikToks

Videos of hot men looking at the camera are racking up billions of views on the video-sharing app.

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It’s early in the morning, and you’ve just woken up. Your boyfriend is lying next to you in a hoodie, in a dimly lit room with a faint purple light. He wakes up, runs his fingers through his hair, smiles, and tells you he loves you. He shoots you a pout, eyes smouldering. You feel butterflies in your stomach as everything fades to black.

But, actually, the man across from you? It’s not your boyfriend at all. It’s a stranger shooting a point-of-view boyfriend video you just swiped past on TikTok.

TikTok, for those who don’t know, is mostly filled with trends – videos based off a dance, song, or meme that is then repeated by other users, becoming funnier (usually) with each iteration. It can be as simple as people doing similar dances to a popular song (this is how Lil Nas X's song "Old Town Road" rose to fame) or a meme based on the words in a sound clip uploaded to the app. POV videos of all kinds are one of these memes. The hashtag for #POV has over 8.4 billion views – even trending hashtags rarely have over 100 million.

Boyfriend POVs are a popular subsection of this genre, but one thing makes their popularity baffling: nearly all of them feature nothing more than a man making eyes at their camera, occasionally throwing in a pout or blowing a kiss. While some range into the occasional lipsync or on-video text reading “who's the cutest girl alive?”, then reading “you!”, few include any form of dialogue. Even so, boyfriend POV videos draw in tens of thousands of views for the most basic of clips, and sometimes millions for well-known creators. They’re so popular that videos mocking them have become their own meme on TikTok.

Karl Kugelmann is one of these TikTok stars. A 22-year-old model from “a little Afrikaans surfing town” north of Cape Town, he has only been using TikTok since the start of August but has already accrued over a million followers.

“I started doing acting videos in order to challenge myself by trying to match my expressions and speech accurately to the sounds I use,” he says, “This received good feedback as people started dueting my videos and so I naturally kept making more of these types of videos which then led to me making a couple of POV videos.”

“When you’re an actor, work is pretty scarce, so most people take to social media as an outlet to be seen,” Greg Rogstad, a 20-year-old actor based in California tells me. He began posting detailed boyfriend POV videos on TikTok five months ago, such as a video in which he pretends to comfort you over a recent break-up, one where he pretends he’s a member of the mafia taking you out to dinner, and another one pretending to be a man you catch getting changed in the 1920s.

“For a while I was without work and was grasping at straws, hungry for content, and not really having any direction,” he tells me. “Until finally one day as I was scrolling through Instagram I noticed that women tend to dominate the social media industry more than men. (This is usually because men like to stare at beautiful women and girls like to feel like they know these women as their friend or what have you.) So then I thought to myself what’s the female fantasy? Women are pretty hard to cater to because they’re not visually stimulated like men. (Don’t get me wrong women like attractive guys, but once he opens his mouth and says the wrong thing; he might as well pack up and leave). Instantly I thought of Love/Fantasy books. Women read these things constantly. So why not become the living embodiment of those fantasy books?”

Greg tells me these videos do exceptionally good numbers for him, often getting over half a million views. “I think people have been over-saturated with professional pictures of hot guys with abs and jawlines on Instagram,” he says. “You don’t get to see their personality at all because it’s a frozen frame, edited to what they want you to see. Video is different because you hear the person’s voice, see all their angles and flaws, and overall discover a different person. “I’ve gotten so many DM’s and messages from girls of high influence, agencies, and brand deals just from TikTok.”

Sofi, a 20-year-old TikTok user from New York, tells me that she believes boyfriend POV vids tend to appear for everyone, even if they’re not looking for them. “I don't specifically watch POV videos where the creators pretend to be my boyfriend,” she says, “but I do stumble upon a lot of them because I frequently watch compilations of POV videos on YouTube and on the For You page.”

Personally, Sofi says that they make her uncomfortable, but she understands their appeal for other girls. “A lot of boyfriend POV TikTok viewers are those girls that aren't in a relationship and these types of POV vids provides them with the ideal relationship that they wanted.”

“Also,” she adds, “most of the creators of boyfriend POVs are on the good-looking side lol.”

While boyfriend POVs are an oft-mocked video style, for their creators, the numbers make them worth any level of derision. “Instagram just doesn’t get your content out to enough people,” Karl says. “Tik Tok, on the other hand, rewards good videos by going viral. It thereby allowing the views to expand way beyond your number of followers and thus often boosting your number of followers substantially.”

“TikTok definitely sent a lot of people to my Instagram,” Greg tells me. “A lot of people have called what I’m doing ‘cringey’, but I used to think the same thing.”

“It’s a matter of letting your pride go and just having fun,” he says, “And what do you know, it works!” 

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.