You’ve probably seen them around, preening, winking, and flexing patented leather-bike chain-pretty boy fits-cum-veins (and eyelids) over on TikTok (or on YouTube diss videos). You gasp and shiver.
They, ladies and gentlemen, are e-Boys. They come in peace, bearing smoke rings, faux-face tattoos, and hollow air kisses. They are what happens when you cross the music video to Tyler, the Creator’s Yonkers with Cole Sprouse’s Twitter account circa mid-2018, and this video of a cowboy from Utah cracking a whip in slow motion.
Allow me to tour you, dear reader, through this wonderful, smoke-filled world by doing three things: 1) Providing you with a general set of definitions for the e-Boy, 2) grounding the e-Boy within the scope of what has already been written about him, and 3) contextualizing him as against the data-is-king ethos of today’s algorithm-driven content mill.
The e-Boy as an aesthetic
An excerpt from the Urban Dictionary definition of “e-Boys” initially categorizes them as follows:
“A boy that probably skates, has his nails painted [with] rings, wears beanies, maybe has a cute e-girl girlfriend, always wearing Vans and long sleeves or hoodies under T-shirts; their hair is sometimes parted down the middle. They basically only exist on the internet unfortunately but we can still appreciate them on Instagram."
Using this definition as a springboard allows us to understand the “e-Boy” first as an evocative (albeit predominantly online) aesthetic persona, derived, firstly, from mass-market skate fashion (Vans! Long sleeves! Baggy shirts!), to a touch of early 2000s emo goth-slash-Camden Lock alternative (Torn jeans! Overworn sweaters! Nail polish on men!), to Billie Eilish (Dark but not so dark eyeliner! Chains! Layers!).
Additional visual elements of the e-Boy persona include, as per write-ups in the youth culture magazine i-D, the British tabloid Metro, and this actual Instagram account dubbed “eboy.style”: “loads of chains” (and padlock necklaces), long socks, hair dye, beanies, pleated pants, and bric-a-brac jewelry. Brands patronized often based on my “extensive” TikTok research include: Thrasher, Vans, Doc Martens, Guess, and um, Yale (for padlock necklaces and literal key chains).
The e-Boy as content
For the latter, a cursory analysis of about 20-30 videos on TikTok labeled #eboy, coupled with the more than generous help of Vice UK’s own write-up on the e-Boy phenomenon earlier this year, leads us to segment the e-Boy as content creator into six primary categories:
1. The textbook sneer and outfit flex.
Digging the padlock necklace. My Chinese hardware store roots are shaking.
2. “Nice guy” slash “choke me” jump cuts, usually with a few outfit close ups. Shoutout to Javier here for the anchor-key eye adjacent tattoo!
3. Soft undertaker.
This is best complemented, at least in my opinion, by an accompanying compilation of the wrestler Undertaker’s top in-ring entrances, embedded as well below:
Tombstone piledriver? More like "pls drive yourself deep into my [editor’s note: redacted]."
4. “Ten-Second Wattpad.” Sharp-jawed, bleach-haired pretty boys invent fantasy scenarios to better contextualize their (piercing, arresting) stares. Noen Eubanks does a pretty choice rendition of one for your viewing pleasure:
5. Meta e-Boys, meaning Vine-native content creators that have successfully migrated to TikTok in the name of discourse contribution. I’m personally a fan of this duet ‘fit parody, set to Hall and Oates’ You Make My Dreams Come True. Check it:
I’m not going to lie: That chain swirl speaks to me. The e-Boys in general, all their floppy-haired choke-me bravura aside, do speak to me if only because content makers like Angsty spell out what I guess many of us trend-hungry millennials and post-millennials forget: That content is supposed to be fun. Squint closer at the padlocked necklaces and you can almost convince yourself that the internet is once more a wide-eyed, wondrous place, free of strategic product placements and oversaturated pastel filters.
Their rise to prominence begets in turn the triumphant coming of age of the forever-online Gen Z horde, made holy, pixelated, and good, the culmination of Andy Warhol’s and Benjamin Buchloch’s fifteen minutes of democratic fame. Watch as the hierarchies governing what is and isn't relevant shuffle anew. As emo becomes the new VSCO. As data becomes the new currency. Read this, all ye men who still fear "guyliner", and weep in the e-Boy's smizing, sneering stead.
Post-script: TikTok, optimization, and the e-Boy as boy and data
Though note that I said "almost convince" and not "convince." Because this is the internet where even friendly Tiktok has its own pending data mining investigations, things still aren't so rosy. The e-Boy’s success, after all, more than his looks, or his content, hinges mainly on the ruminations of an “algorithm that learns [us],” that distills us down to data points, that condenses the fashion antics and Yale locks and bleached hair and daddy issues into a set of ones and zeros in the name of profit, brand equity, and the state-run thought police.
It's why I suppose the e-Boy, for all the hope I attribute to him, drives me personally off the wall: Because in the midst of all his cutesy eye rolls, his chain-spins, and the smoke rings promising futures brimming with Warhol-esque technicolor and relevance for all who seek it, I can't shake the sense that the e-Boy, while very much Today, has already been lost to the sands of these Ozymandias-style vortexes we have yet to truly grasp. Look upon ye works.