Image via Instagram

Meet the controversial TikTok creators from Ireland's first hype house

"Once you do something like this here, it’s like we have the whole country’s attention."

by Daisy Schofield
16 September 2020, 2:00pm

Image via Instagram

Earlier this month, a sleek residence in the leafy South Dublin – newly christened The GOAT House (as in, the Greatest of All Time) – threw open its doors to ten wide-eyed TikTok stars with a combined eight million followers. According to its members, the House rules are simple: “Have fun, and make content.”

The GOAT House is just one of a string of ‘Hype Houses’, also known as creator houses, born out of TikTok. Since the original Hype House was established in L.A. last December (homing the likes of Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae), the US has seen an influx of them. Last April, the UK opened the doors to its first Hype House, and just this week, a newly initiated Wave House.

These collab mansions are an established tradition in the influencer world: since 2009, several generations of YouTubers, Vine stars and streamers have chosen to live and create as one collective. But their Gen Z predecessors have embraced the concept on a whole other level: for young creators with a substantial online following on the app, Hype Houses represent utopia.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Ireland — which is, incidentally, where TikTok plans to establish its first European data centre — has founded its own equivalent. (While it claims to be the country’s ‘first’, this isn’t strictly correct: the ‘Bel Éire’ house came together earliest this year and was hailed the first ‘Irish Hype House’, but has since mysteriously disbanded). In its first couple weeks, The GOAT House has already attracted 47,800 followers.

The collective immediately courted controversy for opening its doors in the midst of a global pandemic. But Tom Arnold and Jake Browne — the House’s founders and also two of its members — are adamant that they’ve stuck to government guidelines.  “Everyone got tested when they came in, and we have a thermometer to check temperatures. We want to set a good example,” Tom tells me over Zoom. He is joined by six other members of the House — Jake, Leila Eckhart, Nia Gallagher, Andrea Camila, Lewis Kelly, and Ryan Mar — huddled around him on one sofa.

While it will mean visitor restrictions, and that large-scale events are out of the question (unless the GOAT House choose to flout the rules as their L.A. counterparts have done), Lewis says the timing is opportune. “It’s the most important time to put content out, and kind of inspire people,” he says, pointing out that there are more people than ever at home consuming said content. He’s hoping that Ireland’s smaller audience will help the House’s chances of going viral. Lewis shares a joint TikTok with his long-distance girlfriend, Andrea, boasting a cool five million followers, and also runs a well-established YouTube channel with 285k subscribers. Andrea is the only housemate not from Ireland, hailing from Florida via Puerto Rico.

“We spend a lot of time between here and the US,” says Lewis, “and because Ireland is so much smaller, once you do something like this here, it’s like we have the whole country’s attention.” Jake, nodding in agreement, adds: “If you can crack Ireland, you can crack it in one go, and take that elsewhere.”

For most, it’s their first time living alone. “I love being away from my parents and getting to be by myself,” says Nia. “Well, not quite by myself… but you know what I mean.” Their excitement is palpable, and how could it not be? They’re living in a property with minimalist architecture, a huge kitchen, cinema room, pool table, floor-to-ceiling glass walls, a generous garden, and its own chef — an opportunity rarely afforded to most. Amid a housing crisis that has devastated Ireland, this certainly isn’t the type of living situation most would find themselves in when leaving home for the first time. “There’s not that many cool houses in Ireland,” (let alone enough properties available at all), Jake says. “We actually got into a bit of a bidding war with Matt Damon for a different house.” When asked how he and Tom funded the rental, the pair are less willing to disclose the details, beyond telling me “we paid for it ourselves”.

Make no mistake: these TikTokers aren’t here to luxuriate around the property; they’re here for business. “Me and Lewis have a schedule, and we keep to that schedule,” says Andrea. “We literally work 24/7: it’s the minute we wake up, to the minute we go to sleep.” And, they keep each other motivated: “It’s good being in a group for those days when you wake up and you’re not feeling it, and you have eight other creators who are already up for it,” says Ryan. Andrea agrees, adding: “If you’re hanging with friends who don’t create content, then we might be lazy about it, but all of us do.”

When asked if rivalry and competition within the household helps them stay motivated, the group insists the opposite is true. “You see one of your friends dance, and you just join in with them,” says Leila. “For sure, I’ve gotten so many ideas off these guys,” Andrea chimes in. “We’re all in such different fields in our TikToks, so we’re not really competing. Like, mine and Lewis’ thing is couple content.”

Given the House’s lack of diversity — something other Hype Houses have come under fire for — these differences ring superficial. The House attempted to respond to the backlash in a video uploaded to Ryan’s account, parodying an interview process with a hiring person, played by Ryan, auditioning candidates for the House with a checklist comprising the words ‘WHITE’, ‘BLONDE’ and ‘IRISH’. The tone-deaf skit prompted one TikTok user @rebeccashorttt to comment: “Joking about racism when you’re white is not the move, folks.”

What really stirred public contempt, though, was the age gap between the youngest member of the House, who is 18-years-old, and its eldest, Marty Guilfoyle, 26. Marty received a torrent of online abuse, where he was labelled a ‘creep’, and ‘predatory’, leading to his decision to leave the House after just a day there. It was this bizarre moralising which infiltrated Ireland Twitter ‘trends’, while the House’s almost entirely white cast was given comparatively little notice.

Jake admits it was a “tough few days” after Marty’s departure. Lewis, twiddling Andrea’s hair while he speaks, says: “The sad thing is if one person puts up a tweet, a stupid tweet, they don’t realise the impact it’s going to have.” This brings the group to the subject of another unofficial House rule, which they repeat in almost perfect unison: “Stay. Off. Twitter.” While TikTok is a place where, as Lewis describes it, “you can be anything you want to be”, Twitter by contrast, is “way too toxic”, says Ryan. But being part of a collective helps, says Nia: “We get love and hate, and it doesn’t bother me that much because we deal with it as a group.”

For now, having already dodged and weaved through several controversies, the House’s future seems ill-defined, its trajectory ambiguous. How long they plan to stay, particularly in the event of another lockdown, and how finances will pan out as brands begin to approach them, is unclear. (Jake insists they’ll “split everything,” but dodges questions about contracts).

For some, their plans beyond the House are more concrete. “I wouldn’t ever want to be employed. I want the freedom to create whatever I want, and not be under someone else,” says Andrea. “That’s what I love about being a creator.”

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