Like many women, I credit Leonardo DiCaprio with my sexual awakening. In his starring role as Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, I watched him gaze at his Juliet (Claire Danes) through an enormous fish tank. Baby-faced, besotted and with a strand of hair falling across his blue eyes, I realised at age 14 what it meant to feel horny – and I hadn’t even had my first kiss. Since the dawn of pop culture, male celebrities have been sending girls into a lustful frenzy. From Orlando Bloom turning heads as Will Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise to Robert Pattinson driving us all loco (or loca if you’re #teamJacob) in the Twilight series, there’s a fresh batch of heartthrobs for every generation.
Up until now, your typical heartthrob would be an actor or singer who just so happened to be fine as hell. Nowadays, however, there's a legion of boys on TikTok who have been awarded heartthrob status simply for being hot. There are countless POV videos where they cosplay as your favourite romcom boo, replicating typical meet-cutes like offering to hold the door open or tapping into the 'what I would wear as your teacher' trend (did someone say Indiana Jones?). With followers (predominantly women) numbering in the thousands, it begs the question: Why have these guys chosen to co-opt heartthrob culture? Is it simply for clout or are their intentions as pure as their promise rings?
You'll see Luke Scornavacco lip-syncing country love songs to his phone camera and driving topless in his pick-up truck with captions like: 'Who else is ready to get married, start a family, and have a nice ranch out in the country?'
TikToker Luke Scornavacco is a prime example of this new wave of online lotharios. At the age of 20 he has over 500k followers and 20.9m views on his videos. Scornavacco’s profile is inspired by George Tillman Jr.’s romantic drama The Longest Ride, which stars Scott Eastwood as a headstrong cowboy named Luke who falls in love with the tender-hearted Sophia (Britt Robertson). A quick scroll through Scornavacco’s TikTok is enough to recognise his source material, which, he says, "taught me the real way to get to a girl's heart". You’ll see him lip-syncing country love songs to his phone camera and driving topless in his pick-up truck with captions like: "Who else is ready to get married, start a family, and have a nice ranch out in the country?"
Across all of his social media platforms, Scornavacco’s followers are 97% female and while he says he would never refer to himself as a heartthrob, he thinks it’s fair to "let the statistics talk". "My content reaches out to small-town country girls and their beliefs typically align with mine," he explains. Like many of his contemporaries, Scornavacco does not have a side hustle; he’s dabbled in acting and modelling in the past but wants to "strictly pursue social media for now". However, he has dreams of expanding beyond TikTok. "My goal for the next couple of years is to hopefully move to Nashville, create a career for myself outside of social media and get into music."
Although Scornavacco doesn’t claim to be a heartthrob, he’s amassed enough of a dedicated following to justify the title. With hundreds of girls leaving comments like "I could be ur wife I would love that" and "Why can’t I find a guy like this??", it seems that the days of documenting your crush in a diary à la Bridget Jones are long gone. In 2022, it’s all about sliding into your dream guy’s comments section. "On a day-to-day basis, I get texts, DMs, emails, etc. with all-out messages and girlfriend applications," Scornavacco explains. Many new-age heartthrobs have dedicated fanbases that could rival the Beliebers or the Harries. Take the German TikTok creators Elevator Boys, who became famous after creating a POV video of themselves standing seductively in an elevator. One of the members, Bene Schulz, is described by Famous Birthdays as a "lip-sync content creator and TikTok personality who rose to fame by sharing a variety of performances and showing off his abs". With over 2 million followers on TikTok, the group has hundreds of dedicated Instagram and TikTok fan accounts.
Does all this fanfare stem simply from untempered teenage hormones? Seventeen-year-old Anja* runs the Instagram account @_elevatorboys_5 and says it’s more complex than that. She came across the group on TikTok but wanted to "support them" on Instagram too. Anja says she does not have a crush on any of the boys and instead sees them as "friends/family" who share their everyday lives on the platform to build a sense of connection with their fans. Similarly, 21-year-old Evan is a huge fan of Jacob Day, a new member of the Hype House, which is a collective of TikTok personalities based in California. Founder of the Instagram account @jacobdayisagreekgod, Evan re-shares Day’s content with captions like "You deserve everything good Jacob". Asked why he’s so interested in Day, Evan's answer is earnest: "I think he has a large following because he’s very kind and genuine. But he’s not afraid to keep it real and be himself." For many of their fans, it seems, these TikTok hotties are more than just pretty faces.
Looking back, I displayed some pretty thirsty, cringeworthy behaviour during my adolescent crushes. Between building a shrine to Orlando Bloom with heart-shaped Ikea ornaments and paying to see The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in an actual cinema thanks to Bow Wow, I’ve fallen hard for boys I’ve never met. How do guys even manage to have this effect on young women? Well, besides being conventionally attractive, traditional heartthrobs and their modern-day equivalents have one major factor in common: they’re very good at selling a fantasy. They may have chiselled jawlines and washboard abs but they’re also able to communicate themselves as well-rounded individuals. By inviting their audience into each and every aspect of their lives via social media, they’re promoting transparency and relatability. As Anja says of the Elevator Boys (who, unlike me and my former baes, she has met in person): "They are all the kindest people you can meet." These heartthrobs may not have an obvious creative talent but it doesn't seem to affect their appeal in the slightest. Gone are the days of buying Sugar magazine to find out your crush’s favourite colour. Now all you have to do is open TikTok and watch him answer via interpretive dance.
*Name has been changed to protect identity