Memorial Day Weekend of 2021 began for me, and I’m sure many other women over the age of forty, just like any other. We went shopping for backyard barbecue food items at the local grocery store or perhaps ordered from InstaCart. Prayed that the weather would be sunny, or at least not raining. The unofficial start of summer was in front of us. It was what was behind us that we weren’t expecting. Ghosts from our past would soon be visiting us thanks to a 21-year-old Canadian TikTokker.
I am not sure when it happened for the other middle-aged women (and some men), but it was that Friday for me. I was sitting in my car waiting to purchase gas at a local New Jersey Costco. The lines were incredibly long as many people filled up their vehicles to head to the Jersey Shore for the holiday weekend. In New Jersey, it is illegal to pump your own gas. To pass the time as I waited for the attendant, I made a list of things I still needed to purchase. Items that were probably on thousands of people’s lists. Propane gas for the gas grill, bug spray for the bugs, and alcohol for ourselves. Standard items to make outdoor activities for the weekend more enjoyable.
After I finished making a list and seeing there were still four or five cars in front of me, I did what many bored people in this world of social media do. I tapped my index finger on the musical note on my cell phone to open the TikTok app. For those unfamiliar with TikTok, I will explain it in a quote attributed to Andy Warhol “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” The platform initially attracted pre-teens, teens, and young adults who posted videos they took of themselves and/or friends doing a current craze – be it a dance or song or modeling a current fashion trend. They would get likes and/or followers from strangers who viewed these videos. the more views, the more often their videos would appear. Over the past few years, older adults have also been enticed by that “fifteen minutes of fame” and began posting videos too, often of their pets. I was introduced to Tiktok by my grandchildren. TikTok, however, has an algorithm, which is a complete mystery to the average person. It decides which videos should appear on your fyp (for you page). Videos that appear on my screen are not the same that come across my teenage grandchildren’s phone screens. I am 64 years old. Generally, I see videos of those pets being playful, toddlers saying words toddlers shouldn’t know, let alone say, and older people showboating their dance moves at weddings.
The first video to appear on my phone screen that day was a dog named Mookie dressed in a tutu and “speaking” in a human voice. After that one, a little girl named Abby appeared. She was precocious, intelligent, and witty. The next video was one that the TikTok algorithm had determined fit into my demographics and those of thousands of other women in my age group. I don’t know why, but I am so glad it did because it changed me, it changed those women and it changed TikTok.
A young man was lip-syncing a song that I had first heard thirty years earlier. It was “Into the Night” by Benny Mardones. I’d forgotten how much I liked the song. And I had also forgotten the person I was when I had first heard the song. I was young, confident and people realized I existed. It brought me back to a time when I was seen and not just a part of the crowd. Sadly, as women age, many of us feel that we are just part of the scenery, that no one notices us anymore. Not the advertising companies, not Hollywood, and not the fashion industry.
I replayed the video as I sat in my car, enjoying the three minute performance of the song (TikTok allows a 15 second, 1 minute or 3 minute video). My mind taking me back to younger days. But then something unexpected happened. I began to notice the handsome young man “singing”. He was good-looking, but there was something extraordinary about him. It wasn’t his eyes, which were an attractive shade of green. Nor was it his perfectly chiseled nose or his incredible white teeth. It was something almost indescribable. There was a remarkable aura about him. Once upon a time it would have been referred to as the “it” factor. I didn’t think much more about this man and moved on to the next video TikTok sent to my phone. I don’t remember much about it, nor do I remember the three or four that followed. I do however, remember when another video appeared from @whiteyy18 (the TikTok handle for the handsome young man who had lip synced). This particular video was magical. I had hit the nostalgia jackpot. William White was lip syncing “Mandy”. A song by Barry Manilow that had become a big hit in 1974. A record I listened to when I was “in love” (many times) and one I cried to when I was “heartbroken” (too many times).
William White’s rendition was not perfect. He stumbled over a few of the lyrics, but it was barely noticeable. What was noticeable was his delivery. His “eye roll” during the song (which since has become his trademark) was flirtatious, in an innocent way. Watching him was reminiscent of watching heartthrobs of the past — David Cassidy, Donnie Osmond, Leif Garrett and Rob Lowe. This beautiful man wearing a non-descript red-hooded sweatshirt had found his way into my soul and the souls of middle-aged women everywhere. The gray hairs, the fine lines, the pooch bellies had vanished. In their place were teenage girls. William White had provided the “fountain of youth” to me and, as it turns out, thousands, with a simple formula — nostalgia. Women from all over the world were commenting on social media platforms about @whiteyy18 and how he made them feel like they were in their teens. Giddy, silly and renewed once again. That Memorial Weekend, we let the laundry go, the dishes undone, meals not cooked. Instead, we became obsessed with all things William White. We were experiencing first loves all over again – we couldn’t eat, or sleep and no one knew exactly why this young man had resurrected feelings we all thought we put away with our yearbooks and prom corsages.
Fan Club sites like “Official Whiteyy18 Support Group” and “Whiteyy18 After Dark” were organized on Facebook with hundreds and now thousands of members. Straight men began posting videos about @whiteyy18 taking away their wives and girlfriends. Gay men commented that @whiteyy18 was handsome and hoped he was gay too (he is not gentlemen). The biggest surprise was the many lesbians doing videos teasing about wanting to be straight.
William White had a beautiful face, but he also seemed to have a beautiful heart. He recognized his fan base was not his peers, but was more his mother and grandmother. In appreciation, he continued to perform lip syncs with the music of our era – Bryan Adams, Fleetwood Mac, and Rick Springfield. He flirted with all of us by doing “Stacy’s Mom” – a song about a boy who had a crush on his friend’s mother. We wanted to be Mandy, or Jessie’s Girl, or Stacy’s Mom. But most of all we wanted to be young again. William White “broke” TikTok and went from 600,000 followers in a year to over 1,000,000 in less than two weeks. He was doing something older men hadn’t done in a very long time — he was noticing us. He wanted to make us happy and he did that by playing to our emotions. The biggest one being nostalgia.
Webster’s dictionary defines nostalgia as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.” William White had provided to us a “time machine .” His looks and his choice of songs to lip-sync brought us back to when we had hopes and dreams that were still possible to achieve. To a time when we had crushes and didn’t feel crushed by all the pressures and responsibilities of being an adult. He was the epitome of every Teen Beat or 16 Magazine’s pull-out poster of a young heartthrob. He was all of them rolled into one. He lip-synced the songs of two generations. Generations that didn’t want to be reminded that we were getting old. Post after post on Facebook and videos on Twitter spoke of the way William White made us feel. He took us back to our first kiss, and our last school dance. We were once again on the beach in the winter sitting around a bonfire or surfing the waves in the summer. Willliam White had reminded us, to borrow a song title from Bruce Springsteen of our “Glory Days.”
We are not a part of the “Greatest Generation” who seemed to accept growing older with grace and resignation. We are the Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers. We spent over 9 billion dollars in 2020 trying to re-capture our youth through cosmetic fillers and plastic surgery. William White did it without a needle or a scalpel. He simply lip-synced a song. The phenomenon of William White continues. He performs “lives” on Tiktok with over 5,000 fans watching him brush his teeth, drink coffee, or play with his Saint Christopher medal. It is “The Truman Show” come to life.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all filled with videos dueting, stitching, and commenting about William White. Women from all over the globe can’t get enough of him. The recurring theme among all the comments related to @whiteyy18 videos is how he has reminded us what it was like to be a teenager again. He single-handedly makes us feel younger, more alive, and happier than we have been in a long time.
Much has changed for this young man. Six months ago, he was a landscaper with thoughts about being a model or an influencer. And like Dorothy clicking her red shoes, the followers of William White tapped the Tiktok icon on their phones, and magic happened. He was noticed. IMG/WME, one of the world’s largest model and talent agencies, put him under contract with the assistance of his manager, Kelly Streit of Mode Models Canada. Although he did not walk the “yellow brick road,” he did walk the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.
The real magic, though, is how he changed all of us. The videos being uploaded to TikTok were happier, they had a joy to them that we all shared. Thousands of people became united in celebrating this young man who resurrected memories of our youth. Even if that memory lasted only as long as we watched him lip-sync the promise of “…if I could fly, I’d pick you up…”.
The power of music is incredible. As the character in William Congreve’s 1697 play ‘The Mourning Bride” said, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” A song reaches your soul through your ears and then can take your mind back to another time. One million middle-aged women heard and saw a song performed on TikTok by a 21-year-old Canadian who was able to turn back the clock for all of us. William White noticed us. But in doing so, he helped us notice ourselves again.