The New European: Spaß man goes into orbit

A 22-year-old from Frankfurt has become one of TikTok’s biggest stars. Sophia Deboick explains the simple charm behind his success… and what it says about his country.

When Covid hit Europe in March last year Younes Zarou, a 22-year-old business informatics student from Frankfurt, decided to take his TikTok account up a notch.

He had already built a following of more than two million on the platform with his dynamic camera trick videos, cleverly repurposing everyday objects and using paint and colour as his trademark, but lockdown brought a temporary switch.

For a solid month. he livestreamed his life on TikTok 24 hours a day. “I come from a large family so I’m used to being watched,” he said at the time, branding it the #stayathome challenge while urging his young followers to do just that.

Sixteen months after he concluded his real-life Truman Show experiment, Zarou boasts 38m followers on TikTok, putting him among the top 20 most-followed in the world, only slightly trailing mega film star Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock.

TikTok is certainly big in Germany, with the greatest number of influencers on the platform in Europe, and it undeniably belongs to Generation Z – more than 70% of German TikTok users are aged 24 or under, and more than half of that group are aged just 13-17.

But Zarou is a symbol of German youth not just for being synonymous with TikTok. As well as reflecting young Germans’ diverse ethnic make-up – he is of Moroccan origin, and more than a third of German under-20s have at least one foreign-born parent – he also mirrors their sometimes surprising values…

The New European, 16 September 2021, pp. 20-21.

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