A TikTok star’s ‘Dreams’ come true

October 7, 2020, 10:19 PM UTC

Nathan Apodaca, 37, lives in an RV camper in Idaho Falls, Idaho. It doesn’t appear to have running water. Apodaca works at a potato packing plant, an occasional setting in his sweetly goofy TikTok videos, which he’s been posting under the name @420doggface208 for a while now. His daughter taught him how the platform works. “I seen her doing this one step and I was like, ‘I can do that, I can kill that,’” Apodaca told KTVB news recently. “So I was like, ‘Let me do a video with you. I killed it in my eyes and she posted it.”

Sweetly goofy may be underselling it a bit, as Apodaca has some pretty good dance moves and a solid flair for staging. His earliest video on his current account (his first one disappeared somehow, he says) is a plein air tribute to The Hustle, shot on a snowy Idaho Falls day. Mostly though, Apodaca has just been he’d enjoying himself on TikTok, doing a little dancing, some lip-synching, and having fun. The Mexican American has been dubbed “Tío TikTok”Mic explains, “and embodies an embarrassing stoner uncle persona, busting out dancing in public and cracking dad jokes,” which is sort of true. 

Turns out, “killing it” was an understatement.

Last week, Apodaca’s truck wouldn’t start as he was heading to work. So, he jumped on his skateboard as one does, to take himself there. He whipped out his phone and mimicked what he saw another skateboarding TikTok’er do, smoothly taking a sip from a bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice before lip-synching along with singer Stevie Nick’s legendary 1997 breakup song, “Dreams.” 

I can’t quite explain why it was so delightful—the mellow vibe, his untroubled demeanor, the easy mastery of the skateboard, but damn. That video made people smile.

Apodaca’s smile-inducing video has now been watched more than 50 million times across all earthly platforms. He now has 2.2 million followers on TikTok, 1.3 million on Instagram. It also gave a big boost to the song, which entered Spotify’s Top 40 most-played songs last Tuesday.

Apodaca has also received more than $10,000 in fan appreciation—he gave half to his mother—and is the star of his own TikTok challenge. He also has an agent, a merchandise site, a ton of celebrity fans, and a brand-new truck courtesy of Ocean Spray.

Everyone, it seems, including the U.S. Army has recreated his video. Mick Fleetwood, who was not the subject of the breakup song written by his Fleetwood Mac bandmate, joined TikTok specifically to pay tribute with his own video. (Lindsey Buckingham, who was the subject of the breakup song, has not yet participated.) And before greenlighting the new cranberry red truck for Apodaca, Ocean Spray CEO Tom Hayes appeared on the platform—on his skateboard – perfectly mimicking Apodaca’s style. 

Apodaca’s new celebrity continues to unfold and I pray it all goes well for everyone.  He accidentally created the most delightful commercial for Ocean Spray ever, a pretty big accomplishment since their ads were already popular. It also drew people’s attention to a little understood fact: The company is a farmer’s cooperative, not a corporation.

But I do find myself thinking about how easy it is for people, even someone with Apodaca’s charm and facility with technology, to end up underhoused, perhaps underemployed, largely unnoticed, and with little wiggle room if something seriously goes wrong. Apodaca represents an entire swath of people who are facing uneven recoveries and the potential of personal devastation from the pandemic recession.

“As a general point, recessions tend to hit small companies harder than big companies, and less educated and lower-income workers harder than more educated and higher-income workers,” notes Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic. “But this recession and recovery have proved particularly skewed: Normalcy for some, apocalypse for others.”

If part of Apodaca’s viral fame is a deeper understanding of the fragile lives people are really living now, more than ever, then that’s a dream worth having.

Ellen McGirt

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