10.6 Million Likes Strong: Lake Forest Alum Becomes TikTok Sensation

Carley Walker, Staff Writer

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Maybe you’ve seen him clad in leggings and a Harvard sweatshirt matched up with a matted black wig, dancing in front of his college business class on the social media platform TikTok’s “For You” page. Or maybe you’ve seen his face on the little Track and Field flyer on the staircase near the commons. Or, maybe you remember him as being the The Forest Scout’s Person of the Year in 2017. And if you don’t recognize the name Étienne Najman, you may soon.

Najman is now a junior at Indiana University, studying in the Kelley School of Business. Outside of participating in Indiana’s rigorous business school, Najman juggles three jobs as a teacher assistant and tutor.

On the side, he is also a social media manager for a business club. On top of all this, Najman is now what can be considered “TikTok Famous” with 315,000 followers and 10.5 million likes on TikTok, with his most viral video garnering 10 million views.

Over Thanksgiving Break, I met up with Najman at Starbucks. Upon meeting him, he was just as bubbly and kind as his online TikTok persona.

As soon as we entered Starbucks, a girl turned around and said, “Oh, Étienne! How’s being TikTok famous?”

This was not the first time since he’s back home when someone has gone up to Najman and addressed his TikTok fame. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving Break, Najman visited LFHS and became the topic of the day throughout the school. Students would point to Najman in the hallways while some freshmen would go up to Najman asking for pictures.

Despite Najman’s popularity, when I asked him if he would consider himself famous, he said no.

He let out a chuckle, “No, I would, I don’t know. I would say there’s a bad name for people who consider themselves to be social media influencers, you know? It makes people sound like they are stuck up, or that they want to influence people. So, right now, I wouldn’t consider myself an influencer.”

Najman, however, has received emails and phone calls regarding promotions because of his videos on TikTok.

“I have gotten phone calls from [brands] to promote their clothing lines. Like, these pants are from the company that is made from 100% recycled coffee grounds. Then, the brand I talked to you about, ‘BAD DANCERS ONLY,’ supports mental positivity. That’s something I’m totally about and like, I’m happy to promote brands that align with my personality,” Najman said.

When companies reach out to Najman, he makes sure that the companies and brands align with his values. BAD DANCERS ONLY is a company in the making that is a charitable clothing brand that promotes mental health and positivity. The main sponsors for the brand are TikTok stars, including Najman.

BANG, the energy drink, has reached out to Najman, but he said he turned down their offer because he said the company’s values don’t align with his own.

 “Because I feel like [their values] would taint my personal brand that’s about positivity and individuality. I want to promote that. Now, I have people DM me saying ‘oh my god you inspired me to be more outgoing, and now I like don’t care as much.’ That’s something that makes me feel super good.”

I then asked Najman if his goal was to blow up on TikTok.

He said, “Oh my god. Okay so, no. I feel like the goal for everyone when they get it is, ‘Oh my god I want it to go viral, I want it to blow up and stuff.’ Obviously, I think we all want that. You make the videos and a little part of you wants to make it go viral. But then you’re like, ‘Oh my god I don’t want my friends to see this is embarrassing,” he said. “So when I first made it a lot of my friends had it already. So, I would see those videos and they would send me funny ones. And I thought, ‘Oh my god I wanna create these too.’ So, I got it and started making videos.”

Najman originally captured his TikTok fame from a video of him adding his professor’s son on Snapchat during class.

However, Najman’s most famous video is of him dancing to “I Don’t Mind” by Usher while wearing a Harvard sweatshirt and a matted wig, imitating the infamous Danielle Cohn. This video currently has 10 million views and 1.7 million likes. Najman’s success increased with each video of him dancing in front of his classes to dances he either covers or comes up with himself. Usually, Najman will wear an outrageous outfit, varying from wearing a sports bra or some volleyballs under a tank top, while covering the song.

Najman acknowledged there are some haters. Some people would say it was a waste of class time and that they didn’t go to that class to watch Najman make a TikTok. Najman argued against this by saying that he would ask for the professor’s permission, and it would always be before class when he would film.

Despite the haters, Najman unexpectedly became best friends with one of the girls in his class because of one of his TikTok videos.

“The second video I filmed was a dance that I choreographed myself. There was a girl in the front row in the video with her facial expressions going crazy because of the dance, and everyone was like ‘you need to date her’ in the comments of the video,” he said. “And that’s when I did a little progression series of going to her house, and meeting her. And then doing the dance. The last dance we did, I had her do it with me.”

Najman then goes into detail about him and his new best friend, Lorena Daugherty.

“I titled that video ‘TikTok Made a Friendship’ or something like that. It literally went from me not knowing her to TikTok to her DMing me and now we are legit best friends now. And that’s a super sweet story because I didn’t stage at all and it was just natural,” he said. “Which is the best, when you’re creating ideas that flow naturally or things that happen unexpectedly are the things that happen best. If you plan too much it looks fake.”

Najman has a specific method for how his TikToks are structured and how to make them.

“Things that really helped me is analyzing other people’s Tik Toks. Since I am a marketing major, I definitely use that to my advantage to see what the trends are. I heard of a three percent rule. Which is: here is a trend that is going viral. What can you do to change that by three percent to make it yours?”

Najman’s personal three percent includes changing up dances by putting volleyballs in his shirt, and by covering dances in front of his class. That makes his videos his own, and makes the videos stay new and fresh. He also emphasizes having a type of style on your page. Najman’s brand is mostly dancing in public, which includes dancing in front of his class or at the airport.

Right now, Najman says that his main message remains to be to spread individuality and positivity. Najman deems it necessary to have a specific brand and style across your account and to have a regular posting time to make your audience anticipate your videos. Najman’s logic is that when there is a specific posting time, your audience will try to be the first to watch your video to be the “first like” or “first comment.”

“That helps viewers to know that you will be posting at that time, so they can expect you. And they think ‘Oh, Étienne is going to post at 2 p.m. every day. So, then they’ll expect my video and may say ‘Oh my gosh I love this one,’” Najman said.

Najman clarifies the most important to making TikToks is to make sure the videos you are making is something genuine and something that you are passionate about.

“If you are doing, like, a video that’s just you having fun with friends, that’s genuine. If you’re just trying to do a video to be viral on TikTok, it’s a lot harder because everyone else wants to do that. So, if it happens naturally and is genuine, I think that’s super important,” he said.

Regardless of Étienne’s rising fame, he emphasizes that he is still the same, outgoing person he was at LFHS. The smile emblazoned across his face throughout high school is still there and his kindness to new people he meets is still just as comforting.

Étienne Najman remains to stay true to who he is, and instead of using his newfound fame on TikTok for clout, he wants to use it to spread his messages of positivity and individuality. Because of this, Najman doesn’t mind gaining more popularity on the platform, if that means he can spread his message to more people.

“I’m only trying to spread positivity. So,” he said and gave me a thumbs-up, “Positive message, smiley face.”