The eboy (meaning electronic boys, e boys, or e-boys) is good for this generation. Yes, I said it. Although perceived as an uncool teen cliché as so many subcultures before (the e-boy name is often dragged with the same derision as hipsters in the 2010s or early aughts emo boys), they are also shedding light into the gen Z male psyche and dismantling toxic masculinity while they’re at it.
The fascination with eboy culture is often talked about in the media with the same enchantment as emo boy culture once was, and although the two subcultures are ten years apart, the similarities between them are apparent. Both subcultures springing up at a time of the digital revolution, they mark the change of how masculine emotions, fashion, sexuality, and mental health are expressed—which feels timely as the world is going into deeper turmoil. Today’s teen boys are navigating through political, environmental, and social unrest while dismantling conventions of toxic masculinity in their everyday lives. From eboys thirst trapping (the internet term for posting raunchy photos on social media for attention) the internet with their alt-emo eboy outfits and sharp jawlines to the slow and inevitable revival of emo music, emo culture is being refiltered for gen Z through the eboy.
So, where did they come from? As it’s the internet where this movement was born and where it thrives, no one is quite sure, but most say they appeared around 2018, when the TikTok app grew in popularity. Many users described eboy culture as a mix of emo and rap, referencing rappers Yung Lean, Lil Peep, and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way as its forefathers. Sartorially, eboys are a mish-mash of BDSM harnesses and chains, 90s Leonardo DiCaprio curtain hairstyles and K-pop, wearing dangly earrings and shirts unbuttoned to the navel. Typically, they are middle-class, white, suburban teen boys, producing clothing transformations, lip-syncing, or the signature eye roll and temple tap on TikTok. If you have no idea what any of those things are, here is a YouTube tutorial for your viewing pleasure.
It’s hard not to see the parallels between the decade-apart subcultures. Both are based on explorations of sexual fluidity and mental health, but in different contexts. Emo boys sported eyeliner and ‘girls’ jeans’ and kissed guys (whether or not they were actually queer) while eboys express sartorial and sexual openness in a non-performative way as these liberations are now the social norm.
Don’t get me wrong, eboys can be annoying as hell. According to the countless Reddit threads online, eboys are seen as “talentless fuckboys pretending to be lonely and depressed for clout and attention.” One Reddit user labelled them “as just another term for 2019 emo but a more socially acceptable version as an eboy.” As they are rarely seen in real life, eboys experience very little backlash for their looks, unlike their predecessors who were ridiculed or even physically harassed for the way they looked. Performatively sad, these boys could easily be seen as posers, but they don’t care. Perhaps that’s the point. It’s not about authenticity, it’s about aesthetics—it’s the bad boy persona without actually being bad.
But modern-day eboys are more woke than their emo forefathers and mothers (Billie Eilish I’m looking at you). As goth emo ethos collides with gen Z ideals, e-boy culture represents the rejection of what it means to be a ‘man’. As toxic masculinity is slowly breaking down, the entire definition of masculinity is changing. Compared to the mid-2000s when emo boys wearing all black were constantly ridiculed for being too feminine or expressing their emotions, gen Z guys are more open to talking about their feelings and comfortable dressing however they want. Many attribute this openness to the rise of TikTok and mental health awareness. Throughout numerous Reddit threads, teen guys discussed jokingly (or not) how transforming into an eboy would solve their problems. They want to be desired, and as sexual orientation is loosely defined, the aim for eboys is not to attract just girls or guys– but to attract everyone. They don’t want to be the players, they want to be the prize.
In the world of Instagram and TikTok, mental health is always a trending topic. These young men, with their alternative fashion sense and distinctive style, have become a powerful force in promoting mental health awareness and fostering a supportive community. Through their engaging content and relatable experiences, the TikTok eboy has become a surprising hero.
One of the key contributions of eboys as mental health influencers is their ability to create safe spaces on TikTok. By sharing their own struggles with mental health, these influencers demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity, encouraging their followers to do the same. Through comments, DMs, and live streams, eboys foster a sense of belonging and support for their audience, providing a virtual community where individuals can openly discuss their emotions.
Eboys are challenging societal stigmas surrounding mental health by openly discussing topics that were once considered taboo. Their videos often touch on anxiety, depression, body image issues, and self-esteem, bringing these conversations into the mainstream. Eboys often encourage their followers to seek help, be it through therapy, self-care, or reaching out to support networks. They strive to normalise discussions about mental health, thus empowering others to address their own struggles without shame. In fact, just talking about mental health isn’t the only tactic used by the eboy. TikTok songs and other art forms about mental health struggles have gone viral, thanks to their raw honesty and relatability.
Eboy culture also has a healthy view of drugs and sex. Similar to straight-edge emos, these eboys don’t really promote drugs in their videos. Perhaps an occasional cigarette, Juul or joint, but drugs don’t seem to be the go-to vice for them. It’s clout that they’re addicted to.
Whether it’s a subculture or an aesthetic movement, what’s wrong with a bit of self-love? TikTok eboys aren’t promoting drug use or causing harm to anyone. Thirst for public approval and a desire to belong and not belong at the same time isn’t a description of eboys but of teenagehood overall. The revival of emo culture is so timely because of the 21st-century male. But this time around eboys will be seen in a different light. So let the eye rolls and temple taps commence…