David Beck lives anonymously in Brentwood Bay—don't tell his millions of fans.

The TikTok star goes (mostly) unnoticed in his hometown, despite earning a living making hugely viral videos

By Gabrielle Drolet
April 1, 2021

David Beck lives anonymously in Brentwood Bay—don't tell his millions of fans.

The TikTok star goes (mostly) unnoticed in his hometown, despite earning a living making hugely viral videos

Screengrabs from David Beck's TikTok videos. Illustration by Carita Marsili / Capital Daily
Screengrabs from David Beck's TikTok videos. Illustration by Carita Marsili / Capital Daily

David Beck lives anonymously in Brentwood Bay—don't tell his millions of fans.

The TikTok star goes (mostly) unnoticed in his hometown, despite earning a living making hugely viral videos

By Gabrielle Drolet
April 1, 2021
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David Beck lives anonymously in Brentwood Bay—don't tell his millions of fans.
Screengrabs from David Beck's TikTok videos. Illustration by Carita Marsili / Capital Daily

In the alley beside his Brentwood Bay apartment building, David Beck kneels in front of a gold water balloon, gripping an ax in both hands. In slow motion footage, he swings the ax down towards the balloon, scrunching his face with the effort. When the ax finally hits it, the balloon pops, revealing another, fully-intact balloon underneath it.

The short video is at once disorienting and amusing. It’s the kind of thing you want to watch more than once to make sure you’ve understood it. And, for 25-year-old Beck, it was life-changing. 

When Beck posted this video in March of 2020, he had roughly 1,000 followers on TikTok. He’d been posting on the app sporadically, making random videos to see what people would like. He tried out different trends and skits, which ranged from making jokes about photography to cleaning his room on camera, garnering thousands of views each time. And then, on a whim, he posted a handful of videos popping water balloons, knowing that some people like that kind of content. The sixth of these—the one with the ax—was an instant hit. Beck recalls that it gained over a million views the day it was posted. Since then, it’s reached over 80 million.

“He was like, ‘this seems to be getting a lot of traction,’” his then-girlfriend, now-fiancée Selah Skinner recalls. “From that point on that it just started growing and growing.”

About a week after that video came out, Beck lost his work as both a bartender and a waiter due to the pandemic. He used his newfound free time to make more balloon content for TikTok, posting at least one video per day to try and grow a following. This strategy worked better than he could have imagined: he now has 7.8 million followers on the platform—a number that had to be updated by 100,000 between drafts of this profile—and has been able to make TikTok his full-time job.

Beck is now part of the “satisfying” side of TikTok, his followers eager to see him pop balloons in ways that are relaxing or cathartic. With a surprised or excited expression, he wordlessly slices water balloons that have been frozen, revealing their icy contents; he pops balloons to the tune of popular songs; he follows through on fan requests, using balloons in their favourite colours. While making videos with balloons every day seems like it could get tedious pretty quickly, he’s come to love the process.

Though turning TikTok into a career was an unexpected twist in his life, Beck has always had a knack for creative endeavours. In the years after graduating from Stelly’s Secondary School in Saanichton, he developed his skills as a photographer and videographer, working on ad campaigns and cataloguing his travels on Instagram. Now, he genuinely enjoys applying that same creativity to his TikToks: he posted over 500 balloon videos last year, and he feels far from running out of ideas.

Beck’s setup is relatively simple. Rather than a studio, he still uses the alley (an abandoned fire lane) next to his apartment building as his primary filming locale. His equipment consists of a camera, a cheap lens he bought for $200, a tripod gifted to him by his parents (“thanks, Mom and Dad,” he laughs), and a desktop computer. Every day, he films and edits content, uploads at least one video, and plans for future videos. 

Beyond working on his own, Beck has also relished in the opportunity to collaborate with other creators. Only one of these collaborations, a filmed helicopter ride with a famous Vancouver bulldog named Mr.Bentley, has taken place in-person. The others have all been remote, with Beck working alongside TikTokers who live nowhere near Vancouver Island. One of his most popular videos, which has gained over 100 million views, is a collaboration with an Australian digital artist who goes by the name Marble Mannequin.

Beck attributes his lack of in person collaborations to two things. First, there’s the fact that Covid restrictions make working in person much more complicated than working exclusively online. Given that Beck’s TikTok career took off last March, he hasn’t experienced it outside of the pandemic yet. Then, there’s the simple reason that he doesn't know any other TikTokers on the Island. Though he's sure that there are some, most of his sense of community from the app has come from online chemistry rather than geography. 

Anonymous (with millions of followers)

There’s an interesting disconnect between the world Beck is famous in and the physical community around him. Despite having nearly eight million followers—nearly nine times the population of Vancouver Island—he’s only been recognized in person once. Beck guesses that this is partially because he rarely speaks or takes up much space in his own videos; people are mostly watching his hands and the balloons, so it would be easy to follow him without being able to recognize him. 

Another factor is that most of his viewership isn’t local.

Given that Beck’s videos don’t require translation, anyone can watch and understand them—the experience of seeing someone smash an ice-filled balloon is universal. This means that the bulk of Beck’s following is international. He explains that TikTok offers its creators statistics about where they’re most popular: he knows that 25 per cent of his viewers are in the United States, with other top countries including the United Kingdom, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, but he’s not sure where Canada ranks.  

Even some of the people Beck sees regularly don’t know who he is or what he does. Laughing, he shares that someone in his apartment complex recently asked if he was filming a documentary after seeing him with his filming equipment.

There are thousands of kids who probably dream of doing Beck’s job. A 2019 survey found that 86 per cent of young Americans want to be influencers, and a 2018 British survey found that “social media star” was among the most popular dream jobs for children. However, Beck explains that while he loves what he does, it’s not always as easy (or as lucrative) as people expect. 

For many, part of the appeal of being an influencer is likely the belief that they all make ludicrous amounts of money. A TikTok earnings estimator guessed that, with his large following, Beck makes a minimum of $4,620 per post. This places his minimum estimated annual earnings at well over $2.5 million. When read this figure over the phone, Beck immediately says that’s far from true. 

“That’s complete bullshit… I’m not the Logan Paul of Canada,” he laughs. “There’s a discrepancy between what people think you make in what you actually make. People think ‘oh, seven million followers, you must be making hundreds of thousands of dollars’ or something. It's not like that. It's more humble than that.”

Beck explains that a TikToker’s earnings depend on what kind of content they’re making—not just how many views they get. The money he earns comes from a few different sources, including musicians who pay to have their songs featured in videos, brands who pay for their product to be shown on screen, and TikTok itself, which will pay for Beck to participate in campaigns or trends. He says he earns enough to save up and to live comfortably, but he doesn’t earn as lavishly as people assume.

He heartily warns people against getting into TikTok solely to try to earn money. Since money comes from so many different sources, earnings can be inconsistent: a creator might make an influx of money all at once through brand deals, then go through a dry spell without any. If you don’t genuinely enjoy it, he says the work can also be exhausting and anxiety-inducing. When your job revolves around pleasing such a large audience, the pressure is high to produce content they like and to keep your view count up.

But Beck works hard to make sure his life doesn’t solely revolve around his job, carving out time for the things he enjoys every day. He relishes in simple pleasures: going for walks and planning a wedding with his fiancée; riding on the motorcycle he recently purchased; getting scorching hot noodles from Noodle Box in Victoria. He likes the little life he’s built for himself in the same Brentwood Bay neighbourhood he grew up in, and he has no intention of leaving it any time soon. 

Given how quickly his life has changed in the past year, it’s hard to say where David Beck will be another year from now. Though his success has been rapid, this is still just the start of his career. As he moves forward, he’s excited at the possibility of branching out creatively, both on and off TikTok—maybe even leaning away from balloon content. He says he wants to try his hand at acting, and that he’s up to try out any opportunity that comes his way. He’s also made some specific goals for 2021, which include reaching 10 million followers and seeing his face on a billboard (“having me on a billboard would be really hilarious,” he says). 

Perhaps then more of his neighbours would know who he is.

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