Earlier this month, 40-year-old Tessica Brown uploaded a 60-second TikTok explaining how her sleek ponytail had been constructed and molded in place with Gorilla Glue for more than a month. The events that followed still don’t entirely make sense to her.
“I don't know why it went viral. I still don't know,” Brown said in an interview with BuzzFeed News.
Within hours, as she anxiously searched for a solution to her mishap, Brown became a trending topic referred to simply as “Gorilla Glue Girl.” People anxiously asked for updates and incredulously wondered how that could have happened. Overnight, Brown, a daycare worker and dance coach from St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, was catapulted from obscurity to viral internet fame. A talent management approached her and is now representing her. Brown discussed how she is still recovering from the whiplash associated with sudden internet fame — the intense scrutiny, the cyberbullying, and a massive audience of followers all waiting for what she does next.
“I’ve washed my hair 15 times and it don’t move. Stiff where?” said Brown in her plea to the internet. The clip, which has been viewed nearly 40 million times, is one she now says she regrets sharing altogether. In a follow-up video, to demonstrate the seriousness of her situation, the mother of five smothers her hair with shampoo and scrubs, to no avail.
Over the course of six days, people online waited with anticipation for the next update in the unfolding ordeal. It ended with a four-hour procedure performed by Ghanaian American plastic surgeon Michael Obeng. Obeng successfully removed the adhesive from what remained of Brown’s hair without charging her for the surgery, which he performed in Los Angeles.
“I can't even explain how that made me feel. To go a month without being able to do nothing. You could scratch my head and it felt like cardboard or concrete. When I woke up from the surgery ... it was like Christmas morning,” Brown said.
As her visibility and following on social media ballooned, so did the memes, commentary, and trolling, much of which has been overwhelming for Brown. Brown’s attorney recently sent a cease and desist letter to a blogger who she said had gone “way too far” in an online campaign, calling Brown a “complete liar.”
“Listen, I knew when I put this video out there, it was gonna be some, you know, some backlash. I didn't think it was gonna be like this,” said Brown. “Y’all passing judgment and y’all don't even know me.”
Brown said she was particularly hurt by the comments of fellow Black women she had admired, including Wendy Williams and LisaRaye McCoy, who didn’t hold back in their criticism of her.
In the “Hot Topics” segment of the Feb. 8 episode of The Wendy Williams Show, Williams suggested that Brown’s actions reflected badly on Black people, while insinuating that she “might have something wrong with her, like mentally.” A representative for Williams has not responded to a request for comment.
“The thing is, I used to like Wendy,” said Brown. “We just had a whole watch party to watch her Lifetime movie. I mean, I really liked it, but, I mean, then it made me very angry.”
Also on Feb. 8, McCoy, a cohost on Fox Soul’s Cocktails With Queens, slammed Brown on her show in response to a news story from TMZ suggesting that she was considering a lawsuit against the manufacturers of Gorilla Glue. (A representative for McCoy hasn’t responded to a request for comment.) Brown vehemently denied the lawsuit threat in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News.
“No. I never said, not one time, that I was, never. Listen, I have been in car accidents — if I'm not hurt, I'm not suing nobody,” she said.
Later, in an email exchange with BuzzFeed News, a representative for Brown said that Brown had misspoken and had in fact consulted with a Beverly Hills attorney about the possibility of a lawsuit, but decided not to pursue any action.
Brown isn’t joining in the laughter of people who consider her video to be comedy. In her mind, she posted the video as both a cautionary tale and a plea for help.
“I looked at the video, and maybe, like, if I was outside of myself, the video was hilarious. If that was just a random person just doing it and it wasn't real, yeah, it was funny. But for me to know exactly what was going on, yeah, it wasn't funny,” she said.
Instead, the ordeal has taken an emotional toll on Brown and on her 11-year-old daughter, who came home from school in a flood of tears after being taunted with a Gorilla Glue song.
“I'm telling her, no, don't worry about it, we're gonna learn the verse. Next time they sing it to you, sing it with them — that will shut them up. But then I go into [the] bathroom and I cried because I was the reason that my baby's being made fun of at school,” said Brown.
Online, Brown received some words of support from figures like Chance the Rapper, who tweeted, “When I watched the video the second time it was hard to laugh cause I could tell shorty genuinely didn’t know she had put one of the worlds most powerful adhesives in her shit. I hope she recovers well.”
Like many people, Darian Symoné Harvin was stunned by Brown’s admission that she had used a heavy-duty adhesive to style her hair, and decided to investigate the situation further. The Los Angeles–based writer shared a continuously updated timeline of the events via her newsletter, Beauty IRL.
“I felt like I went through this emotional journey of first, kind of, like, laughing and being amused, and then my smile started to fade, and then very quickly, by the end of this video, I could tell that this might be beyond just a very easy hair fix,” Harvin told BuzzFeed News.
The collective investment in Brown’s fate reverberated through all corners of the internet. At the center were Black women, who could relate on some level to the distressing feeling of a hair mishap.
“This is a Black woman, and first of all, our hair is political no matter how we wear it, so we should start there,” explained Harvin.
“Something that distinguishes this story is that there is the point that I've seen people make, that no matter what her race is, this would be an outrageous viral story, and I would agree with that,” Harvin said. “But I think what added an extra layer of emotion and investment was because of Black women knowing and understanding, number one, when you have a hair issue, but also, number two, that no matter ... how you wear your hair, it is politicized, like, by our culture.”
Harvin noticed that the growing interest regarding Brown was accompanied by a slew of misinformation, so she committed the time to debunking it in her coverage. For Brown’s critics, Harvin posed what she considers to be a larger question underlining the entire ordeal: “What have you done for beauty?”
“As Black women, we are expected, I think, to look prim and proper and neat professionally when we walk out the house. We compliment each other when our edges are laid, when we look good, when no hair is out of place,” Harvin said.
Brown isn’t immune to the beauty standards that Harvin said have an effect on “the way that we decide to present ourselves.”
“Really, it comes down to hair manipulation. And quite honestly, I would say, whether you're a natural or not, you have tried to manipulate your hair in some way,” Harvin said.
On TikTok, Asante Madrigal, who describes himself as the “king of pop culture,” shared with followers a breakdown of Brown’s story in three parts and two additional TikTok updates.
“My first reactions were honestly like, is this real?” said the 19-year-old, who routinely breaks down pop culture moments for TikTok.
Despite his initial skepticism, Madrigal became invested as he identified a growing interest within the TikTok community, where Brown now has a following of 1.2 million.
“I was looking at the view count of it — it was like 13 million, then 16. Like, every day it would just go up, and I was surprised, like, not too many people are talking about this,” he told BuzzFeed News.
Through his updates, Madrigal could gauge the public mood by way of the comments section. “I feel like on TikTok, it was really really negative. I think people are quick to judge and quick to assume things,” he said.
In covering Brown’s story, Madrigal became sympathetic to her plight and described the online trolling as “cyberbullying.”
“It was an honest mistake, and she never even wanted this to happen; she clearly says that all the time. But [TikTok] was the only outlet for her to get a solution for this mess that was unintentional,” Madrigal said.
What Brown’s viral moment has done for the Gorilla Glue brand probably can’t fully be quantified yet. In culture, the scenario was immortalized as the inspiration for a Saturday Night Live sketch, and the #GorillaGlue hashtag alone has more than 240 million cumulative views on TikTok.
In another viral TikTok inspired by Brown, 22-year-old Leah Pierson reaches into her purse for a can of the adhesive and brandishes it like a weapon: “Freeze. Literally.”
“I have gotten a lot of views before, but that's my most-viewed video ever, and I've been doing social media since I was like 12,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Pierson, who is from Los Angeles, followed Brown immediately after watching the viral video.
“I was interested in how she's going to get it out of her hair, not probably as invested as everyone else, but I wanted her to have a happy ending. I didn't want her to be bald or anything, so I'm glad that it ended the way it did,” Pierson said.
While she couldn’t relate to Brown’s decision to style her hair using the adhesive, Pierson admitted that she has used Gorilla Glue for other beauty purposes.
“I couldn't really talk about her because I've used Gorilla Glue to glue my nail back on. I mean, it's different because it's not your hair, but I've definitely used [it] to glue my nails, and I know girls who do that too,” she said.
Pierson empathizes with Brown’s hair debacle and the interest online.
“I just think it's a part of Black humor — I say all the time that our humor is different. The only reason why we're so invested in it — because, yes, she's a Black woman and it's funny to us, but it's funny to anybody now,” she said.
As Madrigal pointed out, Brown amassed a huge following on social media after just a few weeks. She has launched a line of merchandise with the slogan “Bonded for life,” capitalizing on this viral moment. Elsewhere online, her vocals have already been given the musical treatment to create the soundtrack for a slew of TikTok dances.
Whatever options remain on the table that would extend this viral moment into something more lucrative or sustainable are unknown to Brown. Even still, she is clear that she is committed to her work with children and as a dance coach above all else.
“I have the daycare and the dance team,” she said. “Whatever I do...gonna have to come after that.”