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Cats say “may I have a cheeseburger?” in 2020
I’m writing about TikTok so much these days, it probably feels like spon. It’s not, but if TikTok would like to toss me some money, you know how to get in touch.
Other than keeping me amused and sane over the past few months, TikTok has also reintroduced cat videos into my life vis-à-vis the mid-2000s — except, in 2020, the videos have become more sophisticated and more amateur.
Cats on TikTok aren’t presented as “lolcats” or with “I Can Has Cheezburger” speak, the way millennials wrote cat content during the early years of social media. Cats aren’t only seen as cutesy, airheaded memes anymore. Gen Z’ers are now writing their cats into their internet content as a more fleshed-out secondary character. I know, I know — how millennial of me to once again take their silly irreverence and analyze the shit out of it.
But I did speak to an actual Gen Z’er who has a famous cat on TikTok and is famous himself. He echoed my theories. Abram Engle is 18 and lives in Mississippi. He has an adorable 1-year-old cat named Kurt, and the two of them have amassed over 1.8 million followers on his account, @abrameng. He just graduated high school and is enrolled in college. If the app sticks around and figures out a viable business model for creators, he said, he could do TikTok full time.
Abram told me he had about 8,000 followers on the app before he got Kurt at the end of 2019. He got him as a kitten, so over the year he would “play with him and move him around … and he ended up trusting [Abram] and letting [him] do whatever with him,” he said. These days, Kurt is most famous for doing all the viral TikTok dances (with a little help from his dad). Some of their videos get as many views as Charli’s or Addison’s, and rightfully.
Abram also posts everyday videos with Kurt. Sometimes he perches on his shoulder. They seem very close, and I’m very jealous of their bond. These seemingly mundane videos rack up hundreds of thousands of views, and Abram said he’s even been approached by music labels and artists to make videos with their music for a onetime payment.
Cat videos have never gone away, per se, but Abram agrees there has been a recent resurgence with a new kind of culture among people his age.
“It’s a lot more funny now … and, like, modern,” he said. “It’s things you never think about. In the early days it was like, ‘look at this cat’ or whatever, and maybe it was a cute cat or a funny video of a cat doing something it wasn’t supposed to do. But now it’s humans interacting with cats.”
On TikTok, people are giving cats real human voices, documenting mundane events around being a cat owner, and participating in trends with their cats.
Abram also mentioned a few things that made me believe a new generation of famous cat owners are more aware and mindful of what their role is in this ecosystem. He said Kurt really is just that comfortable with moving around for dances, and it can be as simple as turning on the camera and playing with him as music plays for 15 seconds. But at times, he said, it could take upward of “an hour or two” to successfully record one TikTok dance because Kurt will “hear a noise and run off and it gets his attention.”
He doesn’t force Kurt to be obedient for a TikTok, and he also knows his cat is driving almost all of his clout.
“It’s more difficult if there’s a trend and it’s impossible to do it with a cat, and no one wants to just see me do it,” he said, laughing. Abram also said he didn’t want to have “a cat page” or “just cat content all the time” since it would feel cheesy and inauthentic nowadays.
People no longer want to see people running accounts as their cats or managing their cats like clients. They want to see people as cat owners first, and their cats as articulate aliens. And if they can make money performing together, all the better.
And may we finally lay the doggo-meow pun speak to rest.
Until next time,