But Y Tho explores a plethora of funny, strange, and peculiar trends to provide long sought-after answers to questions that have been swimming in all our heads.
I spent the other day working from home with star-studded company. Olivia Rodrigo played me a piano tune, then I joined a One Direction reunion. That was before members of K-pop groups BTS and NCT buckled down to work with me.
No, I have not infiltrated the upper echelons of Hollywood and Hallyuwood. I was just fiddling with a productivity hack that’s gone viral on TikTok.
On StudyTok, people are pretending to study with celebs through fake but impressively realistic video calls. These celebrities aren’t actually there—those are footage from old videos and livestreams—but it doesn’t really matter. Celeb study buddies have become the new bullet journals, or baby pink mechanical keyboards, or whatever Gen Zs are using these days to romanticize the grind.
It’s a subgenre in the online study sphere that has grown to become a solid niche community—study livestreams and study-with-me videos are extremely popular among students.
Now, tons of starstruck fans are hitting the books with their celeb crushes and TikToking it all. The most popular TikTok videos showing people studying with celebs have each amassed hundreds of thousands of views.
Most of them used LifeAt, a Gen Z-focused productivity platform to tide people through the humdrum of working and studying from home.
LifeAt founder Devin Ajimine and designer Marisa Chentakul told VICE that when the site was launched earlier this year, it only provided scenic backgrounds that offered people a virtual escape from being stuck at home during the pandemic. The study-with-celebrities feature came as an extension of these studying views.
But why is studying with celebrities—who aren’t even really there—snowballing into such a massive trend? I knew I had to experience it for myself. Eager to mingle with the latest kid on the TikTok block, I decided to have celebs accompany me through a day of work.
The site contains a timer for those who use the Pomodoro Technique, a popular time management method where people work in fixed time intervals (usually 25 minutes) while taking a short break between each work session. Clicking the “Celebrity” button on the site quickly shuffles you through workspaces where different celebrities are ready to accompany you on a work session. And I was spoilt for choice.
Olivia Rodrigo played the piano for me. Or so it seemed. Image: Screenshot of LifeAt website
First up was Olivia Rodrigo, who was seated in front of the piano in what looked like a livestream. She then started tapping on the piano and spoke to the camera. While I thoroughly appreciated the ambient music, the energy of Rodrigo’s video was too upbeat for my indoor work session.
Casually dipped into a One Direction video call. Image: Screenshot of LifeAt website
Then, I toggled to a virtual One Direction reunion. I wasn’t a Directioner growing up, but I did live through the 1D craze in the 2010s. Seeing them hang out in the same virtual space definitely brought back some good ol’ teenage memories. But I needed my study buddies to channel some anguished intensity for work, and they were looking too relaxed for that.
Pretending to briefly share the same table with BTS. Image: Screenshot of LifeAt website
I ventured into the K-pop realm with BTS’ RM and Jungkook doing serious table work, scribbling intently on paper. It was an enticing workspace, not gonna lie. I felt like I was practically seated at the same table as them. But I had to look at my other options, so I kept a mental tab on this page and shuffled on.
I ended up spending most of my work day with four members of NCT. Image: Screenshot of my desktop with the LifeAt website
Finally, I settled on some members from NCT: Haechan, Jaemin, Renjun, and Jeno. They were perched over their desks, some with blue-lit faces staring at their computer screens—just like me. I figured this setting would foster more solidarity as I scrunched in bad posture over my laptop.
With my work companions decided and my productivity boosted from the get-go, I was pumped to kickstart my star-studded workday.
Within minutes, I realized that carving out a virtual space for studying celebrities isn’t very helpful when you’re also heavily reliant on your laptop for work. Even after minimizing my LifeAt window and tucking it into a pathetic corner of my screen, I was still crunched for screen space as I toggled between multiple windows while writing a news article.
Soon enough, NCT was buried under other browser windows and online conversations. I even forgot that I was supposed to be working with them—or that they were even sitting somewhere on my laptop screen. Only hours later, after lunch, did I remember to resurface that little browser tab where four K-pop idols were trying to help me be more productive.
The constant movement in the LifeAt window was also a tad distracting, and I really needed to focus on writing my article. I powered through the workday with NCT anyway, but decided that I will not be re-engaging with their company.
Turns out, I’m not the only one who is missing out on the appeal of famous stud buds.
Kelly Tan, a 19-year-old college student in the United States, told VICE that she was intrigued by the concept when she saw it online and wanted to test it out herself. She tuned in to NCT, since she was a fan of the group.
She soon found the background noise of the celebrity Zoom video to be disruptive and decided that this wasn’t for her.
“It’s kinda like a study date or studying-with-friends type of feel,” she said. “I personally cannot focus if I was in that surrounding but if others do well with that type of atmosphere, I encourage them to do so.”
On the other hand, plenty of others seem to have successfully found productivity along with their favorite celebrities. On TikTok, people raved about studying with eye candies.
Christine Gayle Parrilla, a 21-year-old student in the Philippines, started studying with celebrities in July when she stumbled upon one such video on TikTok.
The K-pop fan (who now regularly studies with members of NCT, ENHYPEN, and EXO) said that before discovering LifeAt, she was already an avid viewer of study-with-me videos on YouTube. The celebrity study buddies came as a welcome surprise.
“Coming from someone who gets distracted so easily, I can say that studying with them helped me focus more on my tasks,” she said. “It feels like someone is really being productive with me.”
“Coming from someone who gets distracted so easily, I can say that studying with them helped me focus more on my tasks.”
LifeAt told me that since their study-with-celebrities videos have gone viral on TikTok, they’ve hosted over 100,000 users on their site. At one point, according to LifeAt, their site was almost shut down due to the skyrocketing server costs.
“The surface-level appeal is people love celebrities and when they happen to do something in common with our users, like studying, there is a sense of a virtual connection,” explained Ajimine and Chentakul, when I asked them about the mysterious popularity of celebrity study buddies.
“Through further research, we learned that there is a deeper concept of accountability through ‘doing things together,’” they added. “Studying with your favorite K-pop icon, movie actor, YouTuber, or really anyone you look up to, helps you to feel motivated to not let the person on the other side of the screen down. Who wants to disappoint their favorite idol?”
“Studying with your favorite K-pop icon, movie actor, YouTuber, or really anyone you look up to, helps you to feel motivated.”
Perhaps the key to having my productivity successfully boosted lies in having celeb study buddies that I am actually obsessed with. But then again, I’m not sure if my celebrity crushes are exactly livestream material (Hi there, Nathan Fielder). So, I concluded, this productivity hack seems to be working for many people, but just not for me.
Then one night, this happened: When I flipped open my laptop for some bedtime web surfing, I noticed, hiding behind all my windows, the four K-pop boy band members still studying hard. I had completely forgotten that they were still there.
Hm, I thought as I observed their focused faces, and decided to clear a couple of work emails before bed. This might be helping after all.
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Original posted at www.vice.com