Santa Barbara High School student Austin Boller never expected to be famous. Boller, known as @sadtok101 on TikTok, has accumulated more than 1.6 million followers on the platform.
He started making videos in 2020 in quarantine. Feeling down and finding inspiration through other TikToks he’d seen, Boller decided to create his own, and his account took off as people related to the things he was going through.
According to Boller, the name @sadtok101 originates from the fact that his content often talks about being sad, and the 101 alludes to course numbers, as if viewers were taking his class on sadness.
The format of @sadtok101’s videos consist mostly of Boller wearing sunglasses and staring at the camera as text hovers above his head, with different-colored LED lights behind him.
“The sunglasses kind of just came naturally,” he said. “I just wore them in a few [TikToks], and it became my niche.” Boller rarely takes his sunglasses off in his videos, and they’ve more or less become his brand online. He draws inspiration for his posts from things he thinks of in his daily life or sees online.
Boller first went viral when one of his videos got 20 million views, and he realized he could continue producing viral videos following a similar format. Boller’s account, which began blowing up in December 2021, is growing quickly, gaining 500,000 followers in just a month.
The fame was a big surprise to him. “At school, there are people that like to call me by my TikTok name instead of my real name,” he said. He’s even been recognized in public a few times and finds his newfound stardom “pretty cool.”
Boller attributes his account’s popularity to the relatability of his content, and how viewers are able to see their own experiences and concerns reflected in his posts.
Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from Independent.com, in your inbox, every morning.
Hundreds of people on the Internet have started to come to Boller for advice. “They’ll message me and send paragraphs and paragraphs about things they’re going through,” he said, with the topics ranging from losing friends to breakups.
Boller is glad that his content is connecting with people and that he can help others through listening to their concerns. “I think they just want a person to talk to,” he said.
Being sought out for advice is unexpected, Boller said, because he’s just a normal kid. When he’s not working at the Eagle Inn or in school, he’s coming home to do homework and film TikToks.
TikTok isn’t his source of income, as, according to Boller, you have to be 18 years old to apply for the TikTok Creator Fund or be verified to be paid. However, artists occasionally will pay him to promote their music by playing it in the background of his TikToks.
Despite having received requests to run advertisements in his videos, Boller hasn’t done so yet, feeling like they might stunt his account growth or mess up the flow of his current content.
Living in a TikTok house with other content creators is one of Boller’s eventual goals. “If I keep growing consistently, [TikTok] could definitely turn into something like a career,” he said. “I’m just gonna keep going and see where it takes me.”
For now, he’s thinking about starting a merchandise line selling sunglasses-branded T-shirts. He also has plans to incorporate different content into his account by interviewing people, in his sunglasses.
“I want to take the time to ask people why they’re sad and if I can do anything to make it better,” Boller said. “If they wanted something to eat, I’d buy it for them, or if they just wanted a hug, I’d give them a hug.”
Boller wants his TikTok account to be a space where people can realize they’re not alone in their struggles, where they can find comfort through content they relate to.