A week ago, 17-year-old Adrian Lopez was just your average high school student in Eastvale, California. After a digital flyer invited friends to Huntington Beach for his birthday, it went viral – until it lured thousands of strangers to the beach and to a Los Angeles event space – it has become a household name on social media.
He made the invitation on Monday and gave a time (7:30 p.m.), a place (fire pits) and a date (May 22nd). “Slide tru this Saturday we finna show up !!!!” Read the lower part of the picture titled “Adrian’s Kickback”.
“It should be for my school,” said Mr Lopez.
To attract more interest, Mr. Lopez’s 16-year-old friend, Yahir Hernandez, posted the flyer on Snapchat and then on his personal TikTok account. “Tuesday morning was when Yahir was doing the TikTok,” said Mr Lopez. “I was on my way to school and it only got 40 likes so I ignored it.” But in the next few days the video started. Something about the details of the invitation felt strange to those who came across it. “Who is Adrian?” People commented.
The video picked up on TikTok’s powerful “For You” recommendation algorithm and gained mass distribution. It became a meme overnight. Internet celebrities and creators including music artist 24kGoldn, members of the FaZe clan, and Noah Beck have written about it. By the weekend of the event, TikTok videos with the hashtag #adrianskickback had attracted nearly 280 million views.
At first, Mr. Lopez and Mr. Hernandez thought the viral attention was fun. They enjoyed their 15 minute fame and hooked up with high profile people who hyped the event. “We made connections with artists, we made connections with top people,” said Hernandez.
But Friday night they got nervous. People reported flying in from all over the country for the event. One person said they would go 18 hours with a group of people to be there. And on Friday night, the night before the setback, around 1,000 people came to Huntington Beach to look for a party. The police quickly closed it, but Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Lopez no longer felt under control.
Worried that they would get into trouble over a riot, Mr. Hernandez began working with an older friend he had met in the events business. “We were honestly scared and considered the idea of getting a venue,” said Hernandez.
They teamed up with popular sneaker and streetwear store Cookies N ‘Kicks to sell $ 40 worth of tickets to the event and changed location to an unfamiliar space in Los Angeles, which is just before the party to be revealed.
On Saturday afternoon, a line of kids, waiting to buy tickets for Adrian’s throwback at Cookies N ‘Kicks, stretched around the block. The teens in line said they believed it was the party of the century and that they heard that top content creators were about to perform.
16-year-old Connor Hickman, who came to Huntington Beach on Saturday, repeated that sentiment. “Almost everyone has been inside for a year because of Covid. My school was online until about two months ago, ”he said. “We welcomed the opportunity to go outside and have some fun.”
Due to the viral nature of the event, it also attracted content creators. YouTubers, TikTokers, and live streamers made posts about it for the millions at home who couldn’t attend. Jamar Zelaya, a 19-year-old YouTuber who waited in front of Cookies N ‘Kicks on Saturday, planned to record footage for his channel. “The chaos, the entertainment, the electricity – people want to see people wild and look stupid,” Zelaya said. “If you don’t go, you will miss the story.”
A 14-year-old content creator named Donlad, who described himself as “the richest kid in America,” organized a limo to take Mr. Lopez, Mr. Hernandez and their friends to Los Angeles for the Saturday night celebrations. “I saw this on TikTok and I was like OK, I want to access it,” he said. “I don’t just want to go to the setback, I have to meet this kid.”
Given the teenagers’ excessive expectations of the event, it always had to disappoint, but on Saturday night there were signs of real problems. Mr Lopez and Mr Hernandez had said they would announce the address for the kickback venue at 9:30 p.m., but when the time passed they pushed it back to 11:30 p.m., leaving behind teenagers who had traveled the city scared.
Meanwhile, many other people had not learned that the event had moved to Los Angeles and that a crowd on Huntington Beach was starting to grow. Thousands of teenagers flocked to the beach ready for a party. They formed a mosh pit, played music, and cheered as some of them took turns climbing a flagpole and a traffic light. Some set off fireworks, ran through traffic junctions, or jumped from high places into the crowd below.
Emily McIntosh, 19, a hostess at Duke’s restaurant in Huntington Beach, said staff were stuck in the restaurant for hours after it closed because the situation outside became too dangerous to leave. “It was kind of scary, I drove through with my roommates,” said Ms. McIntosh.
When the police tried to disperse the crowd, things turned violent. The windshield of a police car was smashed and some people threw bottles and other items at the police. The police did not fire fatal shots into the crowd. Finally, the authorities imposed an overnight curfew and nearly 150 participants were arrested.
Back in Los Angeles, Mr. Lopez’s official setback was doomed as well. The address, which was never officially shared with ticket holders, has been leaked. At midnight, a crowd had shown up at the venue. After a police officer responded to the scene, the party closed before it even started.
By then, Mr Lopez had deleted all of his content from social media in an attempt to contain the event, but the backlash had already started. “I’m nervous,” said Mr Lopez on Saturday. “My parents don’t know and they will find out,” he said, “so mom and dad, I’m sorry but I don’t know what to do.”
Mr Hernandez spent Sunday afternoons dispelling the idea that the party was a scam. He organized refunds for those who bought tickets through Cookies N ‘Kicks, and on Sunday another line of kids formed in the store to get their money back. On Monday, Mr Lopez released a statement from a manager he had worked with the day before. “I did not start or promote any illegal activities!” Mr Lopez said in a statement sent via email. “Safety is and will remain my most important concern for me and others. I didn’t make any money with Adrian’s Kickback. “
Kai Watson, 20, content director of The Sync, a podcast network, was in Huntington Beach on Saturday and described the scene as a “zombie apocalypse” for “17-19 year olds”. “I think it was a mix of timing, getting the vaccine and a lot of things opening up,” he said.
Social media has triggered similar mob-like events in the past. In 2012 riots broke out in the Netherlands after a 15-year-old girl posted a public invitation to her 16th birthday party on Facebook. In 2016, over a million people signed up for a quinceanera celebration for Rubi Ibarra Garcia, a teenager in Mexico after her father accidentally made the Facebook event public. In 2019, dozens of UFO enthusiasts came to a website in Nevada after a viral Facebook event promoting a “raid” on Area 51 went viral on TikTok.
“This really shows the power of TikTok,” said Isaiah Shepard, 21, a YouTuber named Steezy Kane, who went to Huntington Beach Saturday night. “Someone can make a joke and it can catch traction by chance and bring thousands of strangers to a beach in a matter of days.”
Mr Watson said he believes there will be more mass mobilizations as more people use the platform’s accelerated reach. “Seeing what happened in less than a week because of TikTok is a feeling I’ve never experienced on social media before,” he said. “If someone is able to replicate even 1 percent of what was done this week for Adrian’s setback with something more important, like a political candidate or protest, that would be amazing.”
On Saturday, Mr. Lopez and Mr. Hernandez said they plan to host more kickback events across the country. “We’re having events soon,” said Hernandez. “We’re going to do one in Texas.”
However, on Monday, Mr Lopez’s manager said his client’s mood had changed. “The last thing Adrian wants to do is party,” said his no-relationship manager Estevan Lopez, 20. “But this could be the beginning of his career as an influencer.”