Penn Badgley’s is a fairly standard TikTok account: He does trending dances; pokes an appropriate degree of fun at himself; stitches other users’ videos. And yet every time the algorithm serves me up a fresh Badgley vid, they catch my attention and deeply confuse me.
The You actor has only posted a dozen or so videos, almost all of which feature other people and many of which are basically just him responding to normie TikTokers who’ve tagged him. This is fairly standard procedure, and so I haven’t really been able to explain or put a name on the emotion these videos inspire in me. But for some reason I a) always remember them, b) attempted to assign an analysis of them to one of our writers yesterday, and c) am now writing this piece myself when no one responded to my Slack suggestion with anything other than a crying-laughing emoji. To that end, I sat down this morning to sort through my Penn Badgley TikTok feelings.
Is it because he’s a celebrity?
It’s not particularly unique or notable for a celebrity to have a TikTok account anymore. Selena Gomez has been filming make-up routines (and subtly plugging her cosmetics line). Julia Fox, famously, is an avid poster. Lizzo is an expert thirst-trapper.
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And though the “they’re just like us”-ification of celebrity media has existed for decades now, TikTok is even more intimate—they (celebrities) are performing in silly little videos just like and, crucially, for us. They are seeking the same dopamine hits that come from racking up views and likes on performances. And that’s weird to me! Isn’t performing as your profession enough?
Who is Penn Badgley, really?
I feel that this is where I must disclose my relationship to Badgley’s current oeuvre, which is nonexistent. In my heart (and brain), he is still Dan Humphrey. I have not engaged with You, though I am well aware of its various contours and discourse-driving creepiness. And Dan Humphrey would never do a TikTok. (He would write a secret blog gossiping about his friends, lovers, and their parents, though.)
Badgley said recently that Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” inspired him to get on the clock app, and I’m told by my You-watching colleagues that that is very funny for his character on the show.
But the vibe Badgley, as a person, has put out for the past few years is that of a fairly standard (if very rich) Brooklyn resident. He’s been married to Domino Kirke (a doula and musician, so, you know, a very specific type of cool) since 2017; they lived in Williamsburg but moved to Park Slope in 2021, when they bought an apartment that Guest of a Guest hilariously called “pretty basic.” They seem to have a nice life (so nice that Badgley’s declining sex scenes due to the sanctity of his marriage these days). They have some kids. They keep a very low public profile. Nothing about their life squares with the Badgley I see on my screen.
He has a podcast
Which brings me to my third and final bucket of feelings—yes, “he has a podcast” is a feeling. All of this feels like bizarre backdoor promo for his podcast, Podcrushed, in which he and two normie creatives (as a fellow normie creative, I mean that in the nicest way) read stories of people’s embarrassing middle school stories. Cute concept!
In fact, I did not know this podcast existed until I started getting served Badgleys TikToks, which frequently feature his cohosts, and thought, “Who are those two women always in his videos?”
They seem cool and fun. Badgley himself seems like a pretty chill coworker. But their podcast’s TikTok account has a mere 410k followers—nothing to sneeze at, but a fraction of Badgley’s own account’s 3.1 million. And now he’s tricked me into learning about their podcast and looking at its TikTok page multiple times—if this is guerilla advertising, it’s working. But that’s also what makes me feel vaguely suspicious after every Badgley video I’m served. Of course, I would never look down my nose at someone using social media to do self-promo; that’s what it’s all about, baby! But if you’re learning these little dances to plug your podcast while actually screaming on the inside, I just want to know. Blink twice at me or something.