In late July, dozens of social media stars flocked to the Hype House, a Hollywood Hills mansion where several top TikTok creators live, for a birthday party. The décor was glittery and pink, with balloons and silver streamers strewn about. Hello Kitty strobe lights pulsed over a crowded dance floor.
The scene, as portrayed on social media, had an air of pre-pandemic normalcy. In several videos from the party, no one is wearing a mask.
Thomas Petrou, a founder of the Hype House, told The Hollywood Fix that between 60 and 70 guests attended the party, held on July 21 for one of the house’s residents, Larri Merritt, but hundreds more crowded together outside, hoping to get in. Those who made it past the door were a who’s who of the internet: Emma Chamberlain, James Charles, Tana Mongeau, Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, Nikita Dragun, the Sway boys.
Mr. Petrou, 21, said that for creators, such events aren’t just fun — they’re work. “Our jobs are to entertain people,” he said in a phone interview this week. “We live with groups of people, and we are all intertwined for work. We can’t put our entire lives on hold for a year and not make any money.”
California, where coronavirus cases remained low in the first few months of the pandemic, has experienced a summer outbreak. Last week it became the first state to report half a million cases, according to a database maintained by The New York Times, and the infection rate has been especially high in Los Angeles County. Still, many of its young residents keep partying.
The YouTuber Jake Paul recently hosted an event at his home in Calabasas, where guests swung from construction machinery. The TikTok stars Bryce Hall, Josh Richards and Blake Gray partied with dozens of fellow stars at the Sway Gaming house Monday night. On Tuesday, the Nelk Boys, YouTube stars known for their frat-like prank videos, uploaded footage from a party to Instagram, a day after they organized a packed meet-and-greet to protest gym closures in California.
Seemingly every night, new party footage surfaces online. Drama channels and tea accounts, which fuel and chronicle the feuds and scandals of the internet-famous, repackage the highlights and point out notable guests.
Many creators have faced criticism for posting about these parties, let alone hosting them. After the YouTuber Tyler Oakley singled out the July 21 Hype House party on Twitter, Mr. Merritt issued a public apology for the birthday party held in his honor, admitting that it was a “dumb thing to do.” Ms. Mongeau and Mr. Charles also apologized for attending the event.
On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles announced that in response to the recent spate of parties, he would authorize the city to shut off power and water to any houses or businesses hosting large parties or unauthorized gatherings beginning on Friday night.
Malik Earnest, a 25-year-old creator in Los Angeles, has attended several influencer parties in recent months. “It’s like Covid isn’t a thing when we’re at them,” he said. He said he tries to stay responsible, but said that showing face at events has helped his career.
Mr. Earnest said that the apologies some hosts and attendees have issued are placating and not a sign that behavior is changing. “I see these tweets, I’ve seen influencers get called out and apologize, then I see them at a party the next weekend,” he said. “It’s just to save face. They say what they need to say on Twitter and Instagram then live their life.”
“These kids have been trying to be big on social media for such a long time,” said Mai Linh Nguyen, a producer who has worked for several top YouTube stars. “Now, they finally have it. They’re the ones to invite kids to the cool party, instead of trying to get the invite. Literally everyone on the internet, even if they don’t know who they are by name, is talking about them.”
Dennis Feitosa, a 20-something YouTuber and comedian who has been documenting the events on social media, said that he doesn’t see things slowing down anytime soon. “There’s that saying in show business, ‘Talk bad, but talk about me.’ A lot of these people are going with that philosophy.”
Mr. Petrou, of Hype House, said that he and his peers try to stay responsible. “We’ve been quarantined, all of us social media influencers hang out every day,” he said. “All of us get tested regularly, and 99 percent of us don’t go home to our families.”
Whether influencers have been infected with coronavirus is a topic of great speculation. Nearly every TikTok collab house has been rumored to have had infections, but none would confirm any cases on the record. Some, like the Clubhouse, have banned parties and other social gatherings. However, with no live-in supervision, it is up to the influencers to enforce such rules.
Managers, agents and publicists have tried speaking to their young clients about the potential risks of their behavior, but few have been able to break through.
“It’s a level of accountability they have to have on themselves,” said Michael Gruen, a founder of TalentX, a management firm that represents many TikTokers. “It’s tough to tell 18-year-olds who live in L.A. away from their parents not to go out for two years.”
“Do I wish there wasn’t a party? Yeah. But if it’s there, he’s going to film it,” Mr. Gruen said, referring to one of his young clients. “I’d rather him go in, film it and leave, than go and party all night and not film it.”
Even when the cameras aren’t rolling, influencers say the parties are a necessary outlet in a time of extreme social isolation. The TikTok star Hootie Hurley, 21, said that while the parties in Los Angeles are most conspicuous, on a recent trip home to Arkansas and Oklahoma he saw many people out at bars and clubs, none of them practicing social distancing.
“A lot of people are depressed,” Mr. Hurley said. “You can’t raise somebody to be prepared to handle this. Every single person is living a completely different life than they did eight months ago and people handle changes and pressure differently. Some people crawl in a hole and isolate themselves, some people party.”