When I arrive at Honey House, I’m a little nervous. Because I’m not really a positive vibes, fitness kind of person. I don’t wear t-shirts that say “Live, Laugh, Love” or “Rosé All Day.” I think protein powder is a scam. And I’m walking into a house full of influencers, who are basically the spokespeople for all of those things.
If you don’t know what a TikTok House is, you’re probably not the kind of person who watches viral dance videos 24/7. But it’s not just for teens. TikTok has become the most downloaded app in the world. It’s projected to hit 1 billion active monthly users by 2021.
As the app gained popularity, several talent management companies had an idea. Why not gather 10 or 15 of the most popular TikTok stars in existence and put them in a fancy house to make videos together? Maybe you’ve heard of Sway House, Hype House, or Clubhouse Beverly Hills. LA is full of these houses and new ones are popping up every week.
Honey House is one of them.
There are 11 roommates in this five-bedroom McMansion — four couples and three crew members. Unlike lots of other TikTok houses, the couples here skew a little older. They’re all in their late 20s to early 30s, and most of them have real, grown-up jobs, like e-commerce consultant and personal trainer.
“I think we're the first ‘adult’ TikTok house, as the internet has quoted us,” says JT Barnett, who started Honey House with his friend Nick Dio in August. Before that, he ran an event called RESET, a retreat to help people detox after Coachella. It’s like an after-party with green juice and cryotherapy instead of hard drugs.
When Coachella was cancelled this year, Barnett and Dio had another idea. Why not create a TikTok house devoted to health, wellness and positive vibes?
and it begins.. ##honey♬ Say So (Instrumental Version) [Originally Performed by Doja Cat] - Elliot Van Coup
By September, Honey House had over 500,000 followers. That was just season one. The team started season 2 in early November. Now they have over a million. And yes, they think of this whole thing in terms of seasons, like television.
It’s basically the 2020 version of “The Real World” without the drama. Their videos are wholesome, G-rated, and as Barnett calls it, “brand safe.”
“We look at it more like a ‘Modern Family’ meets ‘Real World’ meets ‘Well and Good,’” he says.
Mainly the housemates play hopscotch to the tune of Rapper’s Delight.
They also do challenges, usually between the guys and girls. They call them “HOMIES VERSUS HONEYS.” In one, the guys and girls have to dig out gummy bears from a plate of whipped cream. In another, each team has to retrieve a can of alcoholic seltzer by pulling it toward them on a roll of toilet paper. It’s like one of their captions says – good, clean, fun.
“Seasons last 31 days, it creates about two months of content, and the plan is to do between four and six seasons a year,” says Dio.
Next season, Honey House will take the show on the road — Miami for a month, then Austin and likely Colorado, Dio says. This month, he and Barnett are covering rent in the $3.4 million Studio City home. They consider it an investment.
The ultimate goal is to create a media property like “The Bachelor,” complete with full-scale product placement. Last season, Honey House was sponsored by a tequila seltzer brand and a rapid COVID-19 test company. And this season, the kitchen is full of things like vegan protein powder and green juice, all products that could eventually show up on camera.
Eli Alvarez is in charge of filming everything for Honey House’s YouTube page. He’s 19 years old and just graduated from high school in a small town in Indiana. This is his first time in LA.
“I got straight off the plane, into the car with my brother, and I asked him, ‘Is this Downtown LA?’ Alvarez says. “He was like ‘not even close.’ Then I realized everywhere you go, it looks like you're downtown.”
For Alvarez, living in a TikTok house is a dream come true, even though he sleeps on a mattress in the basement, under the stairs. “It's been an amazing, amazing first three days,” he says.
The professional crew isn’t the only change since season one. The earlier version of Honey House got flak on Twitter for being too white. So this season, Dio and Barnett hired a casting manager who specialized in diversity. That’s how they found the four new members, who are all people of color.
“I'm Salvadorian, brown skin, you know, just your typical Latina. And Chris is Black. So we’re just happy to represent,” says Myra Gutierrez, who joined the house in November with her boyfriend, Chris Bordenave, when another couple had to drop out after testing positive for COVID-19. Most TikTok houses are predominantly white.
“We don't get a chance to do these kinds of things,” Gutierrez says. “We love to do challenges too. We love to have fun too. So for it to be this diverse is really, really awesome.”
At 8 p.m., everyone sits down together in the kitchen, the four couples and the three crew members. They’re passing dishes back and forth, chatting, joking, laughing. They go around the table so each person can share their “joy and sorrow of the day.”
It’s another activity that might sound cheesy or artificially positive. But in the moment, it actually feels nice. It’s nice to have a group of people available to listen to you talk about your day. Especially in a pandemic, it’s nice just to be around people.
The whole thing reminds me of summer camp or living in a dorm. There’s a feeling of community and closeness that’s often missing from modern, adult life.
And as I say my goodbyes and head back to my one-bedroom apartment, I realize maybe that’s the appeal of Honey House and TikTok houses in general. At a time when we’re all so isolated, it’s just nice to see a group of friends hanging out together, having fun, not worrying so much.
Maybe right now, we could all use a little more brand-safe positivity.