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It’s October 6, 2021 and a cluster of college girls gather just outside of the Inked headquarters on 22nd Street in Manhattan. After being tipped off by a social media post—the modern-day siren’s call—each had made the decision to skip that day’s classes to set up camp outside. They brace against the crisp New York air, each craning to get a glimpse of the man who’s stopped by for a photoshoot and a new tattoo. Could it be the next charted rapper or Hollywood’s latest silver screen sensation? Nope, it’s TikTok heartthrob Vinnie Hacker.

TikTok has lifted its elite content creators to celebrity status as the diverse platform offers limitless ways in which someone can accumulate a fandom. Hacker found his success by turning up the charm and leaning into the burgeoning thirst trap market. This earned him a legion of fangirls almost overnight but it has also led the 19-year-old to feel like his character is a bit misunderstood.

“I feel like people like to believe that I’m kind of a dick,” Hacker says. “I totally understand why they think that before they meet me because of the content I post. I can understand why guys might hate me because I seem super cocky. But in reality, I don’t even look at my TikToks after I post them. I don’t really look at them because I feel like it would be weird to make something like that, look at it, and be like, ‘Oh yeahhh!’”

Photos by Dylan Schattman

Photos by Dylan Schattman

Although Hacker currently lives an extraordinary life and often has a horde of fangirls following him everywhere he goes, he’s still a normal guy deep down. He has his humble beginnings to thank for that. “Growing up, I was obviously blinded by a lot as a kid,” Hacker says. “My mom was working two jobs and my dad was working a ton of overtime as an electrician. I went to an all-boys Catholic school and it was a lot different there. There wasn’t much competition because the guys wouldn’t have anything to compete for, so it was super chill and I had a pretty good childhood.”

Obtaining social media stardom while you’re still in high school is pretty strange on its own. But throw in a same-sex Catholic school and thirst traps—that’s an entirely different league of weird. “I think I pivoted toward this type of content because I went to an all-guys school and I was so deprived of any female attention at all,” Hacker says. “But the guys at school didn’t care, everybody in the school could make a thirst trap and nobody would say anything. I honestly think our sister school made fun of me more.

“I was forced into going to an assembly at their school to do a TikTok dance trivia,” he continues. “I didn’t do TikTok dances obviously, I made thirst traps, which I don’t think the school board knew about. I think they just thought I was a TikToker. I got up there and I was super awkward. I’d never been in front of a crowd before and all of these people knew who I was, but I didn’t know any of them.”

Photos by Dylan Schattman

Photos by Dylan Schattman

This kind of attention can go to just about anyone’s head, especially if you’re still a teenager. However, Hacker didn’t get into this line of work to satisfy his own vanity or to boost an inflated ego. “When I was in high school, I was even skinnier than I am now and I’ve never really gotten that image of myself out of my head,” Hacker says. “Yeah, I might get a confidence boost from looking at comments and whatnot, but that image of me being that freshman kid who was super skinny still lingers in the back of my head.”

Two days after graduating from high school, Hacker took the plunge and moved to LA to further his career. While he was still in school, posting to TikTok was something he did between studying for exams, but with that chapter in the rear view posting became his main priority. “I had to fend for myself and that’s when I realized if I’m coming to LA to pursue this then I have to be able to treat it as if it’s something I’m getting paid for,” Hacker says. “It was still fun and it still is, but I also had to think of it from a business perspective. It’s definitely been hard, especially for someone like me who doesn’t like saying no to people. You have to know when to say no and you have to know your own self-worth as far as reaching out to people or people reaching out to you.”

Photos by Dylan Schattman

Photos by Dylan Schattman

Learning the ropes of LA’s intense social media climate is a challenge, particularly for a 19-year-old with a legion of followers. Everything could easily spiral out of control, but Hacker was able to navigate through all the challenges relatively unscathed. “I lived in LA for about eight months and then I moved about an hour out to Thousand Oaks,” Hacker says. “When I was living in LA there were a lot of parties going on and meeting fake people who want to use you. It’s something you have to figure out for yourself, [especially] how to deal with and how to distance yourself from those people. You have to surround yourself with people who make you feel comfortable and who you can trust. Otherwise, the fake people will see you doing well and try to take you down.”

Once Hacker mastered the art of sussing out fake people he turned his attention to one of the major conflicts all content creators inevitably face—maintaining career longevity. If we’ve learned anything from Friendster, MySpace and TikTok’s direct descendent, Vine, is that nothing lasts forever. Hacker’s career may just be starting out, but this is still a question that keeps him up at night. “TikTok will die down someday and Instagram might die out completely,” he explains. “You have to develop a fanbase and supporters of your own. That’s what a lot of people who get into social media don’t realize—you can’t leech off of people and you can’t be fake. You have to get people to like you for being you and give them other outlets to let them know about you. You can’t just post thirst traps on TikTok, it’s not going to work forever.”

If Hacker was going to learn from the mistakes of those who came before him and build a lasting career, he would need to branch out; those thirst traps won’t work forever, after all. As he pondered a solution, he turned to a passion he had mostly kept hidden from his followers—music. He began making music while still in high school, but unlike the aforementioned TikToks, he decided not to post his songs. It wasn’t until he had built a loyal fanbase that he found the confidence to put himself out there. “I started posting my music now because I wanted to hear people’s opinions on it,” Hacker says. “I don’t post my music for money or anything. It’s just me and my buddies Adam and Ben who sit in our studio and we just throw our songs out there.”

Photos by Dylan Schattman

Photos by Dylan Schattman

Although Hacker posts to TikTok on a semi-regular basis, his fans only get to see a small percentage of who he is. Through his songs he’s able to show the world a totally new side of his personality. “My music is definitely something I use to explain my history and what I’ve been through,” he says. “When I release an album it’s going to include a lot of the steps I’ve taken in my life and those memories. I’ve talked with my fans a lot about mental health and have really opened up. I like being real with them because not a lot of influencers are able to reach out and share what they’re going through.”

In addition to sharing other sides of himself through music, fans have been able to learn more about their favorite TikToker through his growing tattoo collection. “The funny thing is, I got these tattoos before I was big on TikTok,” Hacker says. “A lot of people used to think I got them because people on TikTok like tattoos on guys, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve wanted them since I was, like, 14.”

Since getting his first tattoo shortly after turning 18, Hacker has added to his tattoo collection extensively. He’s ornamented his arms with a constellation of fineline black-and-grey tattoos and has inked up some pretty painful places like his sternum. And like many tattoo enthusiasts his age, Hacker didn’t stray away from getting his hands tattooed up. “I waited about a year after getting my first tattoo on my hands,” Hacker says. “I’d honestly advise people to wait even longer because nothing’s a given. I don’t know how long this stuff will last and I see people all the time who get their first tattoos on their hands. I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re nuts.’ It was even a stretch for me to get them after having just my arm tattooed.”

Vinnie Hacker may not know how long his career as a TikTok thirst trap sensation will last, but he’s enjoying the ride. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that TikTokers are taking over and there’s no limit to what they can accomplish. It’s their world, we’re just living in it.