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What the Hawk Tuah girl tells us about viral fame

What the Hawk Tuah girl tells us about viral fame


by Sarah Gill
10th Jul 2024

One Southern sweetheart is providing a masterclass on how to extend the shelf life of a viral soundbite, and it is equal parts grudgingly impressive and existentially worrying.

In this week’s episode of Good Lord Why On Earth Do I Even Care, a 21-year-old woman from Tennessee is riding high on the crest of her 15 minutes of fame, prolonging her time in the sun, and capitalising on our inexplicable obsession with meme-ability.

For those otherwise unacquainted with the so-called ‘Hawk Tuah girl’—otherwise known as Haliey Welch—she rose to notoriety as a result of a YouTube clip that was posted on Instagram, that’s since amassed tens of millions of views on TikTok. Yeah. There’s just so! Many! Platforms!

In the clip, YouTubers Tim & Dee TV were stopping people on the street in Nashville to pose the burning question: “What’s one move in bed that makes a man go crazy every time?” To this, Welch responded with: “You gotta give him that ‘hawk tuah’ and spit on that thang – you get me?” And get her they did.

Naturally, the internet at large lapped it up, and it was reshared from countless other accounts, parodied, duetted, remixed — the whole nine yards. It is, whether you admit it or not, a pretty funny soundbite and an all too meme-able punchline. It’s one of those things that will be absorbed into the mainstream lexicon and before we know it it will be the Oxford dictionary Word of the Year for 2024. Stranger things have happened.

These accounts that make a living out of stopping people on the street to ask them innocuous questions like ‘what are you listening to’ or ‘what are you wearing’ are TikTok’s crème de la crème, and as viewers we lap it up, making people go viral daily. Before the ‘Hawk Tuah’ girl there was the pomegranate girl, and before her there was the yodelling Walmart boy. But what separates a nameless, faceless viral moment from the overnight creation of a micro celebrity?

An insidiously savvy understanding of capitalism, a team of experts in personal branding, and an unflinching belief in oneself, it seems.

Haliey Welch has, in precisely one month, used her online virality as a springboard to propel her towards 1.1 million Instagram followers, a line of signature merchandise ranging from €30 to €55 dollars (her signature costs extra!), and a minimum fee of $30,000 for club appearances. She’s appeared on high profile podcasts, joined country music star Zach Bryan on stage for a special performance, and has been receiving pitches for reality television shows, and Playboy spreads.

Represented by Jonnie Forster, of music specialist agency the Penthouse, she’s being marketed as ‘America’s Sweetheart’, and has already filed trademarks for her merch, live shows, and podcasts. She’s even got her own business now, 16 Minutes LLC. The PR machine moves fast. Ms Welch says herself in a statement: “Two weeks ago, it was just my granny and me in itty-bitty Belfast, Tennessee. Then I say something silly and now my life has changed. Isn’t God great?! Can’t wait for what’s ahead.”

During the previously mentioned podcast appearance—on Barstool Sports’ Plan Bri Uncut with Brianna LaPaglia—Welch said that in the immediate aftermath of the clip she appeared in went viral, many fake accounts purporting to be the real Haliey Welch sprang up, which she found quite creepy. She also explains that Tim & Dee TV created a merch line that she hadn’t signed off on, and it’s highly likely she didn’t see a cent from the hugely viral clip, so her own official range of merchandise is something of a reclamation of what is, ostensibly, rightfully hers.

Naturally, because she’s a woman who had the gall and gumption to not only be beautiful, but charismatic, and speak on the topic of sex with a raunchy little quip, ickiness quickly ensued. “The guy that does my hats, he got offered $600 three days ago for me to spit in a jar and sell it,” she told Brianna during the podcast. She’s also being hounded to create an OnlyFans account, and a representative from PornHub told TMZ that the website was already seeing millions of searches for the term ‘hawk tuah’.

On top of all that, there’s been sprinklings of salacious misinformation that have helped prolong the intrigue surrounding the whole fandango, most pertinently the entirely untrue story that she lost her job as a teacher because of the clip. She actually worked in a spring factory, and opted to leave this role of her own volition when she began to go viral. And hey, when you’re getting $30k to stop by a club in Miami, you might be inclined to do the same.

Remember when we used to ask ourselves what we would do with our lives if we ever won the lottery? Well, that’s been replaced with the equally unlikely alternative: What would you do if you went viral, and became internet famous?

We either opt to let the moment wash over us, declining to engage with that level of notoriety, or we sink our fangs in and draw everything we can out of it. Becoming viral is spontaneous and unexpected, but it’s in the mining of these moments for continued exposure that pseudo celebrities are born.

So, while it remains unclear whether or not we can expect a Hawk Tuah: The Musical, it’s glaringly obvious that Haliey Welch isn’t going anywhere fast.