Pecs or It Didn't Happen
In 2015, it's not unusual for a 23-year-old to suddenly find fame, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, merely for being a perfect human specimen. The question for Brock O'Hurn is: What is he going to do with it?
It's a slightly chilly Saturday afternoon in early May, and Brock O'Hurn is worried. The day before, the 23-year-old personal trainer and King of Man Buns had announced on his Instagram — which, at last count, has nearly 800,000 followers for the hundreds of photos of Brock doing Brock things like being shirtless, having his hair in a bun, having his hair down, being at the beach, going to the gym, playing guitar, and hanging with his boys — that he'd be having a meet and greet at the Santa Monica Pier at 1 p.m., and now, sitting in a nearby Starbucks, he's hoping that people actually show up.
His friend, a 32-year-old Brazilian fashion designer and photographer named Diogo Vinhais, who takes some of the photos on Brock's Instagram, is reassuring. "Dude, they'll definitely show," he says, offering Brock half of his spinach feta wrap. Brock stayed up late the night before, and he looks bleary-eyed. But even bleary-eyed, Brock O'Hurn is still 6'7", 250 pounds, tan, muscular, blue-eyed, with a light-brown, tousled mane that, when not grazing his often shirtless chest, sits in a perfectly messy topknot. He turns heads, whether he was up until 3 a.m. or not. Now, he takes a sip of a huge iced coffee and says, "OK. Let's go."
As we walk toward the pier, Brock wonders, again, if anyone's going to come. "I didn't give people much notice," he says. "And the weather..."
"We'll just start taking pictures of you," says Diogo, referring to himself and BuzzFeed's photographer, who's coming along for the afternoon. "It'll be like ants on food."
The first sign that things will probably be fine is when we approach the pier from the side, and as we walk past the public bathrooms, two blonde women who turn out to be mother and daughter see him and approach cautiously yet excitedly. "We're here from Ohio," says the daughter, 21-year-old Liz Hriczo. "I was like, if there's one thing I do in L.A., it's meet him. Then I was like, he's doing a meet and greet!" Her mom, Chris, takes a photo of her with Brock, but it's not until she walks away that he takes his shirt off. "Oh my god. I'm gonna throw up," says Liz.
Then it's on. There's 36-year-old Trista Chen, who drove in from Alhambra with her friend, who says she's been following Brock on Instagram for a month. "He's so hot," she says. "I grew up in Asia — when we were teenagers we read a lot of romance novels. He looks like that." She fans herself theatrically.
A man and his girlfriend walk by. "Who's he? Some buff guy?"
An older woman walks by and yells, "Are you married?" Brock shakes his head. "Do you want to get married?" She laughs and keeps walking.
A 9-year-old girl named Maddy and her mom, who came from nearby Huntington Beach, pose for a picture with him. "I'm the one who follows him on Facebook and Instagram," says the mom, Jen. "But Maddy asked if he was going to be wearing a shirt."
A group of three young women run up to Brock. They drove two hours from Oceanside, California, near San Diego, leaving their husbands at home. "We love him," says 20-year-old Kayla Cook.
"He's gorgeous," says her friend, 21-year-old Leeza Lloyd.
"It's his hair," says the third woman, Chelsea White, 20. "He has really good eyes, too. He's so nice. The whole time we were driving up here, I was like, what's he gonna be like? And now it's like, you're like, real."
Brock takes pictures, sometimes more than one, with everyone. He is friendly and cheerful. He picks up a 13-year-old boy named Austin for a picture and Austin asks how he takes care of his hair, and Brock tells him he washes it three times a week.
As the crowd on the pier grows, more and more people who are just walking by want to know who the shirtless man posing for pictures is. "He looks like Thor!" I hear more than one person say.
"It's Brock O'Hurn," says one of his fans. "He's Instagram famous but he's about to become, like, really famous."
I'm momentarily distracted by what I see out of the corner of my eye: Brock lifting up a woman who looks well into grandmother age, and kissing her on the cheek. She turns out to be 73-year-old Evangelina Garcia, who speaks only Spanish, but a woman with her translates for me: "She just saw him on the pier and said, 'What a beautiful man.'"
In a world where "Instagram famous" and "really famous" are increasingly the same, Brock O'Hurn is riding some kind of wave. Maybe it's the man bun, maybe it's the eyes, maybe it's the chiseled physique, maybe it's the selfies where his pants are juuuuuuust a little too low, or the one of him in a cowboy hat at the Stagecoach Music Festival or the goofy one of him in American flag shorts (still shirtless), or him relaxing by a pool, or reading a book (shirtless, hair in man bun). Maybe it's the other people who show up in his photos — fist-bumping his baby nephew, having fun with his "boys," a loose crew of similarly hot friends he's picked up in his five or so months in L.A. — who all seem carefully chosen to reflect The Real Brock: a happy, wholesome, sexy dude just living his best life in Los Angeles. The only women in his pictures are his mom, his sisters, and the occasional longtime female friend. He posts a lot of pictures with quotes that are blandly uplifting, like "I'm going to tell you you're beautiful inside and out until you can say it yourself without insecurity or doubt." There are no pictures of Brock getting wasted, or even holding a beer, much less smoking pot.
He's someone a mom would feel comfortable letting her 9-year-old be into. But he is also someone who has been the subject of countless email threads, texts, instant messages, Facebook comments, tweets, and even real-life conversations by actual grown-ups, men and women, who would not normally follow a Brock-like human on Instagram or any other social network, who have progressive ideas about objectification and the male gaze and the female gaze and being body positive, who believe that beauty comes from inside and that external beauty exists in many, many different forms, and yet who secretly can't believe that such a human actually exists, and is posting selfies, every single day, for our viewing pleasure. There is a degree of self-imposed irony to this pleasure, an acknowledgment that we are willing, if winking, participants in this spectacle. But at their core the feelings are authentic. Brock is, in fact, really hot, and it is, in fact, nice to look at him.
All that said, Brock might have just stayed on the cusp of fame, a notably hot if ultimately fleeting guy showing up in your feed, if not for a 25-second, low-quality video that he posted to Facebook on Nov. 3 with the caption "In light of Man Bun Monday and No Shave November. Lets do it." It's shot on a webcam at an upward angle in a room with light brown walls and a white closet door, set to the R&B artist PartyNextDoor's song "Muse" ("Girl let me demonstrate [Let me do it] / Let me demonstrate on you / Girl don't hesitate / 'Cause I won't hesitate on you").
It opens with Brock leaning into the camera, his hair flowing past his shoulders. He gives a tiny nod and half-smile to the camera and stands up straighter, gathering his hair into his hands, and putting it into a bun at the top of his head with the help of a hair elastic he has waiting on his left wrist. He's wearing a blue V-neck T-shirt, and his tanned arm muscles flex as he works, his fingers fiddling with his hair after he's gathered it into the topknot, and he leans down and glances back into the camera, as though checking himself out in the mirror, and then stands back up again, tinkering with the bun as though he's going to redo it, but then, at the last moment, releases all of his hair down again, running his fingers through it, and looking back into the camera one last time, a satisfied smile now on his face.
The video has gotten nearly 5 million views, with comments like: "I shared it to my page and just scrolled down so I could watch again. It should play on a loop. ;)"; "I am not watching it again....til tomorrow...smh"; "I was so grumpy yesterday and I decided to wake up happy today. First thing I saw on FB, this morning, was this video and I was instantly happy. Might be my new morning ritual to watch it. :)"; and perhaps the most apt: "Best. Man. Bun. Ever."
Now his Facebook page has almost 350,000 fans, and he started a Snapchat account a couple months ago and launched a YouTube channel last week, but he's still surprised at how popular the video is. "I honestly didn't put any thought into it," he says. "I'm like, 'That many people have seen me?' And I didn't do anything but put my hair in a bun? Like this is crazy. But it was so awesome."
"So are you ready to work out?" Brock O'Hurn says, smiling. It's a few weeks before the Santa Monica meetup and we're at the West Hollywood Equinox, where he's been working out since he moved to L.A., and where he has agreed to give me a personal training session.
The first thing I notice about Brock IRL isn't his hair, which is down; or his eyes, which really are that blue; or his muscles, which are hiding behind a loose-fitting long-sleeve T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. It's his sheer size. When he gives me a hug in greeting, I feel like I'm being enveloped in an enormous mass of manliness. It's not in any way unpleasant.
I go to the locker room to change and he tells me to meet him by the recumbent bicycles. (I had hurt my foot a week before and wasn't able to do anything high-impact.) I meet him there, and he's sitting on a bicycle, languidly cycling. After we warm up, we head over to the lat pull-down machine, and he puts the weight on the lightest setting for me. I do the reps easily, and then he asks if I mind if he works in with me.
I say of course I don't mind, but I am also thinking that it's not normal for a trainer to work out with you. Soon, though, I see what he's up to: He does his first set at 160 pounds, the second at 220, and the last at 260.
"That's not the most I can do," he says. "Usually I'll put, like, a 45-pound plate on it." This scenario is repeated at every machine we go to: me doing a very light workout, Brock then showing me how much weight he can handle. As we work out, a stream of guys — mostly older, very fit guys — come by to say hello to Brock. He's eye candy for everyone. They want to know how his appearance at a bar in Edmonton, Canada, went (answer: The bar where it was held had never had so many people show up for a meet and greet and he got a segment on the local news), whether he's going to be visiting Florida or South Africa soon, when he can work out with them.
"You know, when it's guys working out with each other — they're just trying to show off," he says.
As we work out, I start to realize that there's something unexpectedly not quite sexy about Brock, in person, in a way that doesn't quite totally jibe with the photos I'd been obsessively dissecting for weeks. It's not that he's not attractive: He is, both on Instagram and in person, unquestionably an incredibly handsome man. It's more that I was expecting him to be Channing Tatum in Magic Mike — a little sassy, brash, in on the joke — and instead he's more like Channing Tatum in Dear John, the love story based on a Nicholas Sparks book about a chivalrous soldier from South Carolina who falls in love with a ridiculously beautiful, sweet, college student played by Amanda Seyfried. It's not that Dear John Channing Tatum isn't attractive, but that Magic Mike Channing Tatum is more exciting, and when the extent of your fame, so far, is posting selfies on the internet — well, no matter how hot you are, you're eventually going to need something a little more compelling than some inspirational quotes to maintain people's interest if your goal in life is to be more than someone who posts really hot selfies on the internet. Which Brock says it is, and which means people are likely going to be expecting a certain degree of charisma, even the tiniest bit of edge, as his career evolves.
I think about this again after the training session ends and we're sitting outside on the patio of Sunset Plaza, an upscale courtyard of shops, restaurants, and gyms, and Brock starts telling me, in his disarmingly soft voice, about treating women right. "Even though I'm young, I'm very old-school in a sense that I am that guy who will open the door 100% of the time. And I'll be like, 'Sit in the car until I run around to the other side and open the door for you,'" he says. "I won't let you pay on a date. And like when we're walking down the sidewalk, you're on the inside no matter what. That's just how I am. It's just embedded in me."
That embedding came from growing up in Southern California, the second-oldest in a family of five. His parents divorced when he was around 9 years old, and he was raised mostly by his mom, Paige Hurn (Brock added the O' because he says his family's original name in Ireland was O'Hearn and he wanted to get back to its roots), who owns a cleaning company. The way he tells it, adolescence was rocky — he went to nine different high schools in Orange County, Palm Springs, and San Bernardino — until he started lifting weights his sophomore year in high school.
"I got tired of being called so skinny because I was 6'3", I weighed 135 pounds," he says. "The first month I ever worked out, I put on 35 pounds just because I got so hungry. I would wake up 2 a.m. on the dot every night, and I'd have to go eat two turkey sandwiches and two bowls of Fruity Pebbles. And because of working out, I started to get this confidence to me."
Left, Brock with his mom, Paige Hurn; right, sisters Carly and Aspyn, brother Drake, and Brock at 15
After high school, he briefly worked for his uncle's HVAC company, installing heating and cooling systems, before getting a job at Abercrombie & Fitch in Mission Viejo, a wealthy town in Orange County. (Brock is even nice about Abercrombie: "Don't get me wrong. I like Abercrombie," he says. "There's nothing wrong with them. They're awesome. It's just... That wasn't my dream, you know. That's not my goal. That's not what I was passionate about.") Still, he says, working at Abercrombie and subsequently at a True Religion store taught him the value of customer service — and helped him overcome his natural shyness.
"It kind of broke me a little more out of my shell," he says. "That's one thing I learned being really big and really tall — I'm really intimidating. And I understand that. So for me I have to go above and beyond to either make myself look really funny, to make people feel comfortable...or to be overly nice, which I'm not trying to say I'm not really nice...I hope — I don't know if you got a bad vibe from me or not."
I reassure him that I did not, in fact, get a bad vibe.
"It went from being just that guy to like an overly nice guy because I just want to make people feel comfortable, feel happy, you know. Because I felt uncomfortable before. I was like, I don't like the way that feels, you know?" he says. "Even in this gym, I'll meet someone like the week before, and we'll have a great conversation, but then the next time I see them, they're like, 'Uh. I'm nervous. I don't know what to say.' So I continually have to keep doing that where I go out of my way to say hi to them and see how you're doing, how's your day going, how's your week, you know."
Eventually, Brock started training clients online, charging $100 to $150 for a month's worth of programs, which is what he was living on when he finally moved to L.A. a few months ago with little more than a vague dream to act, even though he had never acted before. "That's what I've been focusing on, that's where I've been going, and it's been going very well," he says, though he says he can't elaborate, that there are things in the works but he can't talk about them yet.
He seems to be approaching his acting career in the same way you might focus on lifting weights: Set goal. Achieve said goal. Set higher goal.
"I feel like I am fortunate enough to be given gifts in my mindset and my willpower to do these things, because it's not easy. You don't just come here, and it doesn't just happen. You gotta really work for it, and you gotta be really driven. You gotta wake up every day with a goal and a defined purpose. And when you know what you're here for, you can achieve it."
(I remind myself that we are in a city where people do, actually, believe that The Secret works.)
And yet, he's vague about articulating what those goals actually are. "I want to buy my mom a house," he says, but that's not a career goal, exactly, and when I press him about what he wants to do, or where he sees himself in a year, or five, he laughs a little nervously and says things like, "Well, my goal is acting," or "My goal is to do charity and help people," and then finally, "I do have an end goal, and virtually a 20-year plan basically with all this," but when I ask him what that is, he says, "Ooh, no. I can't talk about that one." Finally, he admits, "What I kind of learned in Hollywood is it's an idea that I don't want to put out there yet because I don't want someone else to come along and be like, 'Oh, that's mine,' you know? And so I'm getting to that point where I can create this in every aspect and make that franchise go as long as possible, and that's the goal."
So, a franchise? Like the next Fast and Furious, maybe?
"Hm. You know. Not saying nothing," Brock says.
In the meantime, he sees his mission as bringing joy to people, in the form of shirtless selfies.
"I saw that was the thing that was getting traction," he says. "I was like, you know what, I'll give them what they want, I'll make these people happy, 'cause if I didn't, people would get in arguments. But then I'll put a message from myself, something that I was like, 'I think that this will make a good impact.'"
Even though his goal is to act, Brock is not immune to wanting to monetize his social media fame in the meantime — which means sponsored posts that he's gotten via Instabrand, a social media agency that connects brands with "influencers." So he's started posting selfies where he's holding a reusable bottle with the logo for MateFit, a "metabolic boost" tea that promises to "flush away unwanted pounds and boost your metabolism."
According to Jason Stein, the CEO and founder of Laundry Service, another social media agency, someone like Brock "who is very PG and takes stuff that's very brand-friendly, and people really like it" has the potential to command up to $30,000 per sponsored post. (Stein does not represent Brock.) "A guy like that has a very broad appeal to anyone who wants to be relevant on social," said Stein. "People are following him because they like him. He's interesting, he takes fun photos, he's very, very authentic — he's not afraid to say who he is and show it. So I think he could appeal to many, many brands."
So his clean attractiveness is in some ways the most lucrative blank canvas a brand could want. There will never be anything controversial on his feed; we will just continue to see photo after photo of Hot Brock.
I can't help but think about what Brock's career would've been like 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. Lots of Calvin Klein underwear ads, probably. Or Fabio's career. The model and romance novel cover star of the '80s and '90s also happens to work out at Equinox, and Brock says the two have become friendly: "The first time I saw him, he was just staring at me, and then we started talking. He's the best." A couple weeks later, when we're discussing concepts for the photo shoot for this story with his manager, our photographer proposes basing the shoot off old Fabio covers. Brock's manager (who, Brock tells me, is also his mom's boyfriend) emails to request that we change the concept, telling us that Brock has tried to be "very careful" about the Fabio comparisons.
Because as great as Fabio might be, he still eventually became something of a punchline. And even as social media has upended the traditional paths to stardom, Brock still wants the traditional markers of fame, and is very conscious of building his brand. "I've been offered like, ridiculous amounts of reality TV shows," he says after we leave the Santa Monica Pier and sit down with Diogo at a nearby café for lunch. (Brock is finally hungry, and orders tacos.) "Wrestling — WWE, all kinds of stuff. Like to play football, everything, you know. And it's not what I want. I know what my goal is, and I won't do anything to sabotage that."
He says he might be in a new movie soon with his pal Victor Ortiz, the boxer and actor. He says there's talk of a Dancing With the Stars appearance. If he had to say whose career he'd want to emulate, he says, it's The Rock's — even though The Rock got his start in WWE. (Then again, who knows what might have happened if Instagram had been around in the late '90s.) Until then, he's meeting people. In June, Brock posts an Instagram of himself and Victor at lunch with John Travolta and Veronica Mars actor Jason Dohring at what appears to be the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Hollywood. When I text Brock to ask about it, he won't confirm that's where they were and demurs about the reason for the meeting. "I can't release any info," he writes back. "But big things are coming and I am very excited to be a part of them."
The boys — among them, Diogo, the fashion designer; Victor, the boxer; and Morten, a Danish DJ — are part of the plan, too. They're like a more diverse version of Entourage where everyone has actually had their own thing going on from the get-go; they're not all just mooching off of Brock. "Ever since we became friends, it's just been up and up and up," says Brock.
Diogo chimes in. "It's so cool not to think about, Oh, is this person hanging out because he needs something?"
The one thing that isn't really part of the plan, at least at the moment, are girls. "I'm definitely single, 100%," Brock says. "To me, it's more about making a connection with somebody and finding that person that I would really get along with and really connect. And it just feels so right to me. And I feel, especially with how much work I have right now and the way my life's going is so fast now, and I just haven't met her yet, you know. And if I did, it would be all about her. And that's just how I am. And when I'm with somebody, I'm all in, you know. And it's just us. And nothing else matters, you know."
His mom Paige, who is 45, has another theory, which she tells me over the phone: "He's like, 'I cannot date women my age. They're so immature. They just don't get it.' I mean, they'll go out on a date, and he's like, 'We have nothing to talk about.' So, yeah. And then, of course, he doesn't want to date someone my age." So for now, he is content to be the knight in shining armor, the chivalrous stand-in for every daydream women (and men) might have about how someone should be loving them and caring for them and protecting them. He wants you to be as driven as he is.
With one prospective agent, he says, "I told him my vision. I told him my dream, and they were like, 'Oh, that sounds great. It's so good that you have a vision, you know. A lot of people don't know what they want to do when you come in here.' And the next thing they send me on was like, an Oscar Mayer wiener commercial. I was like, 'I'm not doing that. Like I understand that you want to make money, you know, and that's your business. But this is my brand I've been working on.' I've been saying no to a lot of bigger opportunities than that, not to sabotage myself and sell myself short at this point, you know? And I'm very patient. And I will wait and work as long as it takes, you know, 'cause I know where I'm going to end up. And I know where I'm going to go. And it's worth it to me, you know? I'm very excited. I'm very blessed for what's coming."
As he goes on about his vision and his brand, it's hard not to be reminded of the difference between windswept romance-novel fantasy and actual sexual attraction. The photos, the homilies, the videos: They're all, essentially, a walking, talking, very beautiful "Hang in there!" poster.
Recently, Brock posted a picture to Instagram that looks like he's just come out of the ocean — his hair is wet and hanging in front of his face; water glistens off his tanned chest. His right side is in shadow while his left is being hit by the sun, giving the photo a dramatic chiaroscuro effect, and he's staring into the camera, his mouth set in an uncharacteristically serious pose. The caption reads: "Stay focused."