Save for the custodian buffing the already gleaming floors, the posh Southlake coworking space was empty. Or so it seemed. After a few knocks, Victoria Krath bounded to the front entrance, flanked by her husband, Matt. She wore a full face of makeup; he wore a black sweatshirt emblazoned with the TikTok logo. “Welcome!” she exclaimed as her husband ran a hand through his tousled hair. They walked past the custodian and a succession of dark offices on the way to the few rooms they rent. Even though it’s a Sunday, the Kraths are at work.
Matt and Victoria are a TikTok couple: a rising breed of duos who create TikTok content together. Some of them have shared accounts, like @scottoriah, a husband-wife duo who travel the country in an RV, chronicling their journeys via wholesome content published for the masses. Others, like the Kraths, maintain separate accounts (and separate funds) but often publish crossover content. Matt will appear in Victoria’s videos, and she will appear in his. They also spend untold hours devising content, always hoping the next video “goes viral.” As Matt explains, it’s part of his “love language” to give Victoria content.
Thus far, the gig has worked out well for both of them. At the start of 2020, Matt surpassed 1 million followers; as of this writing, Victoria has over half a million. They’ve monetized that following so it is now their biggest source of income. Through livestreams and branded videos with companies like Skittles, the Kraths have turned what was once a side hustle into their main career. As they’ve discovered, that comes with its own set of challenges.
TikTok has risen to prominence on the backs of its creators. Unlike YouTube, which benefits from original creations and a slew of music videos, movie clips and more, TikTok is marketed as a hub of original creations by and for original creators. And while YouTube was popularized by vloggers, TikTokers are a far less predictable bunch. Eleven-second videos about being “in the ghetto” become known across the world, while former bank employees from Dallas become overnight sensations based on their reaction to tasting kombucha.
“It’s truly the Wild West right now,” Matt Krath says. Anyone can “go viral” at any time, and once you go viral, the sky's the limit. Branded deals with Skittles, ditching your bank job for life in Los Angeles — it’s all possible. The unknown potential is exciting for creators, and as the Kraths acknowledge, it’s especially enticing for couples.
“I think people see what’s possible with TikTok, and they want that to be their lifestyle,” Victoria says. “But if you’re a couple wanting to do this, the relationship has to come first.”
The Kraths’ relationship did indeed come first. The couple met while attending high school in Keller, and before there was TikTok, there was Vine. Matt was a popular Vine creator, who was rubbing elbows with other popular creators like Jacob Sartorius, while creating McDonald’s-inspired memes. Then he got big on Musical.ly, the app that would eventually merge with TikTok. As his popularity grew, he pushed Victoria to join.
Despite owning and operating a social media consulting company since graduating college, Victoria never planned to be in front of the camera. But Matt has an eye for what viewers want to see on social media.
“I’m very stubborn, and for a long time I didn’t see TikTok as something that could be a full-time business,” Victoria says. “I didn’t see the value in investing my time in it. Matt, bless his heart, has been telling me from day one that I should focus on this. I did TikTok just for fun, whereas Matt did it as a job.”
Since joining in 2016, the couple has carved separate niches. Matt, while shy in person, is a zany, frenetic ball of energy on camera, flashing a toothy grin while creating comedy videos in which he casts himself as a hapless goofball — a recurring character in Victoria’s videos. Meanwhile, Victoria’s videos vary from makeup tutorials to lip-sync performances, but in Matt’s videos she plays the straight man to his oft-ridiculous character.
In person, the roles are flipped: Victoria is boisterous, Matt is reserved. While he is prone to long-winded explanations of the TikTok algorithm and how little sense it makes, Victoria is apt to talk about the joys of the app and how it has benefited the couple.
They still fight, of course, but most of their arguments have a unique bent. When they fight, they fight about edits and cuts and concepts. Sometimes Matt will have an idea that Victoria just isn’t buying, so they’ll fight. Other times, Victoria will want to use certain angles, and Matt disagrees, so they'll fight. Over time, they’ve discovered a perfect way to alleviate that tension: Make a video about it.
“Whenever we have problems, we’ll say, ‘How can we make a video about this?’” Matt says. “Sometimes, those are the videos that do the best.”
Trying to “do the best” is a constant source of strife for the couple — particularly Matt, who is often vexed by the frequent changes to the TikTok algorithm and the company’s refusal to help its creators.
“There’s no blueprint for this,” he says. “Creators have to figure it out for themselves, which is good because you figure out what works, but bad because you never know what might work the next day. Trying to go viral can make you go crazy.”
Victoria is less concerned about going viral, but she is concerned about the possibility of couples joining the app for that express purpose.
“I think that it’s really great that we’re doing this together and we’re married,” she says. “But it wouldn’t work if we weren’t in love. If you’re a couple, there’s a lot of money involved, and if you break up, it’s like, ‘Who gets what?’”
She insists that she and Matt will never have that problem. They’re Christian, and according to Victoria, they “don’t believe in divorce.” Yet, she is a major proponent of maintaining independence. She and Matt share separate “TikTok funds,” allowing them to keep track of the revenue they each earn through their separate accounts. It’s not a personal decision, it’s business — a distinction Victoria says is vital to their success.
“We didn’t get into this to get famous, or to make people see how glamorous our life is,” she adds. “If you’re looking at us and thinking it’s always glamour all the time, don’t. Because it’s not. It’s a job.”
The ubiquity of social media has inspired many psychologists to delve into its adverse effects. A recent study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin affirmed that couples who are insecure about themselves or their relationship have a high desire for relationship visibility. The more insecure you feel about your partner, the more likely you are to seek validation from others in the form of likes on Instagram or TikTok.
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At least one Dallas therapist shares these researchers’ interest in social media’s effect on couples. Carolyn Kingsley is a licensed professional counselor who works with children and couples, and she is concerned about the allure of a social media career.
“I often see social media used as a means for comparison,” says Kingsley. And, she notes, it’s especially dangerous if you’re comparing yourself to these other couples and their lifestyles. “If a couple is pursuing a career in social media together, I would encourage them to focus on their values in addition to their goals. A goal has a specific end, like garnering a certain number of followers or a financial milestone. A value is ongoing, like family and integrity. If your goals get in the way of your values, it’s not worth it.”
Victoria is blunt about social media’s deteriorative effect on relationships. She won’t get into names or specifics, but she’s seen it happen, and it can be ugly. Even still, she knows that the allure can be too powerful to resist, particularly for couples growing up in an era when everyone has a TikTok and it’s all they want to talk about. It may involve some Sunday hours, but Victoria Krath wouldn’t want any other job.
“I mean, how can we complain?” she says, arms out, gesturing to the couple’s posh office. “It’s not a 9-to-5. We set our own hours. This is the new American dream.”