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From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Alex Goldman.
I heard a really crazy story recently about TikTok. I read about it in an article by one of my favorite tech reporters, Taylor Lorenz, who’s at the NYTimes. And one of the big reasons I read her stories is so that I can understand TikTok better is because, if I'm being honest, my comprehension of TikTok is mediocre at best. And over the past couple of years, TikTok has become a big part of her beat
TAYLOR: I just—I want to know what's going on, and TikTok is sort of the place to know what's going on, you know?
ALEX: Um, what have you tailored your "For You" page to like, to send you? I mean, I guess it's current event stuff. But, like, how do you know—
TAYLOR: It's not—like, current events is the wrong way to, to put it. Like—
TAYLOR: It’s, it's not like—sorry, Alex, not to be like, “Um, that's wrong.” No, it's just more like, it's more like—
ALEX: [laughs] It's fine!
TAYLOR: [laughs] It's more like, I don't know how to describe it. But you just kind of like—I mean, it's kind of like Twitter, right? You go on, and it's not just like “current events.”
TAYLOR: It's just like, you kind of see what people are talking about. It’s—it's almost, like, showing up at school. You know how you used to, like, show up at school. I mean, I went to, like, a big public school growing up, but it's like, you show up and you kind of just like, know what everyone's talking about.
ALEX: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
TAYLOR: You catch up with your friends. It's like that. It's like, you kind of go on—yeah, there's a lot of garbage, but things bubble up, you know?
ALEX: I'm curious, like, can you tell me how you ended up coming across Adrian's Kickback? Like, how did it bubble up to you?
TAYLOR: I don't know. I was scrolling my TikTok "For You" page probably like, mid-May, and I just started to see a lot of people talking about this thing called Adrian's Kickback. Like, it kind of became a meme. I clicked around, um, and found the original post. Um, it was basically this, like, little flier that was encouraging people to show up to a 17-year-old's birthday party on Huntington Beach.
Huntington Beach is a town about a half-hour outside of Los Angeles.
ALEX: You don't happen to have that flier handy anywhere, do you? Do you know what it said?
TAYLOR: I do, yeah. Let me pull it on up. Hold on. Um, okay, here. [laughs] So, it was essentially a repost of a Snapchat announcement. Um, well, basically, it was like, this short little, like, video of kind of like, a party, and it just said, with the little alarm emoji, [MUSIC] "Adrian's Kickback. Location: Huntington Beach at the fire pits.” Um, “Time: 7:30 PM. Date: May 22nd." And then it also said something about Chair 13. Um.
ALEX: What is Chair 13?
TAYLOR: It's a lifeguard chair on the beach.
ALEX: Oh. [laughs]
TAYLOR: And it said, "Slide through this Saturday. We finna turn up!!!!" Exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point. And underneath it, it’s playing this song that I don’t know the name of, but it’s like [humming].
[ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM: "Ooh, they goin yay yay, I got all these bitches goin yay yay yay...]
I clicked on the TikTok audio immediately. Um, and there were already kind of videos using that sound. That song was essentially the anthem for Adrian’s Kickback, I guess. [laughs] And it kind of became this party sound.
ALEX: Like, it appeared in all of the TikTok’s that were about Adrian’s Kickback.
TAYLOR: Yeah. It appeared in all of the TikTok videos. It was the audio that everyone was using. It looked like something that somebody would just send to their group of friends, you know? So, yeah, it just—it seemed like people were sort of just coming across this random kid's birthday invite.
And that's actually what was happening. Adrian's a real kid, it was a real birthday invite, he was turning 17.
A friend of his had shared it with a lot of people and through the mysteries of the TikTok algorithm, it just caught on.
So, you know, I think that in addition to spreading on TikTok, um, the flier was also sent to thousands of people on Snapchat.
TAYLOR: And so I think,you know, [laughs] I mean, it's classic, like, high school party. It's like when word gets out, word gets out.
TIKTOK CLIP 1: [ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM IN BACKGROUND] All right, if you've been on TikTok for the past week, I know you've heard about Adrian's Kickback...
TIKTOK CLIP 2: I just want to know...why I woke up one day and my entire TikTok feed was Adrian and this kickback?
TIKTOK CLIP 3: Okay, literally, I’ve gotten my phone blown up so much from, oh, Adrian’s Kickback...
TIKTOK CLIP 4: I swear to God, all I see on my “For You” page is, “Oh who's going to Adrian's Kickback? Who's going to Adrian's Kickback?”
TAYLOR: It's just, with TikTok, everything goes bigger faster because of the "For You" page. So things can spread to a level that it's hard to achieve on other platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
ALEX: And when they can go bigger faster, why is that? Because rather than having to seek it out, it just comes to you?
TAYLOR: Exactly. You don't have to follow anyone to be bombarded with their content. And tons of influencers were posting about this.
Um, artists like 24kGoldn.
[ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM]: Ohh, they goin yay yay [fade under]
Um, same with the Sway boys.
[ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM]: Ohh, they goin yay yay [fade under]
TAYLOR: Noah Beck, a really popular TikToker.
[ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM]: Ohh, they goin yay yay [fade under]
Members of the Hype House, one of the most popular TikTok groups. Members of Faze Clan.
ALEX: So they're, they're posting about it, and the impression that they're giving is like, "Hey, we're gonna roll up on Adrian's Kickback."
TAYLOR: Exactly. They're posting about it. They're implying that they plan to come saying, like, they're hyped to be there, all of that. And so, this is just whipping up children into a frenzy.
TIKTOK CLIP 5: You going to Adrian’s?
TIKTOK CLIP 6: Adrian’s Kickback! Woot, woot!
TIKTOK CLIP 7: Are you going to Adrian's kickback tonight? Because I need a ride.
TIKTOK CLIP 8: Okay, so I got a couple of questions about Adrian’s Kickback. Like, well, first question, are you guys serious? Like, are you guys really going, like, for real, for real? ‘Cause I’ll show out. Like, it's been a minute. And fourth question, what kind of clothes are we wearing? Like, are we doing like, street wear clothes, the like, chill like, for real, like, sweatpants and hoodie? Like what are we wearing?
TIKTOK CLIP 8 CONT.: Lastly, this is for Adrian, um, is there gonna be music? Like, who’s gonna be playing the music? That's very important. [fade down] The most important.
YOUTUBE CLIP: Male Speaker 1: Been sending TikToks back and forth about this, bruh. This about to be a movie.
By the time of the weekend of the party, Adrian's Kickback was no longer just a one-day thing...
Male Speaker 2: Hey, what’s up? Is this supposed to be like, a two-day event or some shit?
Male Speaker 1: Three-day.
Male Speaker 2: Three-day? What?
Male Speaker 1: They said, they said that it’s Tower 13.
People were talking about Adrian's Kickback like it was a weekend –– like it was a festival. And the only thing attracting everyone to come was just the idea that it was going to be huge. Because, to remind you, this was in May of 2021. Right in that heady moment in the US where COVID numbers were dropping, vaccinations were up,
and it seemed, to some people on TikTok anyway, for the first time in 14 months
like maybe if there was any time to leave all of that tragedy behind and really go nuts, it was now.
I talked to of those four people.
ALEX: How did you hear about it in the first place?
ANDREW: Honestly, my "For You” page was just blowing up with videos, video on video. Like, I saw like, the first three, and I usually just get the like, initial indication, you know, this is gonna blow up.
This is Andrew. He's 19, and he lives in Norwalk, California, on the outskirts of LA.
ANDREW: And then the next day, I opened TikTok again, and it was probably about 20 posts I saw about Adrian's Kickback. People were making memes about it. So I was like, okay, yeah, I got to hop on this wave, you know, before it’s just like, huge.
ALEX: Why did you want to blow up? Why'd you want to catch like, the, uh, the, uh, “For You” page draft?
ANDREW: Um, I don't know. My, my boy blew up on TikTok like, a couple weeks ago, so I was like, kind of jealous of him, like a little bit, like lowkey, you know what I'm saying?
ANDREW: Because he had like, he had like, this one video that had like, two million views. I was like, man, I'm gonna get a video of like, three million.
ANDREW: People were talking about coming from like, Puerto Rico and stuff, South America, coming to Adrian’s Kickback. And like, I’m a—I'm like, a local to Huntington Beach, so I'm always there. And like, I just thought it was really cool that Huntington Beach is a spot where like, half of L.A. would meet up and just throw, like, the biggest party ever.
ALEX: It's like living down the street from Woodstock or something. [laughs]
ANDREW: Oh, yeah. It basically is our generation's Woodstock, in a way.
ANDREW: Like, maybe, maybe a little bit. [laughs]
If you were to look on TikTok on that Friday morning, you would have seen tons of videos of people already on their way to Southern California, so they could be there for the Friday pre-game.
People were taking like 15-hour road trips, they were taking flights. I even saw one video of a squad of skateboarders –– it was like a dozen kids in baggy pants with floppy hair weaving through the streets of LA
Andrew was one of these people — he decided to check out the scene on Friday night.
ALEX: And, and so, what were you and your friends hoping this party was gonna be like?
ANDREW: Oh. Um, honestly, I had no idea what could happen, just cause it was just like, so random. But I was expecting like, fireworks. People were gonna be like, running around the beach, people gonna be jumping in the water. You know, there’s gonna be like, a ton of girls, a ton of drinks and everything, like just a regular party, like a full-on, you know, just a, a lit party.
ALEX: Got it.
ANDREW: That was what I was expecting.
ALEX: How long do you think it had been since, uh, you’d been to a real party before this?
ANDREW: Man. Probably about two years before that.
ALEX: Oh my God.
ANDREW: Like a rager, yeah.
ALEX: So this was May, which means that, that your senior year got cut short, your senior year of high school got cut short by COVID.
ANDREW: Yes. Yeah.
ALEX: That must’ve sucked, man. What was that like?
ANDREW: Um, it wasn’t great. Um, it just happened very quick. At first, people were excited because we just assumed we’d be out for two weeks, like it was like, winter break type of thing. And everybody was really excited at school when they said, “All right, everyone’s going home for one week.” Uh, one week turned to two weeks. Two weeks turned to like, the rest of the school year. So, for the rest of the time, I was just at home on my laptop, you know, doing Canvas, uh, like, worksheets and stuff.
ALEX: Sounds, sounds lonely, man.
ANDREW: Oh yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
So, Andrew, in May of 2021, he’d finished his first year of college, he’d gotten both shots of the vaccine, and he decided to check out the kickback.
[SCENE TAPE: WINDY BEACH, INDISTINCT TALKING]
ALEX: What was it like when you showed up?
ANDREW: It was dead. [MUSIC + SCENE TAPE CONTINUES] It was just like, this group of people. Like, I remember one guy was from like, Armenia or something. Like, he was like, from far away.
ALEX: And then there was this other guy he was just walked around, recording everything
It was kind of like the calm before the storm.
ALEX: Can you, can you introduce yourself?
MARCELLA: My name is Marcella. I'm 18, and I'm from Redlands, California. I'm just a college student. I go to Crafton. It’s a community college. And for fun in my free time, I like to party with my friends.
Marcella told me when the first COVID shutdown happened, she was a junior in high school, a competitive cheerleader. And so, for the last two years of high school, she just missed out on everything she was looking forward to.
MARCELLA: Honestly, like, it was really sad. Like, it was really disappointing. Senior year, like, we didn't get any cheer competitions. We barely got any football games. And like, seeing the seniors now do that stuff, like, we—I like, I get a little jealous. Like, I tell my friends all the time, like, like, this sucks.
When we would do like, a competition, like, it feels like, exhilarating, [MUSIC] like a drug. I mean, like, majority of the time, you’re like, cracked out on energy drinks [Alex laughs] and like, sugar or something. But like, when you finish that routine, like, you just feel on top of the world. And when you know you won, like, you're happy for like, weeks months. Like, it's like, insane. [laughs]
ALEX: So, can you tell me why you wanted to go to Adrian's Kickback?
MARCELLA: Um, well, I was already out there for like, a little like, beach trip that some of the seniors were planning. And like, we were really close to like, lifeguard tower 13. We were on like, lifeguard tower five. But like, we could see, like, we could see like, the crowd of people forming. There was a lot of people there
[SCENE TAPE: CROWD ON BEACH]
I get excited ‘cause I’m like, no way. Like, this is actually a thing like people came out! So we were like, let's just, you know, make our time like, worthwhile, and let’s make our drive worth the drive.
ALEX: And so, when you get there, what is it like?
MARCELLA: Uh, it’s bad. [laughs]
SCENE TAPE MALE VOICE: Do you guys have any idea if Adrian is here or nah?
SCENE TAPE FEMALE VOICE: Um...I don't know who that is. [Indistinct chatter continues]
MARCELLA: There was just like, just random teenagers everywhere. And we’re all just standing around, awkward. It’s a little cold. There’s no music. We’re all just waiting [MUSIC] for something to happen.
I’ve seen a lot of video footage of Friday, and it’s exactly like this. In the videos, it’s late afternoon, it's still light out. It seems windy. There are teenagers just kinda like wandering around, filming, hoping to pick up viewers for their livestreams, but there's really nothing to see.
MALE VOICE 1 CLIP: Go interview her, she wants to be interviewed.
MALE VOICE 2 CLIP: They want to be interviewed for sure. [SCENE TAPE CONTINUES]
ANDREW: And then like, about 30 minutes in, about like, 30 people show up.
CLIP: Where’s Adrian? Where's Adrian?
CLIP: Adrian, where you at? Everyone’s waiting.
CLIP: I heard he was a middle schooler.
ANDREW: It got lit when this guy like, came with, um, six boxes of pizza. And we were just like, feeding everybody. And I thought it was like, sick as hell.
ANDREW: Yeah. He gave me some pizza, and I was just like, okay, this is lit. And then like, people were standing around the bonfire. And then basically like, within 10 minutes, it was just flooded.
[CROWD TAPE, PEOPLE YELLING]
CLIP: They got more people bro! Lookit!
CLIP: The whole gang's coming, everybody...
CLIP: There’s a helicopter out there, bruh!
CLIP: Project X!
Maybe like, like 500 people at this like, exact spot. Like, people were just hanging out, like a big swarm of people.
ALEX: Did it make you nervous to be in a big crowd like that, of people you didn’t know?
MARCELLA: Um, a little, but I think by that time, I was like, already vaccinated, And like, I already had COVID, so like, I wasn’t really worried about getting it.
[CROWD CHANTING “ADRIAN!”]
I brought my foreign cousin. She was from Indonesia. And like, she was so confused. Poor girl. [Alex laughs] Like, I brought her to this crazy, crazy, random beach rave. And, you know, like, I lost her for a little too, so.
ALEX: Oh, man. Did she enjoy herself, or was it just like—
[MUSIC FADES IN]
MARCELLA: I think she enjoyed herself, yeah. Like, she looked like she was having fun. Um, I think she was mostly confused. And like, we were getting our feet stepped on a lot, ‘cause it was a huge crowd. So like, she was just like, kind of irritated with all the people, ‘cause like, ugh, there was no room. Like, there was just so many people.
[Yelling gets louder]
Man 1: Hey, yo, listen! I got 6,000 like, viewers on TikTok right now!!!!!
[Crowd cheering “YEAHHHHH!!!!!!”]
Man 2: What the fuck is going on?
MARCELLA: Everyone was out there. A lot of people came from like, other states.. Like, I remember meeting a couple people, and they came from like, Arizona.
ANDREW: I met this—I met this group of guys that drove from Arizona.
ALEX, WHISPERING: Woah
ANDREW: And yeah, they were telling me how they drove from Arizona, got an Airbnb locally, and like, they're just there. And they wanted to find out who Adrian was. And I was like, "Yo, I know Adrian. Like, I'll lead you guys to Adrian." And, um, I couldn't find where anybody was. And then I looked back to tower 13, and there's people, like, starting to try like, to tear down like, the, like, the beach tower.
[SCENE TAPE]: FUCK 12! Adrian’s in the next tower!
In the videos, it’s hard to even really see lifeguard tower 13, because it is so overtaken by teenagers, and they’re just screaming.
ANDREW: People were on top of it, like, jumping. People were like, shaking it. I just started running over there ‘cause I know the party’s like, lit now.
Like, people were like—people were like—had music blasting, like, fireworks were going off.
[SCENE TAPE, YELLING]
8:30, it went absolutely nuts. [laughs] And then police were like, swarming the beach trying to get people off.
[SCENE TAPE, POLICE MEGAPHONE MUFFLED]
PARTY GOER: Shut the fuck up! Fuck 12!
ALEX: Do you remember, like, a specific event that caused them to start to move in or anything like that?
ANDREW: Well, cops were always there. Like, I don't know who snitched, but, you know, they definitely had a heads-up, and they were asking us questions, but.
ALEX: Okay, well—
ANDREW: They wouldn’t have a reason to shut it down, so.
ALEX: I don't know that anybody snitched. It was like, on the “For You” page across the entire world. [laughs]
ANDREW: Oh yeah. Yeah, so I'm sure cops have TikTok too, right? So. [laughs]
[COPS ON MEGAPHONE, MUFFLED]
MARCELLA: And then the cops would like, shine the light at us, so we’d like, move location, but then... It was crazy.
ALEX: So like, the cops would show up, and they’d start shining their lights on you, and you’d just run to a different part of the beach and start partying again?
ALEX: In my head, I have this image of like, you know if you like, run at like, run at like a seagull, and it flies like, 50 feet down the beach? That’s like, what I’m imagining. [laughs]
MARCELLA: No, that was it.
[SCENE TAPE, YELLING] Why are we running again?
MARCELLA: There was a moment [MUSIC] where like, after the cops cha- chased us down for a little, like, we all went in a circle and we were all dancing. There was like, this dance group thing. And it was such a vibe. Like, we were very—in like, the middle, and we could hear the music clearly. It felt like out of a movie.
Just the music was so loud and like, everyone was just having fun. And there was just that moment in time where like, it like, slowed down. and it felt like, a real like, party.
It was just bodies to bodies on the beach
By around 9 o’clock, the cops finally managed to push most of the people off the beach. Andrew ran around to find his friends who he’d lost in the crowd. Marcella drove home to make curfew.
Friday night - The pre-game for Adrian’s Kickback? It was over.
AFTER THE BREAK: Saturday, The Day of the Kickback.
[MUSIC POSTS AND OUT with DRUMS]
Welcome back to the show.
ALEX: I guess the first question is, should I call you Steezy?
STEEZY: That's the hardest question to answer. Everybody always asks me that.
STEEZY: I just made Steezy as like, just a nickname. And everybody calls me Steezy now. So you can call me Steezy.
ALEX: This is Steezy Kane. [MUSIC] He's 21. He lives in LA. And Steezy is exactly the kind of person that so many of the people who went to Adrian's Kickback were hoping to see there: he's a Youtube star.
ALEX: How did you take off on YouTube? Like, what was the thing that sort of hit?
STEEZY: Um, at the end of senior year in school, I started making full-on prank videos on college campuses, like so- social experiments, like, you know, awkward handshaking people, something that's funny to watch. And, um, then I fly to LA and I jump off of a pier for a girl's number for a video. Um, and then that video just—Worldstar posts it.
ALEX: Oh, wow.
STEEZY: It gets millions of views on all these meme pages. Um, yeah, and then on YouTube, it just started blowing up.
Steezy now has 3.5 million followers. He also has a clothing line, where he sells hoodies that say things like "Small Dick, Big Dreams," as well as a line of t-shirts that say "Sober for Life" and "STRAIGHT EDGE"
STEEZY: I’m actually wearing a straight edge sweater right now. [laughs] And I don't have a problem with people who do drink or smoke. It's just like, I want to—I want—I want to make it cool to be sober, ‘cause there's a lot of people out there that don't even want to be smoking, that smoke purely on peer pressure.
ALEX: Do you—when, when other people are like, like, at a party like that, or even at, like, a party that’s maybe even smaller, with, with friends who are, who are drinking or smoking, like, do you have fun, or does it feel annoying to be around a bunch of drunk and stoned people?
STEEZY: No, I think it’s funny. I think it’s really fun, ‘cause it’s like, when I’m around people who are drunk, I start to get into that energy, as if I’m drunk. And I’ve had people come up to me at parties and stuff, and they’re like, “Yo, I thought you didn’t drink. Like, what happened?” And I’m like, “I’m not—I didn’t drink anything. I’m just having fun. Like, can I not, can I not have fun?”
Steezy, like many other people, because of the Coronavirus, hadn't had a chance to go to a party in a long time. And then, on the morning of Saturday, May 22nd, he started seeing all these TikToks about Friday night on Huntington Beach.
[TIKTOKS + ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM FADES INTO OTHER MUSIC]
TIKTOK VOICE: If you're wondering what Adrian's Kickback looked like...Showed up to Adrian's Kickback a day early
STEEZY: Yeah, it kind of showed people, like, what to expect for Saturday.
It felt sort of like a promo for the main event. So, he posted online, asking if anyone was driving down there. And some strangers who lived nearby were like, "Sure, we'll give you a ride."
STEEZY: I think it was around 6:00, 7:00 PM when I got there.
STEEZY CLIP FROM PARTY: Alright so we're here at Huntington Beach. We're at Adrian's Kickback. I don't know who the fuck Adrian is, I don't think anyone knows who Adrian is. Keep in mind, this is a kickback, this is not a party. Right guys, this is not...
FRIENDS IN STEEZY'S CLIP: It's just chill, it's chill. It's a kickback, we're just kicking back tonight.
STEEZY CLIP: Yeah yeah, we're aware we're in a pandemic right now. It would be so irresponsible to throw a party right now. That's why this is a kickback.
The area around the beach was already teeming with people, everywhere you looked.
STEEZY CLIP FROM PARTY: What the fuck look at all these motherfucking people.
STEEZY: The beach—you just could not even go on to the beach. Like, too many people right around the pier. It just looked like a concert with no stage.
[CROWD CHANTING "ADRIAN"]
It was so loud. Everybody was yelling. Everybody’s yelling, “Adrian!” Nobody even knows who he is.
FAN IN STEEZY'S CLIP FROM PARY: Steezy Kane? Oh shit!
STEEZY CLIP: What up bro?
FAN: Yo can I take a picture with you?
STEEZY CLIP: Yeah yeah, for sure!
STEEZY: You, you know since I'm known as the pier jump guy, that's the video that
blew me up, and since we're here at a pier, there were fans that came up to me.
FAN 1 IN STEEZY'S CLIP FROM PARTY: You jumped off the pier!
FAN 2: Yo! That's him
FAN 1: Do some Steezy shit!
FAN 2: Jump off the pier again, on god! Hold on...
And they’re like, “Yo, Steezy, you gotta jump off the pier like, right now!” And, uh…
STEEZY IN CLIP: Can I do it right now?
FANS: Yeah yeah! [DISTORTED FADE, CROWD CONTINUES UNDER]
And so, yeah, I went to the railing. And there were other people jumping off the pier too into the crowd.
It took me a while because at first it was like, people were kind of spreading away ‘cause they were scared that people were jumping.
STEEZY: And three people were like, going like, “I got you, I got you!” But, three people, come on.
ALEX: Yeah, they don’t have you. They don’t have you. [laughs].
STEEZY: No, no, I waited—yeah. So, I waited until like, there were more people that kind of got closer and made it more confident for me to jump.
[CROWD NOISES ESCALATE]
like, everybody was yelling. Like, everybody was chanting and...
ALEX: What were they yelling?
[CROWD YELLING, ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM PLAYS]
STEEZY: Um. They were chanting my name.
[CROWD CHANTING, "STEEZY! STEEZY!"]
STEEZY: Because they knew who I, who I was. They’re like, “Steezy! Steezy! Steezy!”
And as soon as I jumped, like
[BOOM FEELING FROM ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM, CROWD CHEERING, SOUNDS OF FIREWORKS, FADES INTO SERENE MUSIC]
There, there were fireworks going off. And then everybody catching me, and then they were carrying me for a while. And I was just like, floating on top of people. It, it was unreal. It was, it was really unreal. For those, for those 10 seconds of me crowdsurfing, it felt like it was like, it was like, my concert. It was pretty sick.
Alex: What was it like to see people jumping off the pier? Can you describe it?
Jaden: Oh, it was insane. Like, I'm like, a huge like, worrier, so like, I was really anxious, like I thought they were gonna like, break their ankles. And I remember like, one of the friends I was with was like, “Oh, should I go do it?” And we were like, “No.” [laughter] Like, I don’t know, it was just like, really crazy.
That’s Jaden. And the person you hear laughing in the background is Marcella. The two of them are friends. They were in cheer together. Jaden says they balance each other out.
JADEN: I would say I'm definitely the anxious one, and Cella's kind of the one I have to like, calm down sometimes. Um, she kind of just says everything on her mind [laughs]
Being stuck at home during Covid wasn't all bad for Jaden. She's an introvert, so not having people around all the time? It was mostly okay.
JADEN: But it was a lot of like, the cheer aspects. Like, cheer was such a big part of my life, and we didn't get to do like, any of the things we would look forward to. Like, we spent our whole high school like, looking forward to our senior year, and then it was just like, completely disregarded.
So, when Saturday, the official day of Adrian's Kickback, rolled around, Jaden and her friends joked about going without any actual intention of doing so.And then they realized like, “Oh, you know, we don’t have anything else to do.”
Marcella decided to sit Saturday out. But Jaden and some other friends drove down.
ALEX: So when you got there, like, what was the mood like?
JADEN: Um, it was like, kind of overwhelming.
Like, we had to park really far, but still like, the whole walk, like, there were still people behind us. Like, we were all going to like, the same place and stuff. And like, people were like, honking their horns and stuff.
[SCENE TAPE: CROWD YELLING, HORNS HONKING]
And like, it was still light outside. And it was just like, a ton of people. It was kind of scary like, walking into it, and then it just like, only got worse. [laughter]
[SCENE TAPE: JADEN LAUGHING, CROWD NOISES, WINDY BEACH]
People were like, climbing trees and stuff, and just like, they were like, throwing like, full like, beer bottles or like, beer cans. Like, I don’t know. Like, people were like, getting hit with like, heavy bottles. Like, it was like, insane.
ALEX: That sounds shitty. Like, that’s a shitty thing to do. [laughter]
JADEN: Yeah. No, it was crazy. Like, and I’m like, a really anxious person, so like, the whole time, I was just like, really anxious that I was gonna get hit with some like, full beer bottle.
CLIP: [ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM] Aye man, where the fuck is Adrian?
STEEZY: There were also people standing on vehicles, uh, that were on the street.
[CROWD YELLING, LOUD ENGINE NOISES]
Um, and then people kind of doing burnouts and donuts on the intersection, while there's just a bunch of cops around because, I mean, they can't do anything.
And then it quickly like, turned into a riot.
JADEN: There’s like, stairs like, leading to the boardwalk. And so, everybody was like, lined up on those stairs. And then someone like, threw a firework directly at the—like, one of the police officers, and then they just started like, shooting rubber bullets.
[MUSIC, BROKEN GLASS, SOUNDS OF COPS SHOOTING ROUNDS OFRUBBER BULLETS]
ALEX: What—I mean what happened then? Like, where did you go? What did you do?
JADEN: Everybody just like, split off into the streets.
[CROWD NOISES, JADEN YELLING, FIREWORKS]
And so, like, there was nobody on the beach anymore, which made it like, so much worse, ‘cause there’s like, a ton of traffic. [Traffic crazy sounds] So there’s like, cars everywhere, and people are just like, running like, everywhere. And they were like, breaking glass like, in the streets and just like, constantly like, setting off fireworks.
JADEN IN CLIP: Be careful y'all! That is insane.
But then like, once the cops like, started showing back up, it started getting like, really scary, ‘cause they were again like, just shooting the rubber bullets and stuff.
[ROUNDS OF RUBBER BULLETS]
MALE VOICE IN CLIP: Oh they're shooting, they're shooting, they're shooting!
JADEN IN CLIP: Go!
MALE VOICE IN CLIP: Shit!
JADEN IN CLIP: Where are you guys?
MALE VOICE IN CLIP: Hey hey hey hey hey!
So like, even though I wasn’t doing anything, it was like, totally a possibility to get, you know, shot by one of the rubber bullets. So that’s when we started kind of like, making our way to the car.
[MUSIC: YAY YAY, SENTIMENTAL REMIX]
Once we started walking back to the car, there was like, a 7-11, and people were completely invading it. People were on top of like, the gas pumps, spraying gas like, all over the parking lot.
ALEX: Oh, my God.
JADEN: Like, the cars that were just trying to get gas like, couldn't even leave.
It was like, out of like, The Purge or something. Like, I have never seen something like that. It was insane. I started getting scared, too, because they were like, hitting cars. And like, I don't know, it's just like, with all that gasoline, like, something—it could have been so easy to set off a fire. I can't even like, express how scary like, the fireworks were, because we would be like, walking to the car. And then—
[BOOM FROM FIREWORKS, CROWD YELLING, MUSIC CHANGES TO PULSING BASS]
… somebody would set up a firework at your feet. And you would just have to like, immediately drop everything and just like, run.
ALEX: Wait, what?
JADEN: Yeah, like, I literally have like, a video of me and my friends like, just sprinting
[JADEN AND FRIENDS YELLING IN STREET]
because somebody would just randomly like, drop a firework. and then like, this huge crowd of cops would come, so we'd have to like, run in the opposite direction.
STEEZY: People started running, because I think sometimes the fireworks sounded like a gun or something. And when one person runs, everybody runs.
CLIP: Oh my God, where’s Adrian?
[FIREWORKS SOUNDS, PEOPLE YELLING]
Every like, two minutes, there would be a wave of people running. And then they’ll stop—
ALEX: God, that’s terrifying.
STEEZY: Very. Very.
And in the YouTube video, you can see there's one point where everybody's running, and then I run into an alley.
[POUNDING FOOTSTEPS, POLICE SIRENS IN DISTANCE]
STEEZY IN CLIP: Okay, bro, I think I want to leave now!
Because I don’t know why they're running. Maybe they saw something that someone's doing, and... But it just takes one person, and then everybody just follows.
ALEX: How did you end up getting home? Like, how did you—did you—were you with your friends the whole time, or did you guys get separated?
STEEZY: No we were—I mean, we got separated so many times. But we were always like, calling each other. Every time we were—we, like—there was a group of people running, we would get lost, I would just call them like, “Yo, where you at?” They’re like, “Oh, I’m by the CVS.” And then we’ll meet up again. And I went back home with, with the same people.
Steezy and his new friends filmed a quick recap in the car before they drove off
STEEZY IN CLIP: Parties I just feel overwhelmed [police sirens] are just too much going on too much to focus on kickbacks more my style.
FRIEND OF STEEZY IN CLIP: Yeah, I would say so...[laughing] fucking cops [everyone laughing]
STEEZY IN CLIP: Yeah I don't know why there's cops at a kickback?
[ADRIAN'S KICKBACK ANTHEM "OOH" FADES INTO MUSIC]
The next day, the town of Huntington Beach looked like it had been hit by a hurricane.
REPORTER: Authorities estimate more than 2,500 people showed up on the beach and in the streets. Multiple downtown businesses and a lifeguard tower were also vandalized.
REPORTER: Vandalism, illegal use of fireworks, and curfew violation.
MOM ON NEWS: You throw an event like that, and you got people from—lord knows from where and who they are.
ALEX: Would you describe it as fun?
STEEZY: Oh yeah. Definitely.
ALEX: Because the way you’re describing it, it sounds dangerous. So, what was, what was fun about it? [laughs]
STEEZY: I think just the, the aspect of like, wow, look what the internet can do. Like, all these people—we don’t know anybody here. And all these people just, just came here.
[MUSIC - ADRIAN'S KICKBACK SENTIMENTAL REMIX, SHIMMERING]
I was looking around like, wow. We’re brought here by some like, satellite frequencies that we call the internet. It’s… I don’t, I don’t really know how, like, how to describe how it feels. It’s just… it feels like you know these people, in a way, because you can relate to them. They’re kind of the same age, they like the same humor, because they obviously thought this Adrian’s Kickback thing was gonna be funny. And when one joke starts, it, it can just like, snowball into this huge event.
ALEX: Was it—like, are you glad you went?
JADEN: Yeah. I mean, it was just an experience. Like, it wasn’t a fun night, but like, that’s something that everybody has like, talked about. And it’s nice to have like, a story from it.
When I asked Jaden if there was anything specific about the kickback she enjoyed, she actually said yeah. She told me about this one moment when she and her friends were walking back to their car through the crowds.
JADEN: We met this like, group of girls that were like, so nice. And we just had like, um, a conversation about like, everything that had happened. It was just fun having like, a normal conversation, like, in the midst of all the chaos and stuff. And we just got to like, share like, our own perspectives about it and stuff. So it was like, really fun meeting them.
ALEX: How did the actual Adrian's Kickback match up with your expectations of Adrian's Kickback?
ANDREW: I honestly—I thought it would be great, and then it met my expectations.
This is Andrew again, the guy who went on Friday evening. When I asked him what his favorite memory was, he said it was when everyone was running from the cops.
ANDREW: That like, adrenaline rush and that exhilarating feeling of like, just causing trouble, I guess. Like, it just—it's exhilarating, you know? And like, I hadn't had that in a long time. And everybody was just so excited. Everyone was like, screaming. And there was like, people dressed up all like, crazy and stuff. Like, one guy was dressed like a gladiator, and he had like, a sword.
ANDREW: And he was like, he was like, pointing his sword towards, towards the cops, like, as if like, he was like, mimicking defending us. It just like—it was super silly stuff, you know? We just thought it was, it was crazy. All these different characters around me, and it was just exhilarating.
And his favorite souvenir from that day is so small. It’s a video of him filming some guy on the beach and yelling at the guy,
[ANDREW'S TIKTOK, ADRIAN'S KICKBACK THEME SONG IN BACKGROUND]
“Is that fucking Adrian?” while the “YAY YAY” song blasts on top of it.
He of course posted it on TikTok.
ANDREW: I saw someone made a compilation of Adrian's Kickback videos, and like,I saw my video up there, and I was just like, let's go. You know? Like.
ANDREW: Like, it’s like, people are gonna look back, and they're gonna be like, Adrian's Kickback, and then they're gonna be able to see my silly video of me screaming at this random kid. It's just like, sure.
Thanks to Andrew, Marcella, Steezy, Jaden, and of course, Taylor Lorenz. We'll have a link to her great article on Adrian's Kickback in the show notes.
[REPLY ALL ENDING MUSIC]
CREDITS: This episode of Reply All was produced by Jessica Yung and Lisa Wang. It was edited by Jessica Yung and Tim Howard. And, of course, the episode wouldn’t have happened without the rest of the Reply All team: Emmanuel Dzotsi, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, and Noor Gill. Our intern is me, Esperanza Rosenbaum.
We’re hosted by Emmanuel Dzotsi and Alex Goldman, this episode was mixed by Rick Kwan, with fact-checking by Isabel Cristo, music and sound design by Luke Williams and Tim Howard. The song "Karolini" is used, with permission, by Lin Pesto. To find more of their lovely music, search L-I-N Pesto. Additional music by Breakmaster Cylinder and Marianna Romano.
The theme song for Adrian’s Kickback is Yay Yay by Compton Ro2co.
Special thanks this week to Rachel Strom, Nabeel Chollampat, Gabriella Bulgarelli and Dusk. "also, to Chris Venegas, who shared footage he took on Friday night. You can see all of his work on YouTube and We've also included a link to his channel in the show notes.
Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you in a couple weeks.