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Meet the music men of TikTok: Rodger Cleye and Ian Rae

rodger cleye ian rae
Photo credit: balabolka/Shutterstock RodgerCleye/TikTok ian Rae/TikTok (Licensed) remix by Caterina Cox

Analysis

In the past, hating on Boomers on the internet was the norm due to many believing they have an inability to use technology and carry bigoted views. However, as we grew to appreciate a more earnest way of looking at the world, we’ve become able to appreciate Boomers and the wholesome content they produce on apps like TikTok more unironically. Rodger Cleye and Ian Rae are two Boomer-aged creators that especially stood out on the platform this year.

On the surface, the pair don’t have a lot in common. U.S.-based Cleye is an engineer who co-founded a self-driving car company with his nephew, while U.K.-based Ian Rae, who is now retired, used to work in finance. What unites these two distinguished gentlemen is their love for music. With his whimsical covers of songs ranging from Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga to ‘80s classics, amateur singer Rodger Cleye has become an online sensation.

Speaking to Passionfruit, Cleye, who also writes original songs, poetry, and stories, revealed he didn’t start learning to sing until he was 28. He said he was inspired to start posting to TikTok because, in his opinion, “the new generation needed to hear songs that I love and were created before the turn of the century.”

Meanwhile, singer and piano player Ian Rae has dabbled in the arts since he was a child. The 77-year-old told Passionfruit he had a year of piano lessons when he was 10, but from there, he largely left his dream behind before picking up music lessons again as a student at Glasgow University. “I became the second person in the history of the university to be accepted onto the module without any qualifications for music,” he recalled proudly.

Like Cleye, Rae enjoys singing—although he prefers to make up original, funny songs on the piano, usually paired with a video of a cute animal. One of his most popular videos, which was even stitched by Doja Cat includes a bear struggling to get into a bath, which he accompanies with a piano song including the following lyrics: “If I didn’t have a bath, I don’t think I could bear it, there’s barely room for me, and I don’t think I can share it.”

Part of his inspiration, Rae explained, is his part-time job at a nursery, where he makes up “silly songs” for kids twice a week. Meanwhile, Cleye said he likes to do “anything that demonstrates his excitement for life.” Music, as it turns out, is just one of those things. “I believe [people like] the authenticity,” he added. “It’s raw. Most posts are the result of my first take on my iPad.” Cleye’s authentic zest for life and the music he creates led to him garnering a formidable fanbase of 3.2 million followers—but despite this spike in popularity, he didn’t become the meme icon we know today overnight. In the two years he’s been creating, he told Passionfruit he made up to 5,000 different singing videos.

Rae was drawn into content creation at a similar point in time—but he was motivated to start a TikTok by his daughter. “I was on a ship in South America with my wife when things started to lock down [because of the pandemic],” he explained. “We were confined to our cabins for two weeks, and we had people on the ships starting to die, so I started sending silly, funny videos to friends and family just to show them that I was OK and to make them smile!” Within his first month of TikTok, he hadn’t achieved much success and had only amassed 64 followers. “I was close to giving up,” he admitted. “And then I went viral.”

For both Cleye and Rae, it was that first bit of virality that pushed them into wider internet stardom, with Cleye soon becoming a meme format in and of himself as thousands began to edit him in relatable scenarios such as waiting for an ex to text them back, or canceling plans to rot in bed and watch Rupaul’s Drag Race. As for the man himself, Cleye said he thoroughly “enjoys” the edits provided they’re done for “non-commercial purposes.” He said, “They’re so creative and fun!”

Although Rae hasn’t been meme’d to the same extent as Cleye, he described his fanbase, which tune in from all over the world to watch live streams of him playing piano, as a tight-knit “community.” 

“I’ve got a lot of people who see me as their grandpa!” he laughed. “If you read the comments on the lives, you’ll see that a lot of people are very friendly. They talk to each other in the comments and say, ‘How are you today?’ and ‘What’s happening?’ And if someone is feeling a bit down, everyone cheers them up.”

He added, “I’ve had lots of people of all ages who said have said either, ‘I used to play the piano, and I’ve taken up since I’ve been watching you,’ or other ones who have said, ‘I’ve taken up the piano since watching you,’ which, for me, is brilliant. That’s what it’s all about.”

Both Cleye and Rae work alone for the most part (although Rae’s wife, who is also a singer, is known for making appearances on his lives to duet). “For merch and some business I have a helper,” Cleye explained, “but it’s mostly just me. Art aside, bringing 5,000+ performance videos to the masses is quite the undertaking outside of work hours.” However, despite the work involved, Cleye, like Rae, wants to use his internet stardom as a force for good.

“There’s thousands of comments that say, ‘I was having a bad day, saw your video, and my day changed for the better,’” Cleye remarked. “Charlotte, do you have any idea how wonderful that makes me feel?”