At this point, it feels like the internet was created to make fun of people. Nothing consistently brings apps like TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, or even Reddit together like a person people can collectively dump on. And even if you’re fully posting in your lane, on algorithm-based apps like TikTok, a sudden interest in your content could put your page in front of millions of eyes eager to laugh at you overnight.

Enter Rodger Cleye, a 57-year-old Florida engineer who posts videos of himself on TikTok singing along to any song imaginable. In less than two years. Cleye has gone from a simple cover singer to the inspiration for thousands of relatable POV videos. Cleye sounds less like a professional singer and more like your parents’ friend who is earnestly determined to turn any gathering into an impromptu karaoke session— an aesthetic that seems handbuilt for attracting ridicule. But in a twist of fate, when Cleye’s videos began to go viral in 2020, people weren’t asking him why his account existed or mocking the creator for daring to post something so raw and clearly unedited. They asked—and are still asking—for more. 

On an app dominated by riffs, heartbreaking acoustic melodies, and hyper-pop edits of Hot100 jams, there shouldn’t be space (or an audience) for Cleye’s work. But since he began his account two years ago, Cleye has gained 3.1 million followers— just by posting clips of himself singing. Videos with the hashtag #rodgercleye have over 974 million views, and his fanbase, which Cleye still can’t believe exists, even has its own name: Cleyemates. On their own, the singer’s covers of popular artists like Lady Gaga, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lana Del Ray rack up millions of views. But it’s the approachable nature of his content that led Cleye to become the face of a new type of point of view (POV) video.

Fans of Cleye’s have superimposed his singing face among scenes of contentment and unbothered energy. You can find Cleye (or his chest-up profile, to be more specific) usually green-screened over one bedroom or another, towel wrapped on top of his head, singing his heart out in a scenario when there appear to be much more pressing matters. “Me when I had eye contact for 0.000001 seconds with a boy on vacation,” one TikTok is captioned, using a clip of Cleye singing “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows.

“Me getting ready for school at 7 am knowing I’ll be 30 min late,” another read, accompanied by Cleye singing “Boyfriend” by Big Time Rush.

Cleye, who considers his account a serious musical endeavor, doesn’t know why people relate so strongly to videos of him singing. But he tells Rolling Stone he loves that people can use his account all they want to make humorous videos — he’s still too busy trying to wrap his head around his popularity.

“Now, the POV videos, I didn’t see that coming,” Cleye says. “My nephew calls it millennial humor but Gen Z is pretty much taking ownership of this type of humor to put me in their bedrooms and bathtubs with towels. I think it’s hilarious and so funny. Everybody’s having a good time with it.”

So how did Cleye get here? The engineer says that when he first considered making a TikTok account, he thought it would be a great way to share old classic songs with a new generation. When he shared the classic “Dad move” with his two kids, he was met with an emphatic “no” — on the basis that he was entirely too old. He didn’t listen, something he says he’s extremely grateful for. Now, he has an entire community that rewards him for something another platform might have mocked him for.

“I love TikTok for its acceptance,” Cleye says. “It’s unique, and it appreciates rawness. Whereas Instagram is curated and everything’s gotta be perfect. Here, TikTok is perfect for me. I’ve been singing in my bedroom alone for the past 20 years just to calm me down after a work day. Then TikTok came along and gave me an outlet. I’m an engineer, and I sing, and I blow a few notes, and everyone relates, and there we go. Medically, singing can generate a ton of endorphins. So just the act of singing, even if you’re bad at it, can make you feel better. Why not make your own happiness?”

While the account began as Cleye’s attempt to cover classic tunes, his take on popular songs have become equally, if not more, popular. His comments are filled to the brim with so many song requests from the last three years that Cleye jokes he doesn’t think he could ever answer them all — but he’s determined to try.

“I wanted to sing. I wanted to bring everybody old songs that I loved from the 50s all the way up. I knew there’s a new batch of people that haven’t heard them and need to,” he says. “But I’ve also been exposed to so many new artists. They have some deep lyrics that touch me, and then I repeat them, and then they touch everybody else. And how fun is that? That’s actually the whole point of music. Right? All things connect.”

And Cleye is all in on TikTok. The engineer posts anywhere from 4 to 10 songs a day and seemingly delights in replying to as many comments and tags as humanly possible. Another creator might be called fake by detractors, but Cleye maintains that his positivity and enjoyment of life aren’t just genuine —they’re a tribute to the person who taught him.

“All of my [enthusiasm] actually came from my mother. She was an amazing woman, and my sisters and I were just swimming in love and positivity,” Cleye says. “Fortunately, I was able to express that this TikTok thing was happening as we lost her to cancer. It was an honor to let her know that so much had come from her positivity. So now, everything is a celebration.”

Cleye knows that there’s a good chance his TikTok community won’t stick around forever. But unlike most creators, he’s having too much fun to focus on the ephemeral nature of his popularity. His zoom call with Rolling Stone is peppered with his booming laugh and the feeling that Cleye’s life is so much bigger than the massive impact he’s had on the app. He’s a dad. He loves country music and saw Oingo Boingo in concert so many times growing up he has genuinely lost count. He’s excited about his new engineering venture. He misses his mom. If he didn’t love what he was doing, he’d stop TikTok just as quickly as he started. If there is one, the joke isn’t just something Cleye is in on — he’s actually laughing along.

“I think old people know not to be so self-conscious. That’s one thing that always worries me about younger people. They care what other people think,” Cleye says. “But my message is to be yourself and enjoy each day. This wasn’t my plan. I just wanted to sing, but now I’m getting totally educated on the new music, and it’s really good. So now I’m stitching in the new with the old, moving forward, and trying to make people happy. What have I got to lose?”

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