Superstar influencer and teenage sensation Charli D’Amelio became the first person to gain 100 million TikTok followers on Sunday, just over a year and a half after joining the platform. The 16-year-old took the plunge ahead of the world’s biggest celebrities and the stars of YouTubers, Instagrammers, Musical.ly and Vine that came before her.
Mainly popular with Gen Z (over 60% of its US users are in their teens and twenties), TikTok hasdue to the scrutiny of its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. There have been times when it has felt like the future of the social media platform, especially in the United States, where it has drawn the wrath of President Donald Trump, is on shaky ground. But through it all, TikTok’s biggest stars have thrived and D’Amelio is their undisputed queen.
While this has been a tough year for most, D’Amelio has had an extraordinary 2020 by everyone’s standards – not to mention a teenage girl who just over a year ago was just doing film dance videos in her bedroom. Not only has his profile on the app grown exponentially from just 1 million subscribers a year ago, his career outside of TikTok has also exploded.
Among his distinctions, D’Amelio made his film debut this year; launched nail polish, makeup and fashion collaborations with major brands; appeared in a Super Bowl; drank a Dunkin ‘Donuts drink named after him and appeared in a music video with his hero, J-Lo. Her first book, Essentially Charli: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping It Real, is out next month. A Forbes report released in August suggested that D’Amelio made $ 4 million last year from his various transactions.
D’Amelio not only carved out a new and unexpected career for herself, but for her whole family. Big sister Dixie is embarking on a music career, her mom and dad have their own followers, and they all post content on their family and individual YouTube channels, in addition to being signed to United Talent.
But as beautiful as they all appear, Charli is definitely the star. Without his TikTok fame pulling them out of obscurity, there is no doubt that they would all live quiet lives in their home state of Connecticut.
If you are unfamiliar with its content, you might be wondering what D’Amelio does that warrants such adulation and popularity. It’s hard to pinpoint the answer – even for those who have watched closely, even for D’Amelio herself.
In August, I received a notification that Charli D’Amelio was online on Instagram. I joined the stream to see D’Amelio, wrapped in a purple-pink filter and engrossed in the game with a Lego Friends model she had created earlier today. She was telling the Live story in her soft, low voice. “Look! Friends, besties,” she said, holding a few figures in front of her phone camera.
“What are you looking at on Earth?” said my partner.
“I’m just trying to figure something out,” I replied. “For work.”
I had heard of D’Amelio’s meteoric rise long before I knew anything about its content, and had tapped “follow” mostly out of curiosity. For most of this year, her TikTok bio read, “Don’t worry, I’m not getting the hype either.” But I was determined to get the hype.
From what I could initially see, D’Amelio was a humble, pretty, silly, sensitive, and deeply normal teenager whose work (largely consisting of dancing, making faces and drinking coffee) glossy) was intact and not polished. She seemed both mature and young for her age – confidently mingling with her older peers and putting her energy into breathless TikTok dances, but also playing happily with Lego and openly embracing the ‘child’ side of being 16 .
It was clear that she was exploiting. “It is precisely her ordinary character that is the key to her success,” says Zoe Glatt, digital anthropologist and critical intersectional feminist researcher at the London School of Economics. “With her cute girl-next-door vibe, she exemplifies the perfect package for a TikToker: Reliable, authentic, normatively attractive, young, fun, non-threatening, and uncontroversial.”
The qualities of authenticity and relatability that audiences look for in influencers are often elusive, says Brooke Erin Duffy, an associate professor at Cornell University who studies media, technology and culture. “However, we must not overlook the roles of luck and privilege in celebrity production,” she says.
As upper-middle-class white Americans, Charli and the D’Amelio family, who have found their fortunes in totally unexpected ways, do the trick on both counts.
Earlier this year, D’Amelio was falsely credited with creating the dance “Renegade,” which was actually the work of black teenager Jalaiah Harmon of Atlanta, Georgia – not something she had. claimed, but it was widely assumed due to its viral version of dancing. “This story tells us something about the culture of TikTok, where white designers typically appropriate aspects of black culture,” says Glatt. The episode led D’Amelio and others to add dance credits to their TikTok captions more frequently to make sure the creator was recognized.
The longer I followed D’Amelio, the more I became convinced that despite her supposed normalcy, there was a certain something that set her apart and inspired him with affection. Duffy thinks it’s related to how she conforms and challenges ideas of femininity. “She loves traditionally feminized activities (shopping, cosmetics) but challenges the conventional codes of performativity,” explains Duffy.
It also helps that she grew up participating in dance competitions, Glatt points out. “TikTok, with its short videos based on sound reuse, is the perfect platform for emerging dance trends: fast, fun and catchy routines performed to popular songs that other users can recreate.” , she says.
In truth, it’s hard not to like D’Amelio, who appears to be a sweet, fun and trouble-free young lady. Even when chased around Los Angeles by men with cameras three times the age of yelling intrusive questions about her love life, she is polite and smiley and speaks sweetly when confronted with shady things people do. have said about it.
Something about her personality and the timing of her trip clicked with both the TikTok algorithm and the audience, and whatever chemistry has happened, it won’t be easily replicable for anyone trying to limit. It also makes her an attractive partner for brands, which is why so many lucrative partnerships have been offered to her, Glatt says.
But while her rise to fame sounds like a social media fairy tale come true – an average teenage girl making videos in her bedroom, catapulted into the limelight, becoming the most famous internet influencer on the planet in one year – not all of the brand. offers and sun.
TikTok’s fame is full of pitfalls and cancellation opportunities. Rarely does a day go without a scandal, which can range from the trivial (relationship drama, selfish beef) to genuinely serious (racism, older influencers grooming underage fans). D’Amelio has been largely immune to it – any appearance on TikTok Room (an influential Instagram news source) is usually the result of someone having something mean to say about them.
What she’s not immune to is the jealousy and intimidation that comes with stardom. The biggest threat to her right now is overexposure – people are so tired of waiting around for her to stumble that they put incredibly high standards on her and then claim she hasn’t succeeded.
One example is the reaction to a YouTube video published this week. In it, D’Amelio jokes with his friend and fellow influencer James Charles about how cool it would be to reach 100 million subscribers on TikTok – something that looking at his trajectory was always going to happen – exactly one year ago. after hitting a million for the first time. . She also asks if she can have some Dino Nuggets, despite having dinner cooked by a friend who heads the family.
The reactions to this were disproportionately cruelty. On the more benign end of the scale, D’Amelio was labeled ‘authorized’, ‘disrespectful’ and ‘rude’, but there was also a massive influx of commentators who prompted her to take her own life – something inexcusable to say to someone for some reason, never mind a child for something so harmless. According to Glatt, this incident “demonstrates the fragility of online fame, especially for young women who are held to incredibly high standards of behavior compared to their male counterparts.”
The timing does not seem unimportant. It’s easier to gain followers on TikTok than on other social platforms, but being the first to hit the 100 million mark is always a huge achievement, and there are a lot of people who think it doesn’t deserve it. not.
In an Instagram Live, D’Amelio reacted tearfully to the comments, saying, “I don’t even know if I want to do this. This is fucked up stuff people say – like people telling me to hang up. that blatantly disrespect the fact that I’m still a human being is not OK at all. “
But she also bounced back quickly, tweeting, “Tomorrow I’ll be back posting normal content with a smile on my face! Ultimately, I know I’m a good person with a good heart and I’ll never change. that from myself. I love you all !! “
Such resilience will come in handy if she is to survive in the cutthroat world of internet fame. Social media stars come and go – longevity is never guaranteed. But for now? There is absolutely no reason why D’Amelio shouldn’t be aiming for the next 100 million.