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How influencers have changed what it means to be famous

In recent years, social media has effectively changed the fame game, with TikTokers like Charli and Dixie D'Amelio now having just as many followers and influence as other "mainstream" celebrities. – Photo by Wikimedia.org

It’s fair to say at this point that the world of entertainment has shifted dramatically in order to survive. In the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a large majority of the population has been sequestered to their homes and forced to take a hard look at reality.

Moms are working from home, dads are teaching their children geometry and parents' college kids have returned to the nest. We have all the time in the world, yet none of us couldn't care less about Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's divorce or whatever young model Leonardo DiCaprio is sleeping with this week.

Where have all our heroes gone? When was the last time you went to a concert or saw a movie in a theater?

For the first time ever, the industry is running around like a headless chicken, scrambling to adapt to the “new normal” with no clue as to what the future might entail. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, internet entertainment is all we have to latch onto right now.

Prior to the pandemic, the idea of the “celebrity” as a figure or spectacle was already waning to a relative degree among young people. Social media influencers and creatives were becoming much more popular to the wider public. Creators like David Dobrik and Charli D'Amelio started appearing on "The Tonight Show," while TikTok drama dominates TMZ news cycles.

But these celebrities differed from the usual primetime guest. Charli D'Amelio didn’t come on the show to sell a movie. Rather, she came to sell her image, and upon further inspection, it seems that she was there to promote Jimmy Fallon more than herself.

To put things in perspective, Charli D'Amelio's interview on Fallon from a year ago received more than 18 million views on YouTube. Just one month later, an interview with Justin Timberlake, one of the biggest pop stars in the world, only received approximately 1.2 million views. Evidently, mainstream celebrities just don’t excite the new generation anymore. 

Billie Eilish, arguably the newest, youngest and most popular traditional celebrity right now, doesn't possess the larger-than-life quality of a Lady Gaga or a Katy Perry — she's not an untouchable pop goddess.

Eilish is, by all means, a normal teenager thrust into the spotlight, and the public responds to that humility. She makes music with her brother Finneas and enjoys watching "The Office," and we've even seen the inside of her bedroom — she passes the vibe check. Meanwhile, where does Lady Gaga sleep? A bedazzled cocoon maybe? I don’t want to know.

Now, 52 percent of young adults are living at home, an increase of nearly 2.6 million since February, according to the Pew Research Center. We’ve found ourselves trapped in a highly insular world, both on and off of our phones, and there's no room for a pedestal to prop up fame and glamour.

After all, I’ve been wearing the same pair of sweatpants for the past two weeks now — why should I care what Cardi B is wearing to the Grammy Awards?

Celebrities nowadays are easily exposed by the internet for the out-of-touch mouthpieces that they actually are. Remember late last year, when 25 celebrity “heroes” sang John Lennon’s "Imagine" together and solved world peace for all of us?

Where a big-time celebrity who’s used to hordes of attention might feel removed by the global situation we’re in, a YouTube or TikTok personality shines. And the key to their success is transparency.

YouTube, especially, has created a monopoly on niche market entertainment, bolstered by fanbases that are loyal and supportive of creators to a fault. Audiences keep up with these people on a daily basis and are fully aware of the sponsors and patrons that determine their income — no hidden product placement or pandering required.

Not to mention, a large portion of creators are relatively close to or equal in age to their target demographics, establishing even greater trust.

There's a level of intimacy in the entertainment business today that the traditional star system will never have. On his “Views” podcast, Dobrik said to a reluctant Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, “you guys are actual (celebrities)."

It’s humbling to see such influential personalities so apprehensive about being famous, rather than hustling to be the next big stars. Unlike when watching films or shows, when I’m watching any kind of video, I get the sense that I’m connecting with a community of people, and we all have the same mutual friend.

Influencers are called influencers for a reason: They have bridged the gap between creator and consumer for a new generation, unlike Hollywood, which is made up of organizations as inept at understanding young consumers as Saturday Night Live is at making me laugh.

Hollywood is bound to the power of iconography as a tool for securing investments, unconcerned with ethics or the endorsement of artistic expression. YouTube and TikTok, in contrast, are simply aggregate sites that host a variety of content creators.

The beauty is that these creators are all running platforms on their own accord, unbound by a conventional employer. And although these companies can censor content and determine the money being accrued, they don't overtly dictate the style or subject matter.

Young entertainers now have the opportunity to assume almost every role imaginable: actor, director, producer, writer, editor, marketer, etc. The list goes on, but their principles stay the same — they’re just regular people mostly unaffected by fame, producing entertainment to support a living. At a time when everyone is looking for a place to feel comfortable and distract themselves for a little while, what more could we ask for?

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