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This weekend, 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio became the first person to reach 100 million followers on TikTok. The week prior, many of those millions of followers were telling her to kill herself because she acted impolite at a dinner table.
Let’s backtrack for a second to why Charli and her family are so popular in the first place. Almost exactly a year ago, videos of Charli dancing began going inexplicably viral on TikTok. There are plenty of theories as to why, although all of them sound a bit like insults: Maybe it was that she was pretty but attainably so, or a good dancer but not too good, or that neither mattered because her cutesy facial expressions were doing most of the work anyway.
However it happened, it’s clear how she continued to gain fame. In the Atlantic last week, Rachel Monroe’s feature on the D’Amelios puts it this way: “As Charli’s follower count grew, her popularity acquired a reflexive quality; essentially, she became a meme for other TikTokers to react to. There was a flurry of I don’t get why Charli is so popular posts, followed by backlash-to-the-backlash videos tagged #teamcharli and #unproblematicqueen.” As the number of questions about why Charli was popular grew, Monroe explains, so did her popularity.
Controversy is something that Charli and her family have attempted to avoid in the year since she became one of the most famous teenagers in America. Unlike TikTok influencers who relish in scandal knowing it’ll translate to even more attention — partying in a pandemic or filming with “canceled” stars, for instance — Charli has gone so far as to refrain from participating in the WAP dance challenge because it involved twerking.
Yet when 100 million people’s eyes are watching, controversy is never off the table. It reared its head last week, when the D’Amelio family published a YouTube video in which the four of them, along with YouTuber James Charles, have dinner prepared by a personal chef. Then someone posted a supercut on TikTok of its worst moments.
“Let’s take a look about how ungrateful the D’Amelios are : )” it begins, followed by a series of clips: Dixie gagging theatrically and later throwing up, Charli asking “Do we have any dino nuggets?” in front of the chef and making faces, Charli expressing her desire to reach 100 million followers on the anniversary of hitting her first million. It doesn’t look great. Some of the top comments: “this made me so mad bye,” “did their parents not teach them manners,” and “my god — the immaturity.”
After losing nearly a million followers, Charli appeared on Instagram Live to tearfully apologize and explain that the moments in the video were being misinterpreted. “Blatantly disrespecting the fact that I’m still a human being is not okay at all,” she said, referring to the death threats and violent messages she’d received. “I know that this is gonna be a huge joke to whoever sees it, but at the end of the day, just be nice. Don’t tell people to kill themselves. I feel like it’s not that hard. You can say whatever. You can say I’m disrespectful. You can say I don’t have basic human decency, but at the end of the day, I’m still a person no matter how many followers I have.”
The livestream is horrible to watch, because Charli shouldn’t have had to make it in the first place. I watched the whole “Dinner with the D’Amelios” YouTube video. Nothing the sisters did or said was surprising or even notable for teenage girls to do in front of their parents and family friends (which the video makes clear the “personal chef” actually is). The gagging, the faces, the quips and general theatrics were clearly overacted for laughs, despite the fact that the video, like the vast majority of influencer YouTube videos, is not particularly interesting.
This is not a screed against “cancel culture,” but more of a cautionary tale about what happens when our collective desire for pandemic-era gossip is directed at the wrong people. It’s a cliché to say that people gossip about others when they’re bored with their own lives, but as we’ve seen during the pandemic, it’s still true. Plenty of the celebrity gossip to come out of Covid-19 has been fun and mostly harmless, but last week’s D’Amelio drama felt cruel and unnecessary. Criticizing famous people is important, because they influence the way other people behave, but however impolite Charli and Dixie may have acted, they are entertainers. And they are teenagers.
You can like Charli D’Amelio for seeming like a “normal” high schooler, but you also have to accept it when she acts like one. Being sassy at the dinner table, at least to this childless adult, seems like a terrible reason to get someone canceled.
TikTok in the news
- Snapchat’s TikTok copycat product, Spotlight, launched yesterday. The company is also setting aside $1 million for creators whose videos go viral, essentially proving that in order to create a successful TikTok dupe, you’ll need to pay people to be there.
- Introducing the world’s first publicly traded TikTok collab house: A former Chinese health care company purchased a real estate company that owns a series of Los Angeles TikTok mansions, which now means you can buy the company’s stock for a very low price. But as the New York Times notes, these are penny stocks, and they’re probably not going to make you rich.
- Sherwin-Williams fired a part-time employee who’d gotten TikTok famous from showing the process of mixing paint colors. Explains BuzzFeed’s Tanya Chen: “Tony Piloseno said that for months he’d been pointing to his viral account as an example of what Sherwin-Williams could do on social media and by marketing its brand to a younger audience. Instead, it led corporate personnel to investigate his social media account, and they ultimately fired him after determining he was making ‘these videos during [his] working hours’ and with company equipment.”
- The crowdsourced Ratatouille musical gets the deep dive it deserves on Vulture.
- Obama knows how to do duets!
- Here’s a shameless plug for my story on Cringe TikTok, the part of the app where normal people go viral for being embarrassing.
One Last Thing
I can’t explain why these two girls playing pretend nail salon is genius, it just is.