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How “kombucha girl” revolutionized internet fame

Brittany Broski discusses becoming a meme, one year later.

The many faces of Brittany Broski.
Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Adults on the internet typical recognize Brittany Tomlinson from the video that went viral on Twitter almost exactly one year ago of herself trying — then hating, and then sort of liking — kombucha for the first time.

That isn’t the reason Tomlinson, known on TikTok as Brittany Broski, is one of the most beloved creators on the internet right now. She’s a skilled impressionist (Love Island contestant, nondenominational Southern preacher, and Italian son are notable examples) with an impossibly infectious laugh. She’s the kind of person who can open her phone camera and start filming and the resulting video would be funnier than anything the Harvard Lampoon has ever written in its 144 years in print.

This also makes her a delight to interview, although we did chat about some of the sucky parts of being a newly famous person. Below, her thoughts on alt-TikTok (good), nonstop influencer partying (bad), and the mortifying ordeal of being perceived (also bad).

When you posted your first viral video on TikTok, about your “depression meal,” when did you have that “Oh, shit, this is huge” moment?

I don’t know. I feel like I still haven’t really grasped the concept of being viral literally a year later, because I don’t know. It’s one thing to have like your friends send it to you and be like, “Oh, my god, you were in the New York Times,” but then to have a bunch of strangers be like, “Oh, she’s funny”? The worst thing is searching your name on social media and seeing people talk about you. It’s like, “Oh, my god, people perceive me?” I’d rather die than be perceived.

I read that you got fired from your job after the kombucha video — why was that?

It went viral on gay Twitter, and people started captioning it with some explicit captions. My boss at the bank that I worked in found it. I was like, “I want you to know that this is happening and that it’s not me writing these captions that you’re seeing. I don’t have control over my own content anymore.” But basically, I got fired from my job.

In early September, about a week after I got fired, I was flown out to LA by a kombucha company. By the time that I was in LA, I already had [the agency] UTA on my team, so I had a meeting at the headquarters of every single social media platform. We were doing brand deals and we were doing press. It was insane. We crammed so much into that week, and it just has not stopped since then.

What’s the reaction to your fame been like from friends and family?

My parents were very supportive. My dad specifically kind of made me cry because I was mortified that I got fired. It was my big girl job. I worked in trust and investment services. It’s a very respectable position, and I got fired because I was dicking around on the internet. And I had to tell my dad that I’m moving to LA because I’ve made X amount of money in X amount of months, and it’s more money than I’ve seen in my entire life. He told me, “You need to go where your job is, and your job is in California.”

My grandparents, though, were like, “It’s the internet. Why do you need to move? Just come live with us.” And I was like, “Mimi, no.” They don’t know how I make money. They think that I’m homeless.


college ✨✨✨ control alt delete ✨

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A lot of TikTokers I’ve talked to say it’s been tough to separate their hometown friends from people who just want to use them for clout. How have you dealt with the social dynamics of TikTok fame?

I don’t fuck with that circle at all. The friends that I’ve made online are my actual friends. I could give a fuck about clout. You will never catch me with the Supreme fanny pack across my chest. Opportunities have presented themselves, like, “There’s a party here. Do you want to collab with this person?” And it’s like, no, because I would not give them attention if I saw them on the street. You get shit like the influencer parties where you should know better. Collectively, you have like 300 million people following you and you’re partying!

It seems like there are two TikTok worlds in LA, like the Hype House kids and then the cool alt kids. Are you part of the latter crew?

Straight TikTok gets all of the press and the hype, and when you think of TikTok, you think of Addison, you think of the Lopez Brothers, all these people. But all the trends and audios come from alt TikTok. It’s always been like that, because last summer, alt-TikTok was TikTok. It was quirky girls and VSCO girls and making fun of everything because the world is so ridiculous. And then [straight TikTok] gets credit for it.

Creators often talk in interviews about how, once they get big, they feel like they can’t try any new content that deviates from that. Is that something you’ve felt?

Absolutely. I always tell my friends, because they get really discouraged, that you’ll gain 200,000 followers in, like, a week, and then it just stops, or your video gets really shitty engagement. That’s because you’re beating a dead horse. You did something really funny or something really innovative and it gained you a bunch of followers, and now every time you post an Instagram picture, that’s what they’re going to comment.

Mooptopia is a great example. She’s posted the same video 100 times; if she were to ever post, like, a serious video, or comedy video or a dancing video, people would be like, “What’s this?” People forget that we’re real people, we’re multidimensional and have different interests.

Haley [Sharpe] and I talk about it sometimes because she’s the “Say So girl” and I still get called “kombucha girl.” We’re so much more than that, but you can’t really be mad at why you became popular. If that’s how people know you, then that’s how people know you. At least they’re following you. At least they support you in some sense. You just have to keep posting what you want to post. If it does shitty, then it does shitty, but at least you like it.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being an online creator and mental health. How do you deal with all of it?

I struggle with that still sometimes. I feel like people like my content because it’s very genuine, but at what point will genuine turn into oversharing and an invasion of privacy? That’s what I’m running into. I’m being very candid with my audience, and it is biting me in the ass. People are so bold online; they would never say that shit to you in person, but they say it online and I have to read it. It’s part of the job, I guess.

It would never be acceptable in any social circumstance for a 38-year-old man who’s married with children to comment on my body. But it happens online.

So much of the fun of TikTok is this thinking that “maybe this will go viral!” Does it worry you that all anyone seems to want right now is fame?

I think it is the mental illness speaking, but there is this obsession with going viral and getting the likes and getting the attention. I have some little cousins and it’s their dream to be a YouTuber. I wish I could just talk to them and say, “Have a backup plan. Chase your dream, for sure. If you want to be a content creator, do it. It’s fun. But also you are gambling with your life when you say, ‘All right, this is gonna be it.” Go finish high school, have a degree, have work experience.

I feel very blessed in that regard. If all this went away tomorrow, I have work experience. I’m a licensed insurance agent. I have a college degree. I can make it in the real world if I need to. I don’t want to, I’m very happy in my little bubble, but it’s just this delusion of, “I’m 15 and Emma Chamberlain does it so I can do it.” You have no idea all the stresses that Emma Chamberlain goes through to do what she does. It may look fun and easy, but it’s a lot of hard work.

Money is a big motivator, for sure. You see people like [the] Tana Mongeaus and the Jake Pauls of the world. What exactly do they do? They have Louis Vuitton everything, Gucci, Prada, they live in these huge mansions. Their YouTube AdSense must just be astronomical. People see those lifestyles and it’s like, “How fun just to be drunk all the time with your best friends wearing designer,” and I get it. But I feel like people aren’t that open and honest about what it’s actually like to be in the public eye. It sucks a lot of the time.

Are you working on a backup plan at all now that TikTok could possibly be going away?

People are really pushing moving to Instagram and YouTube, for sure. Everyone’s moving to YouTube and it’s funny to see, too, because people don’t know how to do it. I’m doing the same shit that I would be doing on TikTok, which is just 60 seconds, but I’m doing it for 10 minutes. That’s hard for a lot of people. How will you be entertaining for 10 minutes? It’s hard. So for me, I mean, I’m just in my room talking to myself, which I do anyway. I just hit 500K on YouTube. So that’s a revenue stream as well. So I’m very, very lucky.

You’ve said in the past that you want a more traditional career in entertainment, so you’re not totally tied to TikTok or any platform anyway, right?

I’m working on some show pitches. My number one thing is voice acting. I want to do voice acting so bad. I want to voice act for a Disney Pixar film; that’s my absolute end goal.

Do you have any sort of comedic process?

Yes, sleep deprivation and lots of suffering and delirium.


Reply to @meamwalter YALL KILL ME LMFAO

♬ original sound - brittany_broski

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