October 19, 2021

How TikTok is Reinventing Our Concept of Celebrities

By Cami Nicoll

Influencers, Influencers, Influencers. Nowadays they’re popping up just about anywhere and everywhere, making me wonder what qualifies a social media influencer to cross over into celebrity status. The widely popular app TikTok, which launched conveniently before the pandemic hit, is now home to 689M active users. Shortly after this launch, many TikTok users and their 60 second videos began going viral overnight, thus creating new household names and millions of dollars in brand deals.  

Can famous TikTokers like Charli D’amelio with a staggering 115.5M TikTok followers consider themselves at celebrity level? At first I would’ve told you no way, but then I saw her on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and it completely changed my thoughts on the success of these self-made influencers. My previous perception of talk shows as a rare insider look at some of Hollywood’s biggest A-listers are now shared with 15 year olds who do dances in front of their iPhone.

Photo from Unsplash

So what makes someone a celebrity? Are celebrities and influencers even distinguishable at this point? These are all questions I’ve had over the past year or so following the launch of ultra-successful app TikTok, worth $60B and rapidly inclining. 

One distinguishable feature between traditional celebrities and social media content creators, however, is that with influencers, you’re constantly seeing their content on your apps at any time and anywhere. The masses are able to access that content on a daily basis and for free so you may start to feel as if you know them, whether than tuning into traditional scheduled entertainment that you have to wait for. Traditional celebrities back in the day, before social media, typically were one of two kinds: television/movie actors or music artists. Whereas now we are constantly able to keep up to speed with the influences of today, putting up a divide from the traditional celebrities who grew their fame without social media and were unreachable if you didn’t tune in to the television channel every Thursday or go to the theater to see the movie during its limited box office window.

Growing up, I personally remember the days where my favorite Disney and Nickelodeon stars were only accessible if I tuned in during their show’s scheduled programming each week, and that was the only time I would get to see them. Now with influencer content at your fingertips and constant disposal, I feel like the novelty of true celebrity-ship has worn off. This poses the question: Would these influencers’ fans pay to watch them in movies or purchase their music in a world where we are already getting so much of their content on a daily basis for free? The answer, I am unsure. 

However, The advantage to the modern day influencers is that we can get a stronger feel for their personalities since we have constant access to their content, which can make them feel more relatable to their fans. On the other hand, this accessibility to influencers can also be negative since anyone is are able to comment directly on any action or mistake they make and pick them apart so publicly. 

As long as TikTok is alive and well I don’t see any slowing down for these viral influencers. Is this the new normal or will there still be new celebrities that don’t come straight from the social media world? With this ever-changing and rapidly evolving technological world, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

12 thoughts on “How TikTok is Reinventing Our Concept of Celebrities

  1. TikTok is truly amazing to me- the things that go viral can sometimes be so random and eclectic! For example, the man whose car broke down so he decided to skateboard to work while drinking juice. That post went viral, and he even appeared on some talk shows! What is interesting as tik tok evolves is seeing if people are at first relatable, but once they become famous and change their lifestyles if they still stay as popular.

  2. TikTok is an interesting platform that I feel communications professionals are still trying to understand. But what I don’t particularly care about the platform is how it doesn’t favor certain content from BIPOC creators or plus size content. Most hateful content remains without repercussions while those speaking out on that content get silenced. I feel the platform has a lot of growing pains and I’m interested to see how it changes through the years.

  3. It is scary that there are now teenage boys and girls that drive around in Teslas and live in the Hollywood hills because they make as much money as well-know celebrities. It happens seemingly overnight on apps like Tik Tok and it’s becoming normal. How is this possible?

  4. I really liked your point because influencers are really becoming like new celebrities and TikTok is honestly seeming like a breeding ground for influencers. You posed the question on if influencers fans will pay for their content and I think they definitely will. Bella Poarch, a TikTok Influencer, vent viral for lip syncing and bouncing her head to a song now she has sold-out merchandise, brand deals, and a new music video out. I think that because Influencers are so easily accessible and their followers feel like they know them, so they will be more likely to buy things from them. Jeffree Star is a prime example of that. He got famous for beauty reviews and his music and now he’s running a huge beauty line that competes with major brands.

  5. It’s beyond me how Tik Tok “influencers” become celebrities. It’s disappointing to see when there are REAL influencers out in the world doing everything they can to make this world a better place. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in five to 10 years.

  6. Cami,
    It has always been so confusing to me how these “Tik-Tokers” are somehow viewed at the same level of relevancy as real A-list celebrities. It rubs me the wrong way that the young creators on this app generate so much attention surrounding them for being attractive and learning trendy dances. Most of them have no real “impressive talent”, and their “fame” distracts from people who actually do.

  7. Hi Cami! Great post and really interesting to read and think about. Since quarantine began I’ve become addicted to Tik Tok and although I don’t find myself following along with the stereotypical dance influencer type I do notice how much more personal influencers seem to be. A lot of the influencers I follow post videos showing days in their lives, morning routines, clothing hauls or skincare routines and these all feel like such behind the scenes glimpses into their lives I completely feel as though I know them personally. Of course, this is not the case but I think it may be one of the reasons why these influencers are so popular and so successful. They are able to generate a lot of content within a short amount of time and they show us oftentimes really personal looks into their lives unlike anything we’ve had access to in the past. Thank you for writing about this topic!

  8. Hi Cami,
    I really liked reading your post and think its important to discuss these new “TikTok celebrities” as they relate to more “traditional” celebrities in Hollywood. I believe these TikTok celebrities will be short lived unless they are able to move into new fields and be as successful there as they were on TikTok because it is just a fad that society will move on from when the next social media platform comes around. Similar to Vine stars who transitioned to instagram and those who couldn’t.

  9. This is such an interesting topic to write about and I actually think about it often. It blows my mind that these teenagers have made millions of dollars and are living independently in Hollywood mansions all because of 60 second videos of them dancing on an app. It makes me question how much talent has to do with getting famous and how much of it is luck. On the other hand, I feel like Tik-Tok is just the new YouTube. When I was in middle school, I watched YouTube frequently and the vloggers and content creators that I watched were also teenagers at the time and most of them ended up making millions off of their videos as YouTube grew.

  10. Great blog post Cami! I love the topic that you discuss because I think that this is a very relevant question we should be raising when it comes to changes in pop culture. Sometimes it is really weird to think about since we grew up with celebrities who some would consider more “talented” because they make it in the industry typically by working hard and slowly working their way up. Now, fame more often than not is happening overnight. It is hard to critique if this is a bad change, or is it just something new that we are not used to?

  11. I really enjoyed reading your blog post. This is a topic that has crossed my mind multiple times. I feel like the idea of “influencers” and celebrities is slowly merging together and I constantly wonder what the future of these two will look like. Will celebrities slowly begin being replaced by influencers? Or will the idea of influencers begin to go away? Or are they all going to be considered the same thing in a matter of time?

  12. It is truly an interesting time we live in where people can actually make a living off of videos-gone-viral and this sense of overnight fame. It makes me wonder how they pay taxes and will be an actual part of society (especially if their fame wears off). The one thing I do like is this feeling that the limelight can be shed on “everyday people” and not just influential life-long celebrities. However, there still seems to be a bit of a bias when it comes to TikTok and the content that is and isn’t placed on the For You page.

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