These days, it’s harder than ever to keep up with what the kids are into, with new TikTok trends and content houses cropping up faster than you can say “Dixie D’Amelio.” Your teenage years are sadly behind you, and for the rest of your days, you’ll be stuck on the hamster wheel of trying to understand youth culture. Thankfully, some of those pretty people whose names you can never remember will now be in a place that feels familiar to you: Netflix! This week, the streaming service ordered a new reality series about the Hype House, so finally you can learn about the likes of LilHuddy and Nikita Dragun without braving the treacherous waters of TikTok—hashtag blessed, and that’s on period!
Lol just kidding, I f*cking hate this. But I don’t just hate it because I’m an adult who finds TikTok culture mystifying—but rather because some of the people headlining the new show are already known for being problematic. Take Larri Merritt, also known as Larray. Last July, as COVID cases hit new records in California, Larray celebrated his 22nd birthday with an indoor party attended by more than 65 guests, none of whom were wearing masks. Despite government regulations at the time prohibiting “professional, social and community gatherings,” social media posts showed a chaotic scene both at the party and outside the venue, where hundreds of fans and wannabe influencers congregated in close, largely unmasked proximity.
As you could probably guess, some of the other stars of Netflix’s Hype House show were also in attendance at Larray’s party, including Hype House founder Thomas Petrou, and Nikita Dragun. In the last year, Nikita in particular has been called out numerous times for her behavior during the pandemic, including throwing another party just one week after Larray’s much-maligned event. She again came under fire in February for throwing herself a huge birthday party, where all of the aforementioned TikTok stars were again in attendance. As if the blatant disregard for COVID safety wasn’t enough, Nikita also faced backlash last year, when she was accused of “blackfishing” in a photo posted to Instagram. The criticism intensified when Nikita joked about the situation on Twitter, asking “what race is nikita gonna be today?”
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You could spend all day unpacking the various questionable choices the members of The Hype House have made, but Netflix clearly is in the business of chasing clout, so this is who they’re giving a platform. But Netflix isn’t the only service cashing in on this new generation of social media celebs. The Hype House show is the latest in a string of mainstream entertainment projects heaped upon Gen Z influencers, many of whom have already their own brushes with online controversy.
Last month, the Sway House (one of Hype House’s top competitors) launched their own show on Facebook Watch, backed by production company Bunim/Murray, a company known for creating reality staples such as The Real World and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Sway Life features the hot white boy trio of Noah Beck, Blake Gray, and Bryce Hall, who each have millions of followers. They’ve all enjoyed a party here and there during the pandemic, but none more than Bryce Hall, who famously had his electricity shut off by the mayor of Los Angeles because he wouldn’t stop hosting ragers last summer. I won’t pretend Noah Beck isn’t hot, but would it kill us to give a reality show to some people who wear masks?
The fun doesn’t stop there. Last year, former Hype House member Charli D’Amelio and her family struck a deal with Hulu for a reality show, imaginatively titled The D’Amelio Family (at least the Kardashians went for an alliteration). The show, which is expected to premiere sometime this year, will follow Charli, Dixie, and their parents Heidi and Marc (a former Republican Senate candidate) as they navigate their newfound fame. I can’t wait for eight riveting episodes of Charli shooting promos for her eponymous Dunkin’ drink while the rest of the family fights for the leftover camera time.
With the D’Amelio family, we even already have proof of concept of how these kinds of video projects can go wrong. Last year, they launched a series on their family YouTube channel called “Dinner With The D’Amelios.” The first episode featured James Charles (a big yikes right off the bat), and it received backlash for multiple reasons. First, Charli and Dixie were revolted when they learned that their family chef had prepared a dish with snails in it, and Dixie even ran outside to vomit. On top of that, Charli was criticized for complaining in the video about how long it was taking her to hit 100 million followers on TikTok—a milestone that she later became the first to reach. Surely, Hulu’s editors will be a little more cautious than whoever put together that YouTube video, but is this really a family that needs a whole show? Oh, and obviously Charli and Dixie were both at Larray’s pandemic birthday party, because of course they were.
Meanwhile, Charli’s biggest competition in the TikTok brunette category, Addison Rae, is having the biggest come-up of all. She has the Kardashian hookup, she’s starring in the upcoming Netflix movie He’s All That, and she was recently on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to promote her new song. But of course, her Fallon appearance drew its own controversy, based on a segment in which she showed off her mastery of several viral TikTok dances. People on social media were quick to point out that none of the original creators of these dances—many of whom are Black dancers with much smaller followings than Rae—received any kind of credit for their work. In response, Fallon featured several of the creators on his show in a Zoom interview segment, which Rae shared on social media. It’s nice to see the attempt to correct this misstep, but at the end of the day, Addison is still getting major opportunities largely thanks to the work of Black creators. Rae, both D’Amelio sisters, as well as early Hype House member Daisy Keech will not be participating in the Netflix show.
All of these next-generation personalities have amassed huge followings on various social media platforms, so it’s not hard to understand why entertainment brands are enticed, even if many of the talent are already problematic in one way or another. Of course, a lot of them are basically (or literally) children, and people—especially young people—make mistakes. That said, by putting a bigger spotlight on these influencers who are no stranger to controversy, I think Netflix’s PR team will have their work cut out for them.
Images: MEGA/GC Images via Getty Images
As demonstrated by the most recent skinny jeans and side parts scandal that rocked millennials everywhere, tying ourselves to shared generational labels is a pillar of meme culture — or broadly, today’s culture. Generational stereotypes have fueled the formation of countless online communities, but they’ve also caused hot-blooded arguments across age lines. After Baby Boomers criticized Millennials for not buying houses, it sparked economic discourse around responsibility and capitalism, and the “OK Boomer” meme popularized during the 2020 election signified Gen Z refusing to feign respect for racist and misogynistic elders. To say the least, there is weight and substance behind these memed stereotypes.
As digital natives in a digital world, Gen Z’s cultural influence is undeniable, but the one stereotype that overpowers the rest is that we are “diverse.” A quick Google search will show you that Gen Z is labeled as the “most diverse generation in history” and that we “demand diversity in the workplace.” However, of the top 100 creators on the social media platform most commonly associated with Gen Z, TikTok, the vast majority are white or white-passing. Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae, the golden girls of Gen Z, are thin, upper-middle-class white women. Simply put, it ain’t adding up: if we’re so diverse, why aren’t the people we idolize?
When Addison Rae appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in March to perform multiple dances originally created by Black TikTokers, it sparked a conversation about white mediocrity. D’Amelio and Rae are certainly not as talented as Keara Wilson, who created the “Savage” dance that propelled Addison Rae to superstardom, or Jalaiah Harmon, the originator of the “Renegade” dance that did the same for Charli. But comparing talent isn’t the problem: these women took Black choreography and used it for their own benefit, and were rewarded. Whether it’s subconscious or not, the fame that we’ve given them is because they fit the mold of who women are supposed to want to be.
In the same way that millennials adore celebrities like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, the supposedly diverse and inclusive Gen Z continues the cycle of rewarding attractive, rich, white women for existing. While society’s cultural icons have evolved from supermodels (1990s) to celebrities (2000s) to reality stars (2010s), the skin color and proximity to wealth of our superstars has remained consistent. Despite their wealthy, white California childhood, the Kardashians adopted Black culture to differentiate themselves from the thin blonde stars popular in the 2000s. They injected their butts and lips to recreate features found naturally on Black women, appropriated Black hairstyles, almost exclusively dated Black men, and recreated age-old Black and Latina fashion trends.
This look was, yes, a departure from parallel generational icons Paris Hilton and the Olsen Twins, but it wasn’t new. Black women, who grew up wearing wigs and had naturally big lips, certainly aren’t growing multimillion-follower fan bases or offered the cover of Vogue, but rather are discriminated against for living out their own culture while white women run through their trends faster than Fashion Nova can produce a rip-off.
The Kardashians shared everything from their petty fights to brutal divorces, parental blowups, and personal anxieties on national television. But the “relatability” or “reality” they may have shown on TV does not a billion-dollar empire make: they wouldn’t have had the lip kits, curvy shapewear, or half as much media coverage without appropriation.
TikTok was supposed to democratize the social media industry with an algorithm that let anyone get famous — or at least “TikTok famous.” Instead, we’ve repeated the same process of propping up white women who manipulate Black culture to appeal to the masses, yet remain safe from systemic racism in their peach skin. As the biggest Gen Z idols in the world, Addison Rae and Charli D’Amelio pocket millions while the Black girls who created the dances, and the music they dance to, remain nameless or endure hate at an alarmingly higher rate. Black creators’ followings remain significantly lower, and their sponsorship deals even sparser. Meanwhile, these white TikTok stars are hanging out with the Kardashians, with nary a Black woman in sight.
Would we still be idolizing these people, however, if corporations like NBC (the network that airs Jimmy Fallon’s show) and TikTok itself weren’t inching us in that direction? In March 2020, an internal memo was leaked revealing that TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t push darker, disabled, or “ugly” videos, making it significantly harder to “blow up” as a Black creator even if you have better content. Most of the companies giving out these sponsorship deals are run by majority-white Millennials or Baby Boomers who are inclined to stick with the already-advantaged white women that look like them or their children.
We won’t reach equality for these influencers until the most prominent corporations and influencers make a conscious effort to give Black creators the exposure their white counterparts get. Companies must do this through providing equally lucrative sponsorship opportunities, and the biggest celebrities must take responsibility for benefitting from the systems that allowed them to grow by offering slices of their fame to prop the culture originators up.
Gen Z definitely cares about diversity, but the systems in place created by previous generations don’t allow that to be reflected in our culture idols. If algorithms don’t allow Black creators to make it on their own, it’s up to influencers and social media users to make conscious choices to highlight and reward that talent, or we’ll be watching history repeat itself for the next generation, too.
Image: Todd Williamson / E! Entertainment
Does anyone else feel like the last few weeks have been some of the bleakest so far? Nearly a year into the pandemic, the combination of terrible winter weather, vaccine frustration, and just general life stuff have created a perfect storm of bad vibes, and it seems like a lot of us have been feeling it. But you know who hasn’t let the less-than-ideal mood get in their way? The celebrities on TikTok. To them, February 2021 seems like any other month, and that means they’re still cranking out the content that just makes you go “…why?” From Gen-Z to Boomers, some of our favorite famous TikTokers have been doing their worst lately, and here’s your latest batch of cringe.
@heidimontagCan you pull down your mask if you see papperazzi? ##fyp ##foryoupage ##beverlyhills♬ original sound – heidimontag
Heidi, Heidi, Heidi… I’ve grown accustomed to Heidi’s weird TikToks around the house—the terrible lip-syncing and random product placement of Spencer’s crystals throughout the videos, but this is a new level of cringe for her. She and Spencer are walking down the street, and she asks if she can take her masks off for the paparazzi. Obviously, the answer is no, but seeing her get so excited to have her picture taken just makes me kind of sad. Idk, maybe I’m still in my feels about Framing Britney Spears, but I have a hard time not getting angry at the thought of invasive celeb photographers. Heidi’s also been ramping up her content about #filming, so it seems like the new season of The Hills should be coming soon.
@brycehallroots @joshrichards @imgriffinjohnson♬ original sound – Bryce Hall
If you’ve read my articles in the past, you’ll know that Bryce Hall is my least favorite of the Gen-Z hot guy cohort on TikTok. Aside from practicing terrible COVID behavior, he also just seems like a f*ckboy, and this video of him and two of his Sway House buddies shotgunning energy drinks isn’t doing anything to dispel that notion. At least they’re wearing shirts in this video, because I was actually starting to wonder if they owned any clothes other than t0o-tight sweatpants.
@drphilThis new grand baby better hurry up!
♬ Rugrats Theme (From “Rugrats”) – Just Kids
Dr. Phil has always been one of my least favorite people on TikTok, and this video of him looking longingly out the window as he waits for his grandchild to arrive is so staged it hurts. Why does this old man have a BIB on his shirt? And how much did he have to force his wife to play along for the video? Also, he clearly hasn’t been able to get his botox during the pandemic, because homeboy is looking way older than I remember. Anyway, his son Jordan McGraw had his baby with Morgan Stewart, a girl named Row Renggli, so hopefully his weird videos will be replaced with cute baby content soon.
@jamescharlessurprise… 🤰🏻💕 what should I name her♬ Still Into You by Paramore – Ariam
Last week, James Charles pulled two different social media stunts in the time it takes me to get out of bed n the morning. On the same day he tried to trick us into thinking he was bald, he also posted… a fake pregnancy announcement? We all say that bizarre recreation of Beyoncé’s nude pregnancy photos on Instagram, but you may have missed this TikTok where he shows off his “transformation.” I still don’t understand why this was ever a thing, but I hope James got the attention he was craving.
@charlidameliolink to sign up for @step in my bio💗 ##steppartner♬ original sound – charli d’amelio
I’m all for TikTok creators like Charli hustling and making money from their platforms, but taking financial advice from someone who was born in 2004 just doesn’t sit right with me. She’s advertising for Step, a banking and debit card service aimed at teens, which is supposed to help them build credit and learn about money management. Sounds like a smart idea, but I feel like they should be aiming their marketing at parents of teens, not kids who are scrolling on TikTok. We’ve seen people like Billy McFarland and the Kardashians market some questionable cards before, so I’m not trusting any famous person when it comes to financial advice.
Images: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com; TikTok
If 2020 has been anything, it’s certainly the year of influencers behaving badly. I mean, not that they haven’t behaved badly in other years, but something about a worldwide pandemic just brings out the worst in these people. On Tuesday night, YouTuber Nikita Dragun threw an “insane surprise party” for her friend Larray, also a YouTuber. The party was held at the infamous Hype House, which is essentially the Buckingham Palace of the TikTok community. Photos and videos from the party—posted publicly on social media—show an indoor area packed with people, none of whom are wearing masks or making any attempt at social distancing. In addition, paparazzi videos from outside the Hype House show a crowd of people waiting to get inside, also not wearing masks.
In the state of California, current public health regulations “prohibit professional, social and community gatherings,” defined as “events that bring together persons from multiple households at the same time for a shared or group experience in a single room.” Additionally, the CDC advises that if such gatherings are taking place, they should be held outside, and attendees should social distance and wear face coverings. Watch Nikita Dragun’s video, and see if any of these rules are being followed:
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happy birthday bestfriend 🎂 @larray doesn’t like to celebrate his bday so i decided to throw him the most insane surprise party ever… nikita style ! he literally is a light in everyones life . always making u laugh and feel good even on ur worse days . friend thank u so much from the bottom of my plastic heart… i was at a low point when i met u and u showed me true friendship , loyalty , and love . i had to go all out for u and something tells me u had a good time 😉 love u so much xo shoutout to @wifeoftheparty yet another iconic party <3
The guest list at the party was a who’s who of Gen-Z celebs, including TikTok queen Charli D’Amelio and her sister Dixie, who are apparently still allowed at the Hype House despite their messy split from the group earlier this year. Charli showed up at the party soon after having a nose job, because nothing says “surgery recovery” like getting exposed to a deadly respiratory virus, I guess. Also in attendance were Tana Mongeau and James Charles, which is zero percent surprising. Whenever there’s an opportunity to get canceled, you can always count on James and Tana to be involved.
Clearly, no one felt too guilty about being at this party, because it was plastered all over social media. In the past few months, we’ve seen a lot of people trying to cover up their problematic tracks on Instagram, but Larray’s party was completely out in the open. And given the whole COVID situation, it didn’t take long for people to voice their concerns about the whole mess. Most notably, fellow YouTuber Tyler Oakley slammed the party on Twitter, saying, “if your favorite influencers are at huge house parties during a pandemic (& are dumb enough to post it on social media)… they are bad influences. unfollow them.” He tagged several of the influencers in question, suggesting that they take more precautions and use their platforms to “encourage responsibility during a worldwide pandemic.”
hi @jamescharles @NikitaDragun @tanamongeau @larrayxo @charlidamelio @dixiedamelio & any others who have been partying in large groups – please consider social distancing, mask wearing, & using your huge platforms to encourage responsibility during a worldwide pandemic. https://t.co/G3CeWfk3uZ
— tyler oakley (@tyleroakley) July 22, 2020
These influencers aren’t the only ones making questionable decisions about events amidst the pandemic. Last month, R&B artist Teyana Taylor was criticized for hosting a star-studded album release party, where guests were given custom hazmat suits and masks. I don’t know how smart that is in reality, but at least the masks were provided. But photos from the party showed a densely packed room, with many celebrities (including Cardi B) not wearing their masks. Taylor claimed the party was “extremely safe,” but the photos make that hard to believe. And in even more bizarre news, people in numerous states have been caught having coronavirus parties, with the specific purpose of getting infected.
For some reason, people seem to have a more relaxed attitude about social gatherings than they did a few months ago, but especially in Los Angeles, now is really not the time. This week, California overtook New York as the state with the highest total number of confirmed cases, and their daily case numbers have more than doubled in the last month. And even if our influencer friends aren’t analyzing the statistics, they must have noticed that California’s reopening plan has come to a screeching halt. Bars and restaurants have recently closed again, along with gyms, salons, and basically any business that requires you to be indoors with other people.
So, if you’re in LA (or honestly anywhere) right now, this probably isn’t the best time to be throwing any indoor surprise parties, and it certainly isn’t the time to be blasting your irresponsible choices on social media. Why are influencers like this!!
Images: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com; nikitadragun, jamescharles / Instagram; tyleroakley / Twitter
At this point, there’s really no excuse for not knowing about TikTok. Six months ago, anyone over the age of 23 could just say they were too old and keep it moving, but things have changed. You see TikTok videos all over Instagram, that one friend keeps texting you TikTok links, and you might have even downloaded the app out of sheer boredom. But just because you can admit that there are some funny people on TikTok doesn’t mean that you’re fully ready to embrace ~TikTok culture~.
And with good reason! The people who thrive the most on TikTok are literal teenagers, and I personally make it a point to steer clear of following children on social media. I just feel like it’s not a great look, but there’s one TikTok teen in particular that has been totally unavoidable lately: Charli D’Amelio. She’s now the most-followed person on TikTok, but like, why? Who is Charli D’Amelio, and why is she so famous? Let’s take a look.
Before we get into anything else, we must address the fact that Charli D’Amelio is only FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. As in, she was born in 2004. Like, not old enough to drive without a parent in the car in many states. Honestly? I’m sick. This girl is busy planning her sweet 16, and she already has a casual 48 million followers on TikTok. Meanwhile, I’m just over here hoping my selfie gets 100 likes on Instagram. It’s fine, I’m fine.
Charli’s meteoric rise on TikTok has happened unbelievably fast—she just joined the app last summer. Since then, she’s amassed over three billion views on her videos, and a few weeks ago, she overtook fellow teenager Loren Gray as the most followed person on TikTok. Considering that it took me approximately six years to get to 1,000 followers on Instagram, she clearly figured this sh*t out fast, and it’s impressive.
So what does Charli D’Amelio do on TikTok that makes her so appealing? Like I said, I have a no-teenagers policy when it comes to following people on TikTok, so I was mostly unfamiliar with her content. Scrolling through her page, the thing that struck me the most is that her videos are… not super unique? Like, she’s a cute girl, mostly just doing random TikTok dances. Here’s an example of what Charli does—there are literally hundreds of videos like this:
@charlidamelio♬ original sound – samantha_long_
Okay, so like, she has cool loungewear and good lighting and she can learn a dance like anyone else? I mean, that’s more than I can say, so I respect it. But there’s a secret ingredient to her viral success: Hype House. If you’ve never heard of it,
you’re lucky here’s what you need to know. Hype House is a group of ~20 Gen-Z TikTok stars, including Charli and her sister Dixie, and they all work together on making viral content. In addition, there’s an actual Hype House in LA, where a smaller group of them live. Remember, these are high-school age kids, so this is kind of like when Olympic gymnasts get shipped off to live wherever the good coach is, except for these kids, the Olympic medal is getting millions of TikTok followers.
If the idea of the Hype House is absolutely insane to you, same, but they’re not the only ones using this model. In January, The New York Times went in-depth on the evolution of these so-called “Content Houses,” which have been around in various forms since 2014. They were originally mostly made up of YouTubers, but now TikTok has also become a booming industry. These houses are sometimes run by managers and agents. Hype House was actually started by Lilhuddy, a 17-year-old with millions of TikTok followers of his own.
Speaking of Lilhuddy, his actual name is Chase Hudson, and he and Charli just so happened to be dating for the last several months. That is, until today, when Charli announced on Instagram that they’d broken up. For the past few weeks, rumors of Chase cheating on Charli with a girl from a different content house (*rolls eyes*) have circulated online, and I guess this is the confirmation we needed. Quick reminder that everyone here is a full-ass child, and their personal lives are messier than anything that’s happened on Vanderpump Rules.
I’m not sure what this breakup means for Charli’s future in Hype House, but at this point, she’s bigger than all the rest of them, so she’d probably be fine on her own. Since blowing up on TikTok, Charli has gotten a lot of big opportunities: In January, she signed with UTA, one of the largest talent agencies, she appeared in a Super Bowl commercial, and was even invited to make a TikTok with Jennifer Lopez at the Super Bowl. Casual.
Just this week, Charli teased on Entertainment Tonight that there may be a reality show about her family in the works, so if she’s leaving Hype House, she probably won’t miss out on any of the clout. I hate to say it, but I would probably watch that show, and I would be too embarrassed to tell anyone how much I liked it. So hopefully now you have some concept of who Charli D’Amelio is, so at least when she comes up in conversation you can smile and nod and pretend to know about TikTok. As aging millennials, it’s the least we can do to stay relevant.
Images: NBC / Contributor/Getty Images; charlidamelio / TikTok; charlidamelio / Instagram