With the release of her new single “Obsessed,” Addison Rae is the latest in a long line of influencers attempting to branch out from their online platforms to more traditional mediums like film, television and music. Reviews for Rae’s music debut have been largely negative. It’s a formulaic, repetitive pop song that we’ve heard a million times before. It’s particularly disappointing when you consider the resources and support that Rae has available to her in a position as privileged as hers.
Rae’s friend and fellow TikTok superstar Dixie D’Amelio was met with very similar criticism following the release of her song “Be Happy.” The song’s beat is unoriginal, and the music video is lazy — it feels like she threw it together in a day.
Rae and D’Amelio can push out derivative, repetitive pop songs because they are safe in the knowledge that a song with their name on it will sell regardless. Quantity is placed over quality; something is better than nothing. As long as they push something out, they’ll turn a profit.
Granted, that may not be the fault of Rae or D’Amelio or any of the other influencers that have pushed out mediocre art over the past couple of years. Management companies often have a large amount of discretion over their clients’ business decisions. It’s likely that they encourage their clients to take part in projects where money takes precedence over the goals or image of the influencer. Social media management company Defy Media was shut down in 2018 for doing exactly that, and it’s unknown how many internet management companies still take part in those predatory practices.
And that’s a symptom of a larger problem still: The concept of having a career on social media is still insanely new. Online celebrity is a very new concept and is something that people — oftentimes teenagers — stumble into almost entirely by accident. Many people are under the (not entirely incorrect) impression that social media stars “got famous for doing nothing.” Social media stardom is also incredibly volatile: A misstep or dip in content consistency and it could be over for your channel. All of that considered, it makes sense that influencers would feel inclined to prove that they are deserving of their platforms of millions of followers.
A plethora of social media stars, from YouTubers to TikTokers, have made attempts to branch off of their platforms to more traditional mediums, all to varying degrees of success. Looking at different influencers’ attempts to branch out, the problem isn’t influencers’ venturing away from their platforms; it’s the amount of effort they put into doing so.
Beauty YouTuber Michelle Phan is an incredible example of executing a departure from social media successfully. She achieved internet stardom through her skills with makeup, so she took the time and effort to create a high-quality beauty and wellness brand and devoted her time to managing the mechanics of the business.
YouTuber Emma Chamberlain was able to accomplish something similar. A lot of people followed Chamberlain because of her taste in and “obsession” with coffee, so she created a brand called Chamberlain Coffee that sells original coffee blends and related merchandise.
Both Chamberlain and Phan identified what about their internet presence resonated with their audiences and used the time and resources available to them to create high-quality and meaningful products instead of relying on their image to sell them.
It’s not just entrepreneurial ventures that have proved to be successful either. In 2015, YouTuber Kat Dahlia released a song called “I Think I’m In Love” that her target demographic absolutely adored. Mainstream music critics didn’t love it, as it was still a catchy teen pop song, but it was still a well-made catchy teen pop song.
The pitfalls of leaving the social media bubble make themselves apparent when influencers churn out cheap, inauthentic media that relies on their image to sell. In 2017, YouTuber and former Vine personality Gabbie Hanna released a collection of poetry called “Adultolescence.” She got famous for sharing stories about her life, so an autobiographical collection of poetry makes sense for her image. But between poems admitting that she’s making stuff up to fill space and rushed typo-filled blurbs trying to pass as poetry, it’s evident that she put the absolute bare minimum amount of effort into the book.
A career in music makes sense for Rae. She got popular by lip-syncing and dancing to popular songs; she’s the closest the internet can get to a pop star. But, whether at her discretion or someone else’s, she entered what could be the start of her music career on a shaky foot. A departure from the world of social media doesn’t have to be a bad thing, so long as it’s done with effort and integrity.
Caelan Reeves CM ’24 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. They’re a government and literature dual major from Chicago and love everything to do with music, movies and books.