This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
As time goes on, it gets harder and harder to define who is and isn’t an “influencer,” “creator,” or “internet celebrity.”
Sure, an easy definition would be someone who primarily builds their fame and business on the internet. However, that encompasses a whole bunch of people who we wouldn’t traditionally think of as creators. YouTubers share their lives with their fans, but so do former Olympians like Shawn Johnson East and former child stars like Christy Carlson Romano. Chrissy Teigen got her start on a food blog and Shawn Mendes on YouTube, but are they creators? The Kardashians invented many of the traditional influencer models in practice today, but are they influencers?
I say all this because I’ve often wondered who, technically, would be the first internet celebrity to reach true mainstream fame. Many creators have had success in Hollywood. Addison Rae is probably the one who has gotten the furthest so far, with the recent release of her film He’s All That and subsequent Netflix deal. Despite many other Hollywood projects from online creators tending to end in drama (Jake Paul getting kicked off the Disney channel), fall flat (Lilly Singh’s talk show), or be treated more like a sideshow or fan service rather than serving a mainstream audience (The D’Amelio Show), it seems like Addison could actually have a promising Hollywood career.
However, I’m gonna argue there’s a dark horse for the title of the online celeb with the potential for the most mainstream success: Cody Rigsby from Peloton. My prediction is buoyed by the announcement this week that Cody will appear on the harbinger of true American fame, Dancing With the Stars.
I know what you are thinking: Cody is not an internet celebrity! To that I say, how is he not? Going back to my musings above, is he not primarily building his brand via social media? The man has nearly 900,000 Instagram followers and a sponsorship deal with Capital One. And isn’t Peloton in many ways a social community, based primarily on the internet? Yeah, I know right. Mind blown.
But why would Cody have more mainstream success than, say, Addison Rae? I believe Cody has the potential to reach a much larger audience than most internet celebrities.
Unfortunately, years into the creator economy, many of its biggest stars are still treated as a sideshow. When influencers are discussed in the tabloids or given big brand deals, you always get the sense the powers that be are placating the teenagers they imagine are their fans.
Cody, however, has broad mainstream appeal because his fan base doesn’t fit into this, albeit largely incorrect, box that people assume influencers draw. When I picture your average Cody fan, I picture a fortysomething mom in middle America, but I also picture a millennial in New York City. Peloton has done a great job, after a few initial flubs, at marketing its product to a mass audience of diverse customers, and Cody is its biggest star.
I think Cody’s DWTS turn is, thus, going to be an even bigger moment than when, say, Instagram model Alexis Ren appeared on the show a few years back. (Olivia Jade, of YouTube and Operation Varsity Blues fame, is also on this season.) I don’t mean this offensively at all, but Cody fans are so DWTS people. And who could have imagined in 2019 that the star of Peloton would somehow be on the show? Not me.
Cody is proof that online celebrity isn’t actually about where you started your platform. It’s more about precisely cultivating a following based on yourself and being able to leverage said following into bigger and bigger opportunities while simultaneously maintaining the authenticity that makes people want to keep following you. It’s a tricky balance, but so far, Cody has been able to achieve it.
I think he has the potential to take the exposure he will get on DWTS and continue to grow his fame. Could we see a Cody Rigsby–branded gym chain next? A clothing line? A TV show? A movie? My hope is that other internet celebrities will also be able to follow and be taken more seriously by traditional media and film industry players.
Also, will this be the first time I ever watch DWTS? Stay tuned.