This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
My TikTok For You page has been serving me a lot of Erika Brito’s videos lately, and they’re hilarious. She parodies lifestyle influencers by exaggerating some of their mundane tropes, like making basic foods, opening their mail, and pulling sPoNTaNeoUs pranks on their significant others.
And it’s the details of Erika’s TikToks that really sell the joke: She injects a lot of “Hey, guys!!!” and “I’m just hopping on really quickly” and “I am so excited to share with you guys...” These are the hallmarks of influencer content that I’ve grown to really appreciate, as much as it’s also annoying. It’s a bit like the Kardashian vocal fry — it grinds my ears, but it’s also iconic and comforting to hear. I hate it, but I love it.
Erika, who’s 27 and lives in New Jersey, creates all kinds of sketches on the platform. But her longest-running joke was inspired by an influencer she watched on Instagram.
“I thought to myself, Wait a second. Why do they all say the same thing? Why not just tell us about the product?” Erika told me. “Some of [influencers’] dialogue has become so rehearsed and almost robotic in a sense. I know I am not the only person who has observed these similarities before.”
From there, she started taking notes on different influencerisms to satirize. My favorite is still an early video she shared in July about an influencer showing you how to do their top bun. “I know it sounds silly, but we’re going to put all our hair up,” she jokes. “You’re going to tie it, and that’s it, you guys. That’s it. It’s my go-to. Please tag me, you guys, if you do it.”
In a more recent video, she portrays an influencer showing their followers how to sleep.
The gag makes me lol, but there is something very purposeful about what Erika’s doing with her comedy. She, like me, is both a fan and critic of lifestyle influencers. Their strangely curated and aspirational content is so easy to consume — but it can promote an unhealthy paradigm for a mostly women audience to live up to. (For example, platforms like Instagram create the illusion that a mom of five children is constantly fit and fashionable, and has the time to create gourmet aesthetic meals for their entire family every day.)
Erika’s videos are one way to cope with the dissonance. If we find influencers’ hyper-real content alluring and entertaining, let’s acknowledge it for what it is: pure entertainment. Then perhaps the veneer of perfection can fade, and us followers don’t feel the pressure, or influence, as much to live up to their lifestyles.
“For the longest time, I was following a ton of influencers for their picture-perfect lifestyle and fashion sense. That stuff really gets to you,” said Erika. “I had to unfollow a few influencers because honestly I was starting to feel kind of shitty about myself.”She said she began asking herself questions like, "Why am I following this person? Is their life really this perfect? Can I even afford the sweater they're wearing? Will I ever be able to hop on a plane to go to Bali whenever I want?”
“Now I follow some influencers who I feel are very genuine and honest with their followers, which I am now seeing more often. But the others will still exist and these are the ones that are predictable and make my content relatable and funny.”
The irony is that her influencer comedy is so successful she’s been approached by brands to make TikTok sponcon. Erika told me she had an “oh shit” moment when she received her first brand deal. “For a second I really considered not doing it because of the hate I would get,” she said. She was afraid people would call her a hypocrite for doing the thing that she’s made fun of other people for doing.
And after she posted an ad for Poshmark, people did call her out for it. But Erika wants to be clear about exactly what she’s parodying. She’s not mad that influencers are making money and creating businesses for themselves — in fact, she supports the hustle. She’s making fun of how they do it.
“I’m not making fun of what influencers do for a living at all because, as you can see, I posted a Poshmark ad — go me,” she said in a TikTok addressing comments calling her a hypocrite. “I’m making fun of how they do things, just like how I can knock a doctor or dentist and how they talk to you when your mouth is open.”
“I know it takes a lot of hard work and consistency to turn this into a career so I really do commend these individuals who are really putting themselves out there,” Erika added. “I just hope some influencers remember they are actually influencing. People will see and believe anything even if it's completely fabricated.”
In other words, influencers, we know when you and your partner rehearsed the “prank” on each other.
Everywhere I go, Charli D’Amelio is trying to sell me something
Last weekend, I popped into the Dunkin’ on my block. With a huge GIF sign, the store invited me to try its latest offering: “The Charli,” a drink handcrafted by teen TikTok star Charli D’Amelio.
It seems like Charli, the most-followed person on TikTok, is everywhere these days. The 16-year-old not only has her own drink at Dunkin’, she, both with and without her sister, Dixie, has recently announced a makeup line at Morphe, a line of hoodies with Hollister, and a book deal. She appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Sabra hummus, is a brand ambassador for companies like Eos and Aerie, and designed a collection for nail brand Orosa Beauty.
I feel like Charli, Dixie, and a few other big TikTok stars like Addison Rae (actually the highest-paid TikToker according to Forbes) are now trying to sell me something everywhere I go. It is rather incredible, when you think about it.
For many years in the early 2010s, both the mainstream media and big companies tended to treat online celebrities like a sideshow. Of course, some big YouTubers did get ad deals and many had sponcon in their videos, but they weren’t as prominently featured in campaigns. The big campaigns were still reserved for more “traditional celebs,” with a few exceptions (JoJo Siwa’s merch dominance in kids stores comes to mind).
In 2020, marketers and big brands are making up for lost time, especially when it comes to the D’Amelio sisters. I feel like Charli’s status nowadays is more comparable with your traditional teen celebrity, like the Olsen twins or Lindsay Lohan in my day, or Miley Cyrus for the generation after, than with older YouTubers. She’s truly become a ~teen queen~.
To all of this, I say, Great! I’m in full support of Charli #gettingthatbread. I also like that she’s doing collaborations with brands she (I assume) likes, like Dunkin’, and making them her own. I think Charli has handled her fame remarkably well so far, and I’m not knocking her for cashing in.
My message to brands is: Good first step, but now what? Clearly, you all have figured out that our traditional ideas of celebrity are changing, and online creators and influencers are just as important to millennials and Gen Z as actors, reality stars, and musicians. You’ve figured out they like Charli, and Dixie, and Addison, who all happen to be conventionally attractive and white. But what’s next?
The thing is, when you actually spend time on TikTok, most of the creators on there don’t look like Charli. As a platform, it is pretty diverse, filled with creative and talented people from all races and cultures. Sure, Addison and Charli have a lot of fans, but so do many other TikTokers like Lauren Godwin, Drea, and the NaeNaeTwins.
Maybe we could share the love — and the advertising dollars?
P.S. I did buy Dunkin’s Charli and it was way too sugary for me, but I’m sure teens and tweens will beg their parents for it. Well played, Dunkin’.