Charli D’Amelio created her TikTok in June 2019. Seventeen months later, she has nearly 100 million followers. She’s a dancer first and foremost, sharing 15-second clips of punchy moves to popular songs, but as the most-followed creator on the social media app, she’s now a businesswoman too. She is also just 16 years old.
According to Forbes magazine, the Connecticut-born teenager earned £3 million last year from sponsorships and merchandising. She’s the second-highest earner on the app behind fellow dancer Addison Rae, 19, who, with 65 million followers, took home £3.8 million.
But what do the two biggest creators have in common? Their families are majorly involved. In fact, their siblings and parents are as crucial to their branding as their slick dance moves. From dancing or lip-syncing together, doing challenges or just simply recording snippets of their family lives, they’re as TikTok-savvy as Charli and Addison are.
‘I first started to post on TikTok because all of my friends were having fun doing it and it was another fun place for me to dance,’ Charli tells me from her LA family home. ‘My family getting involved happened organically because we just like to do things together, we always have. They saw me having fun posting and started to make their own videos.’
Charli’s family includes older sister and musician Dixie, 18, who herself has nearly 34 million followers, as well as mum Heidi (5.1 million followers) and dad Marc (6.5 million). The parents’ accounts tend to show more behind-the-scenes snippets of their lives – but make no mistake, they won’t hesitate to bust a dance move too (this is, after all, TikTok). As a family, their combined following is over 123 million, not including the other platforms they dominate, such as Instagram and YouTube.
With so many people following their every move, and so many brands hoping to capitalise on that, do they view this as a family business? ‘Absolutely,’ says Marc. ‘It has opened many doors for us and the girls.’
‘It has definitely been life-changing,’ agrees Charli, who, along with her sister, has just announced their second collaboration with make-up brand Morphe. That’s as well as their nail varnish collection with US beauty brand Orosa and clothing line with Hollister. The duo also just announced their new podcast, Ramble, and the whole family has a reality TV show in production.
That might sound like a ludicrously large number of business opportunities for such a newly-famous family, but Joe Gagiliese, co-founder of influencer marketing agency Viral Nation, is not surprised.
‘Families and people who are very relatable tend to be the people that make the most money on any social media platform,’ he explains, ‘because they appeal to a demographic that spends more money. If you look at the biggest marketers in the world, like Procter & Gamble or Disney, their ideal client isn’t an 18-year-old kid that’s going into university who has no money. Generally, brands focus their marketing budget on people who have the propensity to spend – so people in their late twenties to those in their sixties. And families appeal to people with more disposable income.’
It’s a fool-proof formula then, and the D’Amelios aren’t the only ones taking advantage of it. The family of Addison Rae, which includes two younger brothers as well as parents Monty and Sheri, all have thriving TikTok accounts. In fact, Addison – who is currently the face of American Eagle and has her own cosmetics line, Madeby Collection – has just started a podcast with her mum called Mama Knows Best. The exclusive deal with Spotify is thought to be a major contributor to her number one Forbes ranking.
Other creators have jumped on the family trend, too. Gabby Morrison, another dancer, has three million followers and regularly features her dad, Wayne. Then there’s Arishfa Khan, a teen actor with 28.5 million followers, who regularly features her younger brother’s antics; thanks to her, he now has over a million followers. Even celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon, with Will Smith posting behind-the-scenes footage of his family, while Gordon Ramsay chooses to duet with his kids’ videos and, in true Gordon style, roast the hell out of them.
For the D’Amelios, working together as a family is not just about the financial opportunities, though. ‘We want to be involved so that the girls don’t feel the weight of this alone,’ says Heidi. ‘We try to help each other and share the responsibility.’ Is that not a lot of pressure for two teens still figuring out who they are? ‘I don’t feel pressure to post [on TikTok] at all,’ Dixie says, with Charli in full agreement.
Normal teenage and young adult stuff unfolds in front of a huge audience.
Still, their stardom has come at a price. ‘The worst part is that I’ve lost having a personal private life,’ says Dixie. ‘When your life is on the internet there is no privacy. Normal teenage and young adult stuff unfolds in front of a huge audience. It’s not always the easiest.’
In fact, both girls have recently gone through public break-ups with their TikTok star boyfriends, their teen creator colleagues jumping to comment on social media about the unfolding drama and posting videos of their own opinions of the D’Amelio girls. YouTube videos discussing any drama related to the sisters are also a sure-fire way to get millions of views.
So are their parents fearful of this savage social media world where everyone has an opinion and a teen can be ‘cancelled’ by millions, trolled and threatened for one misguided post? ‘As adults, we know that we can’t fight every battle for our kids or reply to negative or mean comments on the internet from other kids,’ says Marc. ‘My goal, along with Heidi’s, is to educate the girls on safety and to make sure there is always an open door to communicating.’
Growing teenagers will always have obstacles, whether they are in the public eye or not.
‘I protect my family online, offline and always,’ adds Heidi. ‘Growing teenagers will always have obstacles, whether they are in the public eye or not. As a parent, I try to be present, to always listen and to give them enough freedom so they learn and grow, but not so much that I’m not aware of what they are doing.’
Indeed, that’s how they got involved in TikTok in the first place, they say: as a way of being aware of what the girls were doing. ‘But we always make sure that we carve out time that we can just be a family, not a “working” family,’ points out Heidi. ‘They’re still teenagers, so we’re still parenting teenagers and their emotions – which, of course, can be tough.’