Like It or Not, Kylie Jenner Is the Celebrity of the Future
When Kylie Jenner’s app shot to the top of Apple’s App Store, she couldn’t open her eyes. She was getting her lashes done. Her friends began to scream. She began to scream. You’re number one, they said. You’re number one.
“I did not expect that at all,” Kylie tells me. “That was really, really exciting for me.”
Kylie, 18, is an entrepreneur. She’s a model. She’s a personality. She’s a star. You might know her as the youngest sister in the Kardashian-Jenner clan—the overexposed American family that only gets more famous—but she’s special, too. Unlike Kourtney or Kim or Khloé, Kylie was born and raised in the online era. She’s a social media native. And she has lots of fans—many who are digital natives, too.
At an Apple event in New York last week, the five sisters from E!’s hit show Keeping Up With the Kardashians announced the launch of their very own digital hubs. Kim, Khloé, Kendall, and Kylie launched sites and apps based on their individual styles, interests, and lives. (Kourtney’s app is scheduled to come later this year.)
Part digital diaries, part lifestyle brands, the apps are all about, well, them. Each is free to download, but users must pay $2.99 a month to access all the content. In Kylie’s app, I can see clothes, accessories, and even snacks that Kylie recommends I buy. (With a few clicks, I can do just that.) It’s unclear if Kylie gets paid to list certain items, but they mimic her interests and style.
An App All Her Own
Kylie’s app is fun. It features a black background, white letters, and teal highlights. (“That’s my favorite color, and I wanted to stand out from my sisters,” she tells me.) She posts photos, videos, beauty tips, and style advice daily. Sometimes I get a pop-up alert and I swipe to see Kylie live.
Kylie’s app feels intimate. The handwriting might very well be her own. She writes about her feelings on plastic surgery (she’s not against it). She dances. She poses. She shares her favorite snacks (Lucky Charms, Oreos, Flaming Hot Cheetos). “I want to show fans a side of me that they’ve never been able to see,” she tells me. “It’s by far my favorite thing I’ve ever done.”
For Kylie, sharing is the norm. She’s been on Keeping Up With the Kardashians since she was 10. She posts daily to Instagram, tweets questions to fans, and snaps on the regular. Kylie loves to share—and her fans love to follow. She has 36.4 million followers on Instagram and 11.5 million on Twitter.
But there’s something different about having an app all your own. “I don’t want to choose between Snapchat or Instagram or my app,” Kylie says when I ask her whether she’ll keep posting elsewhere. “I think it’s just an added platform. I’m way more comfortable on my app and I can just share what I want to share.”
Kylie, after all, is posting on the Internet. She’s a woman, she’s a celebrity, she’s seen the kind of harassment the Internet doles out. So when I ask her whether her fans can engage with her directly on her app, she demurs. “I always love to hear feedback from my fans, so I ask them on Twitter,” she tells me. “But I want to try to not bring any sort of bullying to my app, so that’s why I don’t have comments right now or anything. I would rather not see it if people want to say nasty things.”
When I sympathize with her about how people on the Internet can be the worst, she tells me, “Oh, terrible. I just avoid it.”
Celebrity (Controlled) Culture
Kylie is the future—even if she doesn’t know it. For celebrities of a certain status, the Internet may soon become obsolete. After all, who needs Instagram or Twitter (or People or E!), when fans will pay to come to you? Kylie’s app, like those of her sisters, was developed with the help of new media company Whalerock Industries, which seems set on creating a digital media empire out of personal networks just like Kylie’s.
Publicists have long wrangled with the media over the control of the image of celebrities. And, to some extent, celebrities have played their part—be it happily or not. But with the rise of social media, stars like, say, Taylor Swift, Karlie Kloss, and Beyoncé have taken full control of their public images on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Whalerock promises a new kind of interaction—one with more control (and money) for celebrities and more content (and exclusive allure) for super fans. In addition to the Kardashians’ apps, the company has launched an app with rapper Tyler, the Creator and is developing one with Howard Stern. According to The New York Times, Whalerock plans to “create app-based channels for 12 to 20 performers and brands by 2018.”
This kind of direct celeb-to-fan business isn’t entirely new. Glenn Beck built The Blaze. Gwyneth Paltrow has Goop. But for the most part, the entertainment industry’s model is very lucrative for the studios, managers, and other middlemen between artists and their fans. Social media has made it easier for, say, Jessica Chastain or Emma Watson to promote their causes on Twitter, but what if they no longer needed Vanity Fair for their photo shoots? Or a production company for their films? So far, the Internet remains complementary—one part of the Hollywood PR machine, not the main distributor—but that could very well change.
Kylie is a businesswoman. You may hate her, you may love her, but she’s embracing the image she’s got. She’s smart. According to a data leak from the Kardashians’ apps, Kylie saw more than 600,000 sign ups in the first day after her app launched. (The app offers a free trial for the first seven days and can be downloaded for free, so some users may not stick around long enough to pay.) But could Jessica Chastain, Emma Watson, or Karlie Kloss drive hundreds of thousands of users to a paid app? Maybe. Maybe not. So, how does Kylie do it? And who are the people willing to pay monthly for her app?
Kylie pauses. “Probably the people who love me and want to see more about me.” And that sounds about right.
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