Review: The D’Amelio Show 2021 Tv Series
I get asked why I’m famous a lot,” says Charli D’Amelio, the most followed person on TikTok, early in the third episode of her family’s new Hulu reality show. Just two years ago, she was a high school sophomore in suburban Connecticut posting snippets of dances and jokes with friends to the app. Now 17, she has 123.6 million followers on the app; she and her sister Dixie, 20, are two of the most recognizable faces among Gen Z, superstars on the most culturally influential social media platform in the country right now.
Yet “I don’t consider myself famous,” she says. “I’m just a person that a lot of people follow for some reason. I think it was right place, right time. I think it was a vibe, maybe, that I give off.”
Charli D’Amelio is undeniably famous. Whether or not you’ve heard of her, her name and face are recognized by 100-million-plus people. She’s right that she came to fame in large part by a quirk of timing – she started posting videos in summer 2019, just as TikTok was blowing up, especially among Gen Z, and when the prevailing trend on the platform were short, iterative dance challenges. (Both soared in popularity during the pandemic, when everyone was trapped on their phone.) Beautiful, thin, sweet, she soared along the app’s algorithm, which rewarded the median of a vast average of tastes: beautiful, thin, sweet girls (usually white) who moved lithely to popular (usually hip-hop) music. Like generational icons before her, she became symbolic of forces far outside her control or likely full understanding – shorthand for the snap, stratospheric fame of TikTok, as well as the blandness of the app’s biggest stars.
Teen superstardom isn’t new, even seemingly overnight (see: Britney Spears); what’s radical about TikTok is the stupefying speed, and the sheer quantity of fans one can attain for appealing to the average of everyone’s tastes. For the formerly anonymous, average teens who have shot to fame on it, there’s suddenly a pressing, unproven question: what do you do with it?
You could start a beauty line and headline a gender-flipped Netflix remake of She’s All That, as fellow TikTok star Addison Rae did. You could attempt to translate followers into TV viewers, as Netflix hopes to do with an unscripted series about the TikTok-star collective Hype House. Or, you and your family could star in a half-hour reality show.
The D’Amelio Show, in both its very existence and primary storylines (Dixie’s nascent singing career, Charli’s business deals, mental health), is primarily concerned with the question of professional likability. What does it do to someone, especially young women, and what do you do with it? Can TikTok fame work anywhere else?
In timing, family focus (including parents Heidi and Marc D’Amelio) and subject of beautiful young women famous for being themselves online (the next iteration of “famous for being famous”), it’s hard not to see The D’Amelio Show as the heir apparent to Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the reality TV dynasty which concluded its 14-year run in June (before they also come to Hulu in a major new deal). But whereas that E! show existed as a launchpad to ubiquity for the Kardashian-Jenners, and eventually as mechanism for narrative control, The D’Amelio Show is aimless, restrained and unsure. (It also contains far less drama, manufactured or otherwise.)
The show occasionally ventures into Keeping Up territory with loose set-ups to justify bringing people together for revealing conversations – Dixie arranges a beach date for her boyfriend, fellow TikTok star Noah Beck; Charli’s friend Maddi hosts a sleepover; the D’Amelios host a hibachi dinner for the sisters’ friends, including Charli’s ex Chase “LilHuddy” Hudson (a cast- member on Netflix’s upcoming Hype House show), in which they half-heartedly respond to an unseen prompt on first impressions of each other.
The bulk of the series goes to weighing the open-ended question of fame, whether in on-camera confessionals, attending the sisters’ various professional engagements (for Charli, fittings, meetings, presentations, photoshoots; for Dixie, singing lessons, rehearsals, more meetings), or just watching the girls at home, popping internet comments (source unclear) both positive and, more often, brutally negative over the screen.
The weight of those comments, fame’s toll on mental health, is the show’s most explicit subject – comment warnings and directions to online resources bookend each episode, and the words “depression” and “anxiety” are dropped by every member of the family throughout. The pilot ends with Dixie breaking down in sobs over dismissive hate she received for a video with Vogue. Charli runs late for the Kids Choice Awards because she has an anxiety attack over being nominated for an award; she later says she used to have 10-15 panic attacks a day.
The D’Amelio sisters are eminently beautiful, sweet, able to function under immense pressure, lithe despite seeming near constantly petrified – but they’re not particularly magnetic TV stars. Example observations from Dixie: “Having a boyfriend is so fun,” “The more I make new songs, the more I hate the old ones.” Charli fears leaving the house. Timidity laces their voices. At least half of the time, it seems they don’t even want to be in the spotlight at all.
The reason to keep going seems less eagerness for the job of celebrity than a refusal to say no to a cornucopia of opportunities – singing, brand deals, not going back to Connecticut. If you had even an inkling of desire for creative pursuits, money, recognition – would you give the fame back?
No one, let alone teenage girls, should be expected to be the best, the most interesting, the prettiest, unimpeachable. But the demands of fame on and off TikTok are voracious and ever-evolving. The D’Amelio Show as a series is far more intriguing than any one of its stars, as a portrait of negotiating vertiginous fame in real time. Which is not the same thing as entertaining, nor convincing that said fame could, or should, carry on