Charli D’Amelio doesn’t know why she’s popular either. “I wish I could give everyone an explanation as to what happened, but I have no idea,” she tells MEL in her first published interview. To her, she’s simply a teenager who posts videos of herself dancing on TikTok — so she won’t be offended if you don’t think she’s interesting. “I’m just doing what I do every day and posting it, I guess. It’s very insane to me, as it is for everyone else watching.”
What’s so insane? In six months, 15-year-old D’Amelio has collected more than 5.1 million followers on TikTok. She’s also become one of the first polarizing figures on the video app — the embodiment of the strange, precarious and unpredictable new world of Gen Z online fame.
Of course, if you’re over 21, you likely have no idea who she is. I’m 22, and until very recently, I didn’t either. But my teenage cousins are obsessed.
“She went famous overnight on TikTok,” 17-year-old Caiti patiently explains. “Guys are obsessed with her from all around the county.”
“There are boys in my class that physically can’t stop talking about her,” agrees my cousin Maggie, also 17.
“She’s overhyped so much!” says Caiti’s sister Julia, 15. “Lowkey the obsession is illegal; she’s 15.”
Caiti agrees. “Guys legit travel from different states to ask her if she will go to dances, like, with them, or go on a date,” she says.
But their tone changes when I mention I’m going to interview D’Amelio: “Ask her to duet with Julia and me!” “Yes omg!” “YES!”
It’s hard to explain why, exactly, D’Amelio is famous. Like many teens, she makes dance videos on TikTok. She lives in Connecticut with her parents and older sister, Dixie — all of whom now have their own TikTok accounts. (Her dad, Marc, just reached 165,000 followers, and Dixie has 928,700.) She posts fun videos of herself and her friends dancing to whatever song is popular on TikTok each day. Due to her stratospheric follower count, she tends to dominate the algorithmic recommendations on TikTok’s “For You” home screen.
It’s all resulted in attention she isn’t yet sure how to deal with. “It’s very weird, especially like when it’s [from] older people,” D’Amelio says. “Both girls and guys commenting on a 15-year-old’s appearance and her body shape and how she looks.”
In total, D’Amelio has created over 372 videos, most of her dancing or lip-synching to a sound trending on TikTok. The clips are, for lack of a better word, uninspiring — but that’s what makes them so popular. She’s found a way to elevate TikTok’s brand of everyday cringe comedy.
Sure, D’Amelio’s videos are repetitive — but they’re joyful and simple, too, making them easy to meme. They’re adaptable to any type of “duet,” a TikTok feature that allows users to create a response to another video. Her arm often extends off-camera when dancing, making it easy to create a physical-comedy “duet” (like you’ve gotten hit in the face, for instance).
“A fourth of [the videos] are [D’Amelio] doing her thang. The other fourth is crowd of guys showing her off while she’s doing her thang. The next half features people GOING OFF about how she is overhyped and overrated,” writes Megan Nguyen, 15, the editor-in-chief of ArapahoeXtra, the student newspaper for Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado. For days, the only available press about D’Amelio was Nguyen’s article, titled “I Don’t Understand the Hype Either, but Yay Charli D’Amelio!”
The other press was on the site Famous Birthdays, which tracks the trends of internet celebrities and has become something like Wikipedia for Gen Z influencers. “Charli is riding the ‘For You’ wave, and that wave is a huge opportunity,” says Famous Birthdays founder Evan Britton. Her page on the site, Britton says, is doing big numbers: D’Amelio is the 47th most popular person on Famous Birthdays, just one spot ahead of Zendaya.
D’Amelio’s popularity is still confined largely to TikTok. While boasting more than 741,000 followers on Instagram, she has a modest 6,500 on Twitter and an inactive YouTube account. But with over 1 billion users worldwide, TikTok is a big deal to go viral on. And TikTok fame is starting to bleed into real life, too.
D’Amelio’s first meet-and-greet, held last week in Norwalk, Connecticut, sold out. But the biggest shock for her fans was the $100 charge to take a photo or TikTok with her. This fee was trashed (of course) on TikTok, which itself created more content and hype around D’Amelio. Then she posted a response, informing fans the money is all going to charity.
Charli’s mother, Heidi D’Amelio, tells MEL this is the first meet-and-greet the family has ever put on. They based the $100 amount off other meet-and-greets they’d researched. “You know, I can’t say that thought might not have run through my head if I if that were someone else. We probably should have worded it differently,” she says. Dad Marc D’Amelio, a prominent Connecticut Republican, wasn’t available for an interview, but he tells me the family is being bombarded with calls and emails.
Charli tells me the negativity is overwhelming on- and offline, especially in school. Her classmates record her walking to class and share it with one another in private Snapchat stories and group chats. “It’s the internet,” she says. “Everything gets around, you know. Like, no way I wasn’t going to see that.”
On TikTok, people criticize her dancing as “basic,” but so does Charli. “I don’t know what else to say about that,” she says. “I know all my years of training aren’t helping with TikTok dancing, but I know that TikTok dancing is fun.”
More than anything, D’Amelio represents a new wave of accidental celebrities. She readily admits that TikTok stardom isn’t something she sought out. But now that she has the followers, why not take a stab at a career as an internet celebrity?
“They’re focused, they want to do this and they’re hustling,” Heidi says of her two daughters. “Trying to, you know, grow their brand as individuals and sisters. Marc and I are here to make sure they’re good emotionally and they’re supported.”
As for the fame, Heidi adds, “We don’t need this as a family. We are fine without it, and we’ll be fine with it if that’s what they choose to do.”
Charli’s critics might find her cringeworthy, but they’re still consuming her content. D’Amelio refuses to be anything but bubbly and bright on TikTok. “I get self-conscious and I get insecure, as everybody else does, but I try not to show that,” Charli says. “It’s going to make them feel like they won, and I’m not going to let them feel like that.”
What’s Charli’s future? She’s going to pursue internet fame, but the ultimate goal is to be a dancer like Jennifer Lopez. She’s certainly not the only teenager creating dance videos, so if this is her entry into the entertainment world, she’s going to take it.
Charli adds, “Like, so many people do this. Just not everyone posts it. And whatever I did, I guess, worked.”