Before TikTok rose from the ashes of its predecessor, Vine, we didn’t know short, viral videos could create such sustained internet fame in the way it has. Now, TikTokers like Charli D’Amelio have all but become a household name.
Charlie D’Amelio’s older sister Dixie and another TikTok star Addison Rae have recently taken advantage of their celebrity status and set their sights on the music industry. With the far reach of their social media fame, these stars can unlock opportunities in practically any area they want to pursue, whether that be fashion, beauty, podcasting, modeling, acting or music.
Dixie D’Amelio and Rae have since released singles that have been widely critiqued as mediocre, but have still earned a spot on the Emerging Artists chart with millions of streams. The artists were even given the privilege of appearing on prominent talk shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Their talent is not the driving force behind their empire. Rather, their conventional beauty, wealth and familial connections — in the case of Dixie D’Amelio — paired with the alarming power of TikTok have guaranteed them success regardless of the quality of their content.
Dixie D’Amelio’s father was the one who helped her set up an appointment with Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer Billy Mann to jumpstart her music career. As a result, Dixie D’Amelio then went on to work with established artists Blackbear, Lil Mosey and Liam Payne.
Though not through familial connections, Rae was able to capitalize on the fame she gathered from her looks and participation in TikTok dance trends to enlist the help of high-profile studios, songwriters, producers and agencies to expand into pop music.
Privilege is a lack of barriers, obstacles and disadvantages. In the case of Dixie D’Amelio and Rae, it’s also the ability to start their music careers at a considerable advantage — they were already famous, well-known and sought after. It’s no wonder they were offered these lucrative opportunities.
Nepotism, pretty privilege and white privilege have pervaded the music and entertainment industry for a while, but bringing social media influencers into the fold so casually highlights these flaws.
Though artists such as Miley Cyrus, Willow Smith, Whitney Houston and Enrique Iglesias enjoyed the perks of having celebrity parents, their music careers seem to be based primarily on merit and talent. It’s hard to justify the same for Dixie D’Amelio and her songs “One Whole Day” and “Be Happy.”
But at least Dixie D’Amelio and Rae are transparent about their roots — perhaps because their rise to fame has been so closely chronicled.
The pre-existing nepotism and favoritism in the industry has been more hidden and well-guarded in comparison. Especially in the indie genre, bedroom pop is marketed to be inclusive and approachable. It’s a newer genre, and, as the name suggests, it doesn’t appear to require connections, recording studios or equipment — just your voice, your passion, a microphone and a bedroom.
Sadly, many of the well-known, inspiring stories of bedroom pop artists aren’t telling the whole truth. Indie artist Clairo, for example, may seem like the personification of a “rags to riches” success story after one of her YouTube videos went viral prior to her emergence on the music scene. But in reality, she owes her success in part to her father Geoff Cottrill, who knew the co-founder of the label she signed onto.
Numerous other “down to earth” artists actually benefited from their parental connections or wealth, such as King Princess.
A lack of transparency from the artists we idolize — about the process and how they got to be where they are — only gives fans a false sense of inspiration and dismisses the very real obstacles most other musicians face. We need the artists themselves to acknowledge the issue and the nepotism they have benefited from before we can start fixing it.
One might argue that the music industry’s barrier to entry has lowered in recent years, and that anyone with a computer and a voice can achieve stardom. All you need to do is upload your songs to SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Spotify or TikTok. TikTok in particular, given its ability to circulate songs and sounds that go viral, can boost an unknown artist’s platform and reach the For You Pages of thousands of users.
With this in mind, we might even conclude that nepotism is changing forms: familial influence is being replaced by social media’s influence.
However, the issue with this logic is that even if the barrier to entry is lowered, effectively giving prospective singers a shot at fame, there clearly remain a prioritization of the already famous or connected and unequal obstacles for artists of color: the way colorism directly impacts the success of female artists of color, the whitewashing of prestigious awards, the stigma of music venues and every microaggression or ingrained racism that discourages new musicians every step of the way.
Ultimately, the successes of Dixie D’Amelio and Rae are merely symptoms of a larger problem with how we “discover” new talent. We shouldn’t send them hate for capitalizing on their recognition and privilege to explore new passions — after all, wouldn’t you do the same? Furthermore, that criticism is easily conflated with internalized misogyny that everyone must overcome.
Expending energy by criticizing their songs is counterproductive and only serves to give them more press and attention. Instead, we could use our collective power to uplift as many smaller artists as we can by actively seeking out and supporting those who are producing music on well-known platforms such as Spotify — or even those who are getting started at your local open-mics post-pandemic.