Don’t Just Follow

Kylie Jenner (far right) has managed to garner a huge Instagram following AP PHOTO

Kylie Jenner (far right) has managed to garner a huge Instagram following AP PHOTO

How is it that Selena Gomez has the most-followed Instagram account of all time? How in the world do her 109 million followers top Taylor Swift’s 97.1 million, Beyoncé’s 94 million or Kylie Jenner’s 85.4 million?

These are the questions I ponder – and for good reason, too.

Who we idolize speaks to who we are. Would Marilyn Monroe, doomed bombshell of the ’50s, a smart woman too famous for playing dumb, captivate precisely the same way today? Could Donald Trump have ascended so stunningly to the presidency in any era other than the one that cultivates acutely self-aware celebrity like the Kardashian family?

You could argue that the answer is “yes” to both queries (after all, Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor, and the socialite Gabor sisters had 20 marriages between them), but today’s celebrity is different in one crucial way: They have social media.

How important can an Instagram be to a celebrity brand?

Well, to return to the ever-fascinating Kardashian family, Kim sits at the top (as she ought, being the founder of their family’s present fame) with 91.8 million Instagram followers. But Kylie is a strong, undisputed second, topping all her other, more famous and (arguably) more accomplished siblings: Khloe (62.3 million), Kourtney (52.6 million) and Kendall (73.8 million). (For your amusement, their mother Kris Jenner has 16.4 million followers.)

I think it’s now fairly easy to see Kim’s genius in parlaying that one sex tape (and friendship with Paris Hilton) into a world wonder of an empire. Anyone who calls her vapid at this point is just being obtuse. The woman had an opportunity, and she took it. Mad respect. Of course, the rest of us regular humans are unlikely to amass such an army of followers if we released a sex tape (hard to believe, I know) but you could always buy instagram followers in you wanted to boost your profile.

But what the hell does Kylie do?

Well, let me tell you: Kylie knows how to use social media.

Leaving aside the discomfiting questions as to the origins of her absurdly voluptuous hourglass figure, she (or her team) is just phenomenally good at picking up on fashion and makeup trends and marketing herself as the ideal. She knows what teen girls consider to be #goals, and she’s become the #goal – whether that goal be “thick” or “always at the beach” or “look, makeup swatches.” She even has an impeccably clean, eye-catching design on her cosmetics line.

Comments on her photos – at least on Instagram, still obstinately the young people’s platform of choice – are mostly adulatory, full of heart eyes and fire emoji.

You may not see it yourself. You may not even believe me. But Kylie knows better than either of us. She is paving the way for a new future that largely flies under the mainstream media’s radar. Furthermore, she could also be setting the trends or influencing individuals and brands to get Instagram followers.

And that future is about image – controlled image. Nothing on social media is spontaneous these days. Everything is calculated for maximum impact because there’s no need to filter through a middleman, anymore. You are being asked to believe certain truths when the celebrity starts speaking directly to you. If nothing else, Taylor’s smiling, sun-kissed girl squad and Beyoncé’s regal, Renaissance-style baby bump announcement should tell you that.

You must be aware of this dimension of celebrity, so that you can deconstruct and understand it.

That all being said, I still have no idea how Selena is doing this.