Fifteen Minutes of Fame: How a single meme can lead to a lifetime of internet fame.
The popularisation of the internet has provided new ways for ordinary people to gain fame and followership, as Abidin (2018) remarks in their book, Internet Fame. Internet virality, which is how fast something spreads and becomes popular, is often short-lived. In this way, the popular quote often attributed to the artist, Andy Warhol: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”, is proven to be true. However, there are certain cases where people have been able to use their famous memes to build long-lasting relevance and careers. The cases of Danielle Bregoli and Brittany Tomlinson, are relevant examples.
Brittany Tomlinson, also known as ‘Kombucha Girl’ became a meme when a video of her tentatively sipping a Kombucha drink became a viral meme in 2019. The original context of the video, received multiple iterations as people re-captioned it with relatable texts such as “me re-reading my writing after thirty minutes”. Following the popularity of the meme, Tomlinson has been able to maintain a following of 6 million TikTok followers and 726 thousand Instagram followers. She continues to make comedic videos, as a social media influencer has partnered with brands such as Chipotle, and has been featured in Vox and Time Magazine. The online creator is one of the few who has been able to channel their internet fame into a legitimate career.
Danielle Bregoli, also known as the Cash Me Outside Girl, became famous when a clip of her uploaded on to the Dr Phil YouTube channel went viral in 2016. The clip elicited varying reactions from internet users — but mostly disgust disappointment and annoyance. Her use of explicit language and inappropriate behaviour made the thirteen-year-old a topic of conversation online. Bregoli has been able to leverage her internet fame to build a relevant music career, signed to Atlantic Records and a Billboard Music Award nomination. Her social media following is equally as impressive, with 17 million followers on Instagram and 500 thousand Twitter followers.
An example of an internet-famous meme star who could not maintain relevancy is Alex LaBeouf, better known as ‘Alex from Target’. They became a meme after a photo of them working at a Target supermarket store went viral in 2014. Although the famous meme, brought about a meteoric increase in social media followers, sale of merchandise, a national tour and an appearance on the Ellen show, he has not been able to maintain a long-lasting career. Other cases include the ‘Eyebrows on Fleek’ girl, the ‘Angry Baby’ and ‘B-sh what’ girl, among others.
Considering that many people do remain relevant after going viral, could it be that much of what happens after internet virality, is up to chance? Li (2019) remarks that the secret to staying relevant is to make the trend last for as long as you can. Using the example of Brigoli, they hypothesise that her involvement in internet feuds and her positive rebranding has resulted in her four-year relevance, long after the viral meme stopped trending. Furthermore, consistent content uploads are a requirement for prolonging internet fame. Both Bregoli and Tomlinson created content that would attract new followers who knew them from their previously famous memes.
I believe that internet memes can be a medium for maintaining a long career in entertainment and social media content creation. Maintaining relevancy through consistent uploads and rebranding are some of the ways of meme stars.