By Farrell Sweeney
For millennials, a world without social media is nearly impossible to envision. For those of previous generations, the pre-digital age is a far off memory of a time unclouded by screens.
As a millennial myself, I have my history textbooks to describe life before social media: a time when the general public collectively turned to two industries to fill their spare time- the sports industry and the entertainment industry.
White and blue collar workers alike spent their weekends watching baseball, football, and basketball. Meanwhile, Hollywood captured not only the attention of Americans, but people from all over the world. There are countless stories of even the poorest people saving up for or sneaking into a movie theater on a Friday night to see the latest flick; Going to a ball game with dad was almost an inherent part of childhood; And taping posters of the latest teen boy band or young hot soap star to your bedroom wall was a prerequisite for being a teenager.
Because there weren’t 300 networks showing 700 different sitcoms, TV and movie actors of hit series and films achieved the ultimate star status. There wasn’t iTunes or YouTube to “recommend” an obscure band from Mississippi that you would like based off of your purchases. So musical fame was achieved by those who were played on the radio and could sell records.
The Formula To Becoming Famous
Within the entertainment industry, how the public chose to entertain themselves fit into a very predictable box of categories: TV, music, film, and theater. Because of this, a person had arguably specific options when it came to how to achieve fame.
You could be a:
-a movie/tv star
-a radio personality
While an athlete’s rise to notoriety is contingent on skill, and skill alone, those in the entertainment industry had to be cast or signed. It was a linear world where talent needed industry executives to create opportunities and connect them with audiences. Musicians needed to be booked to venues, and their music needed to be played on the radio. Actors needed auditions to land the roles that would catapult them into the spotlight.
Goodbye to the Middle-Man
Social media has shaken up this linear relationship, and in turn, the industry.
Individuals now have the ability to grow a fan base of their own independent of agents and record labels. This has begun the emergence of a new breed of fame- the self-made celebrity.
Let’s look at Perez Hilton as an example. As a graduate from NYU in 2000, Hilton’s dream was to become an actor. Despite having graduated from one of the top acting schools in the country, Hilton never landed a break out role.
20 years ago, an inability to get cast would have meant the end of Hilton’s career in the entertainment industry. However, when his own acting career didn’t pan out, Hilton turned to blogging about others who had made it. His blog, perezhilton.com, covered celebrity gossip and breaking celebrity news.
Ironically, the blog Hilton wrote in his spare time is what launched his career and became the key to his fame. After about 6 months into writing perezhilton.com, the blog’s popularity sky rocketed when The Insider decided to do a piece naming his blog “Hollywood’s most hated website.”
In an interview with ABC, Hilton stated, “It was like a little bubble went off,” he said. “I’m like, wow, this little thing that I started as a hobby is getting me on television. There’s something to this.” And he was right, there was.
Hilton now has an estimated net worth of $30 million, and a majority of his income comes from advertising revenue for his blog, which attracts more than 7.2 million viewers a month. Hilton has arguably achieved the same level of notoriety as your average soap opera star. Except in Hilton’s case, there were no agents, no casting companies, and no break out roles. It was him, a laptop, and a blog.
Welcome to a New Era of “Becoming Famous.”
Social media has given every individual a platform to showcase his/her talents. Moving to LA or NYC, while helpful, isn’t essential when it comes to breaking into the industry anymore. Whether it is a situation where a person amasses a sizable fan base on their own or are discovered through a social media posting, the ways to achieve fame are becoming broader and broader.
Great singer? Post YouTube videos from your small town in Iowa. If you get enough hits, a record label may not be able to ignore you. Look at Justin Bieber for example. What would entertainment news have been in 2013 had Bieber’s YouTube videos not been discovered by Usher’s talent team? The Grammy Award Winning singer started out like millions of others out there- just posting his home videos to the internet.
Want your idea to become a TV series? Put a pilot on YouTube, and maybe it will get enough views to catch the attention of a network. Great writer? Sending in pitches or manuscripts that largely remain unopened aren’t the only option anymore. A blog or Twitter account with a huge following can legitimize your writing abilities just as well as an agent can sometimes. Late Night with Seth Meyers recently hired an IT worker from Peoria, Illinois, to become a staff writer based solely off of the content posted on his 40,000 follower Twitter account.
In fact, did you know that the world’s biggest modeling competition has turned to Facebook for submissions? Elite Model Management’s “Look Of The Year” contest, which has discovered the likes of Cindy Crawford, Gisele Bundchen, and Stephanie Seymour, now accept submissions off of Facebook.
The industry is sprinkled with celebrities who have made their rise to fame through social media. Social media is all about the art of self-promotion. It gives individuals the ability to gather a fan base in their own right, and to translate that fan base into lucrative opportunities.
A New Kind of Celebrity
Social media has not only changed the road one takes to become a celebrity. It has also redefined what skills can be considered fame-worthy.
26-year-old Michelle Phan owes her rise to fame to a series of makeup tutorial videos she posted on YouTube. Her videos have since racked up over 867 million views. Because of her YouTube popularity, Phan landed a partnership with Lancome. She is also featured as a celebrity endorser in a series of Diet Dr. Pepper commercials.
Michelle Phan isn’t worth noting only because of her success. She is worth noting because 30 years ago there was not a place in Hollywood for an “online makeup tutorial artist.” There were singers, athletes, and movie stars.
Fame is still incredibly difficult to achieve and by no means a feasible option for the average person. Social media has given everyone at least a chance to showcase what they are good at, whether it is gossip columns, incredible tweets, or a unique voice. As the digital age carries on, we can expect to see more and more of these social media bred celebrities. We can also expect to see a broader group of skills catapulting people to the top. As to who the next YouTube or Twitter sensation is going to be- that’s where we can only sit back and guess.