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Charli D’Amelio
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Charli D’Amelio faced the internet’s harshest critics and won

The 16-year-old has enjoyed an unstoppable rise, with the largest TikTok following in the world – but this week, her TikTok crown was threatened by scandal involving a snail and beauty YouTuber James Charles

They say it takes 10 years to be an overnight success, but 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio did it in a year. Since going viral on TikTok in July 2019, Charli has continued to defy the curse of the one hit wonder, climbing the unforgiving ranks of influencer fame to claim the milestone of becoming the first person in the world to hit 100 million followers on TikTok. Her ascent to stardom has been every publicist’s dream, without scandal or skeletons in the closet. Until this week, that is, when a single encounter with a snail threatened to topple her entire career. 

Escargot my car(eer) go:

As TikTok’s most famous teen, Charli has quite literally become the poster child for the shifting entertainment landscape in 2020. A founding member of the app’s most notorious content house, aptly named the “Hype House”, Charli was, on the surface, just another fresh-faced teen enjoying her 15 minutes of fame. But something about Charli hit different. 

Charli gained close to eight million followers in the first month of this year, with a TikTok bio that read, “don’t worry i don’t get the hype either” – a hallmark of Gen Z self deprecation. She appeared in a Super Bowl commercial alongside Megan Thee Stallion and Scary Spice, catapulting her from the For You page into the mainstream. In February, before the world shut down, Charli was courtside at the NBA All-Star game, dancing with J Lo, and front row at Milan fashion week, courtesy of Prada. By March, Charli was officially the most followed person on TikTok, toppling Loren Gray off the top spot – a creator who had been posting on the app since 2016, back when it was still 

Brand deals followed thick and fast; a partnership with Hollister alongside older sister Dixie, a collection with beauty brand Morphe and, of course, a collaboration with Dunkin’ Donuts for a signature drink called “The Charli” (which boosted Dunkin’ app downloads by 57 per cent and led to a 45 per cent surge in sales). This was a full circle moment for the teenager, who affectionately refers to her fans as “dunkins”. Last month, the D’Amelio sisters launched their own podcast “Charli and Dixie: 2 Chix”, a joint venture between UTA and Entercom’s Cadence13. Unsurprisingly, Forbes crowned Charli TikTok’s second highest earner in August, with estimated earnings of $4 million. 

Make no mistake, 2020 needed an influencer, and we got it in Charli D’Amelio. 

But heavy is the head that wears the TikTok crown. Fast forward to this week, on the cusp of hitting the record-setting milestone of 100 million followers, Charli faced her biggest pressure test yet; a scandal sandwiched between a snail and YouTube beauty guru James Charles.

The premise was simple: a YouTube series inviting a celebrity guest over for tea and gossip – complete with a private chef. It was supposed to be the litmus test for a new era of Keeping Up With The D’Amelios. What could possibly go wrong? 

In a trial by TikTok, a lot actually. In the episode, while pushing a snail around her plate and asking if there were Dino nuggets instead, Charli revealed a personal aspiration to the world: she wished she’d had more time to hit 100 million followers (exactly a year after hitting her first million). No really, that’s the tea. We boiled it down so you don’t have to: the crimes in question equate to bad table manners and the admission of ambition. A 2020 scandal, no less.

“Girl we are people – be grateful,” a user posted underneath one of Charli’s TikToks, shortly after the dinner party was uploaded. Another reads: “I lost respect for this family after I saw the chef video.” Both of these comments have been liked by hundreds of thousands of other TikTok users, pushing them to the top of the feed in a comments section which has seen more than 1.3 million people partake in the pile on. Then, as is ritual when any internet scandal breaks loose, the grand unfollowing began in earnest: one million of them in 24 hours, to be precise. 

There were death threats too, aimed at 16-year-old Charli – another par for the course in an influencer’s unraveling that we’ve become increasingly desensitised to. While this may feel like an episodic cancelling, of which Charli was the internet’s latest victim, dig a little deeper (past the snail and the performative outrage) and you’ll find a disturbing common denominator: misogyny. 

In an era where content is king and the commodification of scandal is hot property, there’s still an appetite for “boys will be boys” bad behaviour – most notably among Charli’s peers, the Sway Boys (a content house similar to Charli’s influencer alma mater). Founding member, 21-year-old Bryce Hall, can be seen stomping on tables at popular L.A. influencer hangout, Saddle Ranch, fighting with restaurant employees, and hosting parties big enough to have his power shut off by the city’s mayor… in the middle of a pandemic. Scandal? It’s *crickets* for his cancellation. 

“This was social media schadenfreude on a mass scale; a mob mentality that specialises in taking down young women with ambition and a platform earned through merit”

In lieu of social media exile, the Sway Boys are, instead, rewarded and legitimised with lucrative opportunities, such as podcasts on venture capital and co-signs by media conglomerates, like Barstool’s Dave Portnoy. Where young men are afforded the luxury of making mistakes and, most importantly, earning public forgiveness, women continue to be held to impossibly high standards – facing the wrath and judgement of the internet when things don’t quite go to plan. 

The irony is not lost on us that this happened to Charli D’Amelio, a young woman within touching distance of making history when this “scandal” came to light. Known as “an unproblematic queen” by her fans, Charli is more familiar with making headlines for her philanthropy or partnership with UNICEF on... wait for it... cyberbullying, rather than family dinners. A fallout over bad manners felt like breaking royal (TikTok) protocol for the most famous teenager in the world. 

Make no mistake, this was social media schadenfreude on a mass scale; a mob mentality that specialises in taking down young women with ambition and a platform earned through merit. When the fires of public scrutiny had died down, Charli quietly hit 100M on Sunday morning, only a little behind schedule. Remarkably, in the ultimate teenage power move, she slept through crossing the milestone and awoke the world celebrating her success, instead of her demise. And with her short-lived scandal, Charli stays winning; securing the bag and her spot on our For You pages until TikTok do us part. 

Alice and Faye write the High Tea newsletter, a weekly rumination on internet culture – subscribe here