Senegal-born Khaby Lame is as well-known on TikTok as Charli D’Amelio — Quartz Africa
The newest TikTok star to hit 100 million followers is not a musician, actor, or athlete. It is a 21 year old former factory worker who lives in Italy on a Senegalese passport.
Khaby Lame has created a comedic brand that has caught on around the world by setting life hacks or complicated maneuvers through the lens of intuitive everyday options. In response to an ad for a car rearview mirror to detect pedestrians, he sees his video looking before opening the car door (34.1 million views). A duet with someone who slowly and carefully cuts off the peel of a banana with a chef’s knife shows Lame looking at the fruit questioningly before simply peeling it with his hands (37.8 million views).
His videos are not overproduced, he hardly speaks in them, but lets himself be convinced by simple actions and conveys humor to the audience. This audience includes people in Italy, where he has lived since childhood, and in Senegal, where television stations regularly talk about him.
Only Charli D’Amelio, an American teenager whose dances and other content has attracted 122 million followers, has more TikTok followers than Lame, cementing Gen-Z’s grip on the shortened form of internet video. No star can claim more popularity or global influence than Will Smith (one of Lame’s inspirations), Billie Eilish or Jason Derulo. But the mega-milestone is earning lame titles like “Gen-Z Mr Bean” and teasing a template for other creators seeking global cross-over.
From factory work to fame
Lame rose from 40 million to 65 million TikTok followers between April and June this year, but 17 months ago he was an unknown factory worker.
The start of the coronavirus lockdowns in Italy cost him that job and freed up time for his next act: recording videos in his bedroom and posting them for fun. He gained 50,000 followers between his first video, which hydrated him at the Whoa Dance on March 15th, and May 14th. His 900+ videos have since generated an estimated 1.5 billion likes and net worth of at least $ 1 million.
Lame’s fame was not inevitable. His particular type of dead humor does not appeal to everyone, and other creators may find it more difficult to accomplish his “duh” act without words.
But his timing was great – and not just comedic. He jumped on TikTok when it supplanted Facebook-owned products and became the most downloaded app in the world.
Lame also excelled at using TikTok’s duet and video stitch options. The Stitch feature, introduced last September, allows TikTok creators to embed and tag other people’s videos as a kind of response. Having a popular account using it frequently and getting a lot of views can add excitement among users and creators.
As Insider suggested, TikTok’s “For You” feature, which recommends videos to users, might be very inclined to choose Stitch videos. The virality value of the feature has been adopted by brands such as the National Basketball Association (NBA), Amazon Prime Video and Puma. “By naming the original creator, it has the potential to increase your reach,” explains SEO blogger Neil Patel.
TikTok wants more African creatives
Can Lame be a template for an African creator? The China-based app intentionally aims to expand its base on the continent by working directly with the creators. In July, she announced a cash grant for 20 South African creatives. Each of them will receive a portion of Rand 860,000 (approximately $ 57,000) in addition to mentoring for content creation and curation.
TikTok has also signed up YouTubers in Nigeria, especially those who started on Instagram and YouTube, and promises higher visibility and more followers.
Success with the app can be difficult to maintain and requires even greater scrutiny, but it can lead to massive opportunities. African co-creator Elsa Majimbo, also known for her humorous reactions to Kenya’s lockdown, has worked with Valentino, has campaigned for Fenty, won an E! People’s Choice Award and was recently signed by the US Creative Artists Agency.
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