Television

Charli D’Amelio Has Girlbossed Her Way Too Close to the Sun

You can’t always get what you want—even with 100 million TikTok followers.

Four people (three women and one man) stand on a red carpet in front of a black banner that says MTV VMAs on it in red and white letters. The two women on the left wear black dresses and heels; the third woman, in the middle, wears a pink two-piece dress and pink heels. The man, to the far right, wears a black suit, white shirt, and black-and-white sneakers. They smile at the camera.
From left: Heidi D’Amelio, Dixie D’Amelio, Charli D’Amelio, and Marc D’Amelio. Jason Kempin/Getty Images

The influencer-to-reality-star pipeline is real, and now it’s claimed its latest victims: TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The sisters have made the jump from the app’s small screen to Hulu, headlining their own reality show about … well, that jump, and the other attempts at off-platform fame they’re chasing after becoming TikTok’s biggest names. But what the show ends up being is a look at girlboss-ery on overdrive, as these girls try to juggle everything— even though they may never be able to do so, nor handle the costs.

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The D’Amelio Show (all eight episodes of which dropped on September 3) follows the two sisters along with their parents, Marc and Heidi, living in Los Angeles and navigating influencer life. Charli D’Amelio, who turns 17 in the final episode of the season, holds the title of the most-followed creator on TikTok with 124 million followers, after shooting to fame in 2019 with her viral dance performance videos. Dixie D’Amelio, now 20, joined TikTok months after her sister did and also found success; she now has 54 million followers and has since launched a music career. All four of the D’Amelios serve as executive producers on the show, along with D’Amelio Family Enterprises President Greg Goodfried. (That’s right: The family set up a whole company around their daughters.) The D’Amelio Show is far from the only piece of content to come from the family beyond TikTok: Both sisters have YouTube channels; and the family boasts two podcasts (one hosted by the sisters, the other by their parents).

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For those expecting to glean tips on how to become hugely popular social media influencers or to understand how TikTok fame even works, however, The D’Amelio Show is not the place to look. It’s far more interested in showing the two TikTok stars as people, choosing not to delve into how the sisters ascended to viral fame nor how they produce their content. (It also does not address how Charli and other white, privileged, conventionally attractive creators shot to fame on the app by performing dances choreographed by uncredited Black creators, a reality oft-ignored when talking about these TikTok popular girls. ) We do see glimpses of promotional shoots and fittings, primarily for the sisters’ Hollister line, Social Tourist, which sponsors the show, and Charli occasionally films dances with friends. But beyond that, the show doesn’t go into content production or even how the girls earn money from all of their ventures—let alone how much they’re making, although we presume it’s a ton, given how big their house is. This show claims to be an honest, authentic look at the girls, but it’s far from the full picture.

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Instead, the series focuses on the D’Amelio sisters’ personal lives—particularly their relationships to their family, friends and partners, their struggles with mental health, and their creative pursuits (dancing for Charli, singing for Dixie). This may be appealing to their fans, young people who have learned a lot about their TikTok talents but perhaps not as much about what they’re really like off-camera. Because what we do see of their lives here is a dark, upsetting portrait, and we can only hope that things aren’t quite so emotionally futile.

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At the start of the series, Dixie struggles with online abuse hurled at her as she develops her singing career. She is frequently accused of piggybacking on her sister’s fame. When Dixie goes to singing lessons—she has a separate team behind her music career, including vocal coach Stevie Mackey, whose clients include Jennifer Lopez and Selena Gomez—she’s shy and anxious, increasingly uncertain about her prospects. The first episode ends with a particularly intense moment: Dixie in tears due to hateful comments on a ”24 Hours With…” video for Vogue.

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But Dixie’s storyline has an upward trajectory. By the end of the series, Dixie is more upbeat, and  she even jokes when telling her parents about negative comments on an episode of her YouTube talk show, The Early Late Night Show, Her osteopathic doctor, who she sees for help in improving her mental and physical health (in addition to seeing a therapist), meets with the family and notes how much progress Dixie’s made toward her boosting her self-esteem; she even can laugh about the infamous Vogue video.

Charli’s story, on the other hand, is not as uplifting. She often comes across in her talking head interviews and other unscripted moments as timid, stressed, and sad. She feels guilty for the abuse that Dixie receives online, she says; at one point, Charli claims that she was having as many as 15 panic attacks a day, because of, well, everything. She takes down a video of her doing a dance improvisation to a Billie Eilish song after it receives a barrage of comments that, for some strange reason, reference a widespread prediction that she is going to die soon.  Yet she doesn’t want to quit social media, because she fears that would be giving into the haters that are trying to bully her off the platform, and her virality helps support the livelihoods of several people, including her family. It’s important to note here how much her own privilege plays into that relationship: Many creators do not have access to the deals, financial resources, personnel, and equipment that Charli has—not to mention her family’s huge new house in L.A., where she can stage all of these endeavors and get their help monetizing her social media profiles.

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But the attempts she does make at finding help for herself don’t go so well: She later recounts an appointment she had to her friends where the therapist said that his daughter was a fan. “He was like, ‘Yeah, you might be struggling, but you make my daughter really happy,’” Charli says. Even her parents express concern at times, if faintly. In the first episode, the D’Amelio Enterprises team presents Charli with a series of binders and sits the family down for a presentation on Charli’s commitments for 2021. Heidi reacts to all of this serious business with the question, “Where is the binder where she gets to be a kid and to make time for dance?” The show answers it bleakly: There isn’t any. Charli has to focus on not just sustaining but growing a career made on viral hits at the behest of her family and team, who are eager to capitalize on her fame. While Charli starts taking dance lessons again in the first episode, she wonders whether she’ll ever be able to put in enough practice time to compete like she used to. Hard as she tries to have it all, Charli comes off as nothing but trapped under the weight of a demanding career and having to grow up completely in public, and it’s unclear if she truly wants to continue—or can even stop.

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Halfway through the series (whose runtime clocks in around four hours) Charli is self-aware enough to admit that she feels overworked and is in danger of burnout. Her parents finally help her  take a week off and then reduce the number of hours she works each day. But as Charli is girl-bossing her way through her own trials and tribulations—the burnout, the anxiety, the guilt, the fears—she loses her greatest passion: dance, the very thing that made her famous in the first place. She never does end up being able to find enough time for dance practice, and at the end, she decides to stop lessons altogether, saying that social media had ruined her relationship to something she once loved. That break-up may be the show’s saddest of all, the thread that pushes it from “disappointing” into “depressing” territory.

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The show is uneven in how it handles mental health issues. The series didn’t address Charli’s anxiety with the time, weight and care as Dixie’s. Dixie is more open about it, which could be why more time was dedicated to her mental health. (Twice on the show her parents mention that they wanted to keep it private, but that Dixie said it was okay to show it on camera.) Dixie’s mental health is discussed at length in interviews with her and her parents; while Charli’s is a topic mentioned briefly in conversation with her friends or in her talking heads. Charli D’Amelio is a real girl, yeah, but she is also one with less wiggle room to mess up than other people, including her own sister, because of, as she frequently points out, the 100 million sets of eyes watching her every move.

If the point of the series is to show Charli and Dixie D’Amelio as they are—which, it seems,  is stressed out, exhausted, and frightened by online abuse —then I ask: Why are these cameras even on? I can’t help but start to feel bad for these girls who, in many ways, do have the success they’ve always wanted—because it now looks like a runaway train they have no interest or hope in stopping.

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