Hi! I’m Stacy Lee Kong and this is Friday Things, a weekly newsletter about a pop culture story I can’t stop thinking about—and why it matters. If intersectional takes on media, entertainment and celebrity gossip are your jam, subscribe here.
This week, we are diving into one of my favourite topics to muse over: how much money celebrities have and whether it is too much, starring actor, People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive and #1 Friday Things crush Michael B. Jordan!
He was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Tuesday (wearing a shiny brown-on-brown lewk that I truly did not expect to like, but that’s the magic of MBJ, I guess) when he revealed that he was going to start an OnlyFans account to fund a barber school.
I truly thought this was a joke at first. I mean, it started with a conversation about his mustache. “His name is Murphy,” Jordan said. “We call him Murph for short. Got an OnlyFans coming soon—eating fruit, all types of crazy stuff. It’s going to get wild.”
But actually, it seems like Jordan was serious. When Kimmel joked that Murph could make at least $250,000 with an OnlyFans, he replied, “I’m actually going to start one, but like all the proceeds I want to go towards a barber school because during the quarantine, you know, there’s been so many businesses and schools that shut down.” That’s the point when Kimmel was like, “Oh, you’re really going to do that?” (which, same) and Jordan confirmed, saying, “Yeah, it’s a thing.”
Listen. If Michael B. Jordan pulled up and was like, “Yo, let’s get married,” I wouldn’t even have to think about my answer. Clearly, I’m a fan! (And I don’t want to talk about him and Lori Harvey.) But … I’m not sure how I feel about this.
A brief introduction to OnlyFans
By now I feel like we all know what OnlyFans is—or at least, we recognize it from the time that Beyoncé shouted it out on the remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage”—but for anyone who still isn’t clear: it’s a platform where content creators can monetize interactions with fans. It’s similar to Patreon in that it’s subscription-based, but unlike Patreon, it’s now associated mostly with sex work, in part because it takes a relatively low cut of creators’ earnings (only 20%). As the New York Times explained last year, OnlyFans is a place “where subscribers—mostly male; straight, gay and beyond—pay models and social media influencers a fee, generally $5 to $20 a month, to view a feed of imagery too racy for Instagram. With that access, subscribers can also direct message and ‘tip’ to get pictures or videos created on demand, according to their sexual tastes.”
And while that doesn’t seem like the platform of choice for image-conscious celebrities (that is… all of them), they have actually flocked to OnlyFans since the pandemic started. Think, Cardi B, Jordyn Woods, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Bella Thorne, Austin Mahone, Amber Rose, Aaron Carter (yeah… I don’t know either 🤷🏽♀), Chris Brown and Black Chyna.
To be fair, most of these celebrities aren’t publishing X-rated, or even R-rated content. When she announced her new account on Instagram, Cardi was very clear that she was not doing porn and instead intended to use OnlyFans as a way to connect with fans, saying “and to be clear, no I’m not going to be showing my titties, or my pussy, or my ass, just straight up real-life content shit. You guys be mad nosy when it comes to my life.”
And that’s actually very much aligned with how the platform works.
Surprisingly, even though it is welcoming to explicit material, “the hottest site in the adult entertainment industry is dominated by providers who show fewer sex acts and charge increasing fees depending on how creative the requests get,” according to the Times.
One of the creators the paper interviewed for the article speculated that people wanted a sense of connection more than anything else, so it’s no wonder that celebrities see the potential in the platform—of course dedicated fans are going to pay for exclusive (or at least, more-exclusive-than-IG) access to their favourite celebrity.
Celebrities are making how much?
And they’re going to pay a lot. OnlyFans estimates that someone with a million subscribers on other platforms who charges $4.99 per month can make between $49,900 and $249,500 monthly on the platform. This is based on their estimate that between 1% and 5% of your total social media followers will subscribe here, too. Cardi B has 78.3 million followers on Instagram and 15.3 million followers on Twitter, so if that calculation is accurate, she’s likely bringing in far more than $250K per month. And back in October, rapper Casanova made a post on Instagram that supports this hypothesis. We’ll take it with a grain of salt because I can’t find this information literally anywhere else, but according to his post, he’s one of the top 10 highest-earning celebrities on OnlyFans, raking in more than £800,000 per month (OnlyFans is based in the U.K.). Cardi, on the other hand, has a monthly intake of £8 million. The only celebs who make more are Bella Thorne (£9 million) and Black Chyna (£15 million).
You can see why stars are intrigued. At a time when their usual work (movies and TV shows, touring or lucrative appearances) is drying up, or at least harder to come by, steady income is nothing to sneeze at. That’s why we’re seeing more celebrities doing sponcon (including travel sponcon, ugh), as well as new brand partnerships and ad campaigns—Anna Kendrick for Frito-Lay chips anyone? As Variety pointed out in a recent article on her big-budget campaign, stars used to make tons of money doing advertisement in Asia while eschewing North American companies for fear directors would think less of them, but that’s no longer the case. “In today’s landscape, there’s just more ability for someone to brand themselves outside of their professional work,” David Schwab, an executive vice president at sports and entertainment marketing agency Octagon, told the magazine. “If you do something that isn’t liked by your fan base, you are going to have to deal with those repercussions and the chatter on your channels, but if you pick the right campaign with the right message, it can only add to that fan base—and the next opportunity.”
I’d argue the same is true of OnlyFans. While some celebs likely still don’t have a brand that could support dabbling in this type of content, it’s certainly not the kiss of death that it might have been in more puritanical times.
But about the actual sex workers, though…
Which brings me back to Michael B. Jordan. Because you know, I bet his brand would be mostly unaffected by an OnlyFans account. But does that mean he should be on the platform? I don’t think so—though not for marketing-related reasons.
You may remember that Thorne faced some serious backlash when she joined OnlyFans. Back in August, she made an account and proceeded to break all sorts of records, earning $1 million in just 24 hours (and $2 million in one week) by charging $20 a month to subscribe and $200 a pop for nude photos. The problem was, she didn’t actually provide nude photos, which led to many people requesting chargebacks. Around the same time, the platform instituted caps on what creators can charge for messages and what patrons can leave as tips. (They said it had nothing to do with Thorne, but… the timing is suspicious). And that meant sex workers who depend on the platform—especially during the pandemic when IRL sex work has become uniquely risky—started making less money.
I feel bad for OnlyFans girls right now because in 3 years this platform is going to be oversaturated to the point that you're making 1/5th of what you're making now because of simple economics. Celebrities are about to price you out of competition with name recognition added. https://t.co/vfFMBr3zXh— opti𝟗𝟗𝟗 🏝️⛩️ (@SubToOptimus) October 3, 2020
And it’s not just Thorne. In a New Statesman article published this September, journalist Sarah Manavis reported on the experiences of sex workers who use OnlyFans, and their stories were consistent: every time celebrities joined, these creators would see a noticeable dip in their income. Worse, they began to feel like the platform was treating them differently. As stars drew massive audiences to the platform—Manavis reports that traffic to the site more than doubled between March and August of this year—the sex workers who’d helped build it through their labour found their emails going unanswered, their likes disappearing and their engagement dropping.
“The influx of celebrities for whom sex work is a hobby is seen not only as financially troubling for those who rely on OnlyFans for a living, but also demeaning,” Manavis wrote. “When the notorious Instagrammer Caroline Calloway bragged on Twitter that she expected to make an annual salary of a quarter of a million dollars from her OnlyFans subscribers, sex workers flooded into her mentions to explain that ‘drop-ins’ by celebrities degrade sex workers who want their labour seen as valid. But with each new celebrity arrival, despite attempts to make their voices heard, sex workers voices are being quickly drowned out.”
Clearly, celebrities being on OnlyFans isn’t a moral issue. It’s a labour issue. And I don’t think Jordan should be participating in an ecosystem that not only prevents what is technically a bunch of small businesses from making a living, but also contributes to the idea that sex work isn’t actually real work. (It is; the International Labor Organization, the UN’s official labour agency, has classified it that way since 1998.) Nor should Cardi B, for that matter, or any of the other celebrities who are currently exploiting this system. They have so many other avenues for making money, and it seems a little greedy to do it this way, too.
PS, I’m also a little tired of celebrities using their fans to advance their philanthropy. Jordan could just donate some money to the barber shops himself, instead of asking his followers and fans to pitch in, especially since I know for a fact that we do not have an estimated net worth of $8 million.
Ishani Nath, pop culture expert, journalist and the most avid tv-watcher I have ever met, rounded up her top picks for what to stream in Canada this December.
And Did You Hear About…
This thoughtful Atlantic take on the Kardashians, COVID-19 and why the famous fam can’t seem to balance relatability and spectacle anymore.
David Dennis, Jr.’s super smart perspective on Dave Chappelle’s Netflix power play.
The celebratory and nuanced review of Happiest Season that I’ve been waiting for.
The perpetual conversation about whether the Grammys still matter—especially in light of the artists who were snubbed by the 2021 nominations (ahem, The Weeknd). Sadly, it seems this NPR column from 2019 is just as relevant as when it was written.
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