So… North West and Penelope Disick are on TikTok now, and while I understand the ridiculousness of positioning the social media habits of an eight- and nine-year-old as newsworthy, I swear it’s a bigger deal than it seems.
Sure, they aren’t the first celebrity progeny to venture into social media influencing (I'm sure we all remember Aunt Becky's kid, Olivia Jade) and it’s not like joining the platform represents a sharp increase in their public profile (they’ve been in the public eye one way or another their whole lives). But I really do think there’s a deeper meaning to their sudden social media stardom than cute lip-synching videos and cool-kid OOTDs. In fact, the more I watch the content they’re producing, the more I’m convinced that what we’re seeing is the execution of a deliberate, multi-faceted plan that’s primarily about brand management/damage control but also serves to set up the next generation of the fam for business success.
First, the damage control. All of the Kardashian-related news hitting the timeline over the past month has been about one thing: protecting the brand after the disaster at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival. After the Nov. 5 crowd surge that killed 10 people, various members of the family were criticized for their responses; fans criticized Kylie and Kendall Jenner’s Instagram activity after the tragedy as insincere, while Khloe got heat for posting sexy selfies. And, on Nov. 10, the Sun reported that Kris was in “crisis mode” over the idea that Kylie might lose brand deals and sales in the aftermath of the concert. According to a source, “the longer [Kylie’s] companies go without being active on social media or promotion, the more sales go down and the less they make from marketing… We're talking potentially millions of dollars in losses." (Kylie’s rep denied these claims.) I don’t know about millions, but I can tell you that Kylie Cosmetics, Kylie Cosmetics, Kylie Baby and Kylie herself stopped posting on Instagram for more than two weeks after the tragedy, which is a lot of time from a marketing perspective, and they’ve delayed at least one planned launch—Kylie Cosmetics’ holiday makeup line, which usually drops in November.
Keeping that, and Kris’ business savvy, in mind, I think it’s very interesting that both North and Penelope went public with their accounts when they did. This is especially true of Penelope, who started her TikTok account, then under the name @blah445087, in mid-October; it was disabled last week “due to multiple Community Guidelines violations,” according to Page Six, which is likely about Penelope not yet being 13. But it was quickly reinstated and verified when it was renamed to @pandkourt, which also had the handy side effect of attracting several million new followers. Meanwhile, North launched her TikTok on Thanksgiving with a 14-video blitz, which indicates that branch of the fam was never interested in keeping her presence on the app a secret. In fact, that more than anything suggests this was a strategic move. She didn't just join the app; this was a launch.
And wouldn’t you know, they’ve both been engaging in some good old product placement featuring Kylie’s products. Penelope has posted several videos including Kylie Cosmetics or Skin products, including one video that’s vaguely, uncomfortably grown-up. For her part, North’s first slate of TikToks featured two videos about her aunt’s skincare. In total, just those three TikToks garnered 19.6 million views. This is perfect brand repair; as children, they're largely insulated from critique. What's more, their Kylie Skin videos functioned as a temporary replacement for Kylie's own posts, while also introducing the brand to a new demo and, most importantly, positioning the girls as an extension of their adult relatives' respective brands.
To be fair, it’s not that I think North and Penelope are being forced to make TikToks in some kind of Kardashian-Jenner social media sweatshop. They’re little girls who want to do what the cool older people in their lives are doing, so I’m sure they’ve been asking to join the platform for months if not years now. It’s more that I can easily imagine Kris—and Kim and Kourtney, obviously—instantly understanding the PR potential of two cute kids who charmingly make themselves snacks, mimic their older relatives (self-care! Closet tours! Getting their nails done!) and offer seemingly authentic glimpses of their family life. I mean, it's superficial, yeah, but also compelling.
That goes for all of the machinations that have been going on over the past four weeks, btw. I feel pretty certain Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson’s relationship was a PR stunt from the jump, but it’s one that ramped up significantly post-Astroworld. Yes, there was a week where they were spending tons of time together, from their roller-coaster handholding (Oct. 29) to dinner on Staten Island (Nov. 2) and dinner at Zero Bond, a private members’ club in Manhattan (Nov. 3), but those sightings all had a veneer of plausible deniability. Were they together together, or just messing with us? It wasn’t until Nov. 17, 12 days after Astroworld, that they seemingly confirmed their relationship by going social media-official with a truly bizarre photo. Since then, they’ve been spotted holding hands, connecting with each other's family—and of course, who can forget the hickey?
LETS NOT FORGET ABOUT ASTROWORLD EVEN THO KIM K AND DAVID IS APPARENTLY A THING AND KENDALL SHOWING OFF INAPPROPRIATE ATTIRE AT HER BESTFRIENDS WEDDING— ☁️ (@tamaraxue) November 19, 2021
Honestly, I’d even argue the drama over Kendall’s inappropriate wedding attire was calculated. This family has built its fortune almost exclusively by commodifying themselves, which means if the public loses interest, their revenue is at a greater and more immediate risk than public figures in more traditional creative fields. No wonder they are geniuses at meticulously controlling their collective and individual images, and in fact curating those images for maximum impact. I mean, they nod-and-winked their way through Kylie’s first, then-secret pregnancy, which did nothing to quash the rumours—the exact outcome they intended. More recently, the Pete Davidson reveal was destined to be a trending topic, partially because Kris knew there would be questions about how he managed to get with Kim, and also because people would naturally wonder what Kanye was going to do to him. They're masters at playing the public.
But… is anyone else getting succession planning vibes? The most public-facing members of the fam will likely one day transition to different types of careers. For starters, Kim is widely expected to take over for Kris on the momager front one day; in October, she told the Wall Street Journal that they’ve “talked about” Kim handling contract negotiations for the entire family, a task she’s already involved in. “If there’s a deal, it’s always my mom, me and our attorney talking it over,” she told the paper. “I would assemble a team of people to take over. I hope it doesn't happen for a really long time, because I'm really busy.” But when it does eventually happen, who will she be mom-aging? Maybe it’ll be her sisters, but more likely, her kids, nieces and nephews will fill the void, therefore expanding the empire.
I doubt we’ll see either of the girls monetizing their content right away—Kourtney has recently received backlash for allowing Penelope to get long fake nails, so launching a whole business will definitely be perceived as too grown-up—and there’s always the risk that they’ll get tired of being scrutinized as they get older and start their own (actually secret) accounts. But for now, they’re taking the first steps toward building their own brands, and the more they post, the larger their audience grows and the more primed they will be to succeed when the time does come. You can already seeing it happening, btw. Yes, lots of people are jokingly asking these kids to “play Cash App” (variations include playing Venmo, PayPal and give me Kim’s credit card number and pin) or spill the tea on Kim and Pete—but more importantly, they’re following, engaging, sharing and even developing opinions on whose social media presence is better.
Though, maybe it won’t be so long from now. Remember, in 2007, when they made their debuts on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kylie was 10 and Kendall was 12. By the time they were 15 and 17, they had started a clothing line with Pacsun. Two years later, they authored a YA novel and the year after that, Kylie released her first three Lip Kits, setting the stage for Kylie Cosmetics to become a billion-dollar brand when Coty bought a majority stake in 2019. Traditional timelines don’t mean anything to this family. In fact, Kylie’s now marketing Kylie Baby as a company she launched ‘with’ her daughter Stormi, who is (let’s not forget) three, and yet somehow still managed to test and approve all four products in the line.
So maybe P’s makeup line and North’s collab with some edgy fashion brand is closer than we think.
The California spiritual adviser who has become the medium to the stars. (I’m fascinated by the number of A-listers who spoke on the record about being clients of this woman who claims to channel Jesus.)
VH1’s new slate of raunchy Christmas movies 👀
The TikToker who breaks down niche graphic design and architectural aesthetics, from the 80s obsession with “Googie kitsch” to the more recent trend of blobby book covers. (Vox published a really interesting Q&A with her this week, too.)
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