Best known for claiming to have the “smallest apartment in Manhattan”, Axel Webber shot to viral fame in late 2021 with short comedic TikToks about his eccentric lifestyle. Originally from Georgia, the aspiring actor has had his fair share of controversies in the short time that he has been in the limelight. While his videos are seemingly positive and on the surface make light of his situation, his large audience has meant his actions have had unforeseen consequences.
Sudden Rise to Fame
Similar to other online sensations, Axel shot to fame in December 2021 with a single viral video– a tour of his very small apartment in New York City– seeing over 33 million views. People were drawn to his happy and positive personality, the intriguing layout of his tiny apartment and his living circumstances as a result.
Within the month, Axel had gained 2 million followers, less than four months later, he boasts a following of 4.2 million. As a result of his viral stardom, Axel has been presented with hoards of opportunities, including signing a modelling contract, meeting David Dobrik, and most recently, meeting with Lionsgate. And while TikTok virality is known for creating “overnight sensations”, there have been a significant number of people suspicious of his sudden rise to fame. On his recent appearance on the Zach Sang Show, Axel has denied accusations of being an industry plant or that his growth has been somehow fabricated.
Accusations of “Poverty Porn”
While his rise to viral stardom lead to one line of questioning for Axel, another common criticism of his content is how he ‘romanticises poverty’. In his videos, Axel often focuses on his frugal spending and strict saving habits. He has made several videos showcasing his low budget lifestyle, spending as little as $5 on a bag of groceries from a street market. People online have criticised his documentation, calling it ‘romanticised’ poverty, or “poverty porn”. He is accused of purposefully downplaying the harsh reality of being poor and instead, sells it as a quirky part of his content and personality.
In speaking to this particular issue on the Zach Sang Show, Axel admits to glamourising his lifestyle for his content, but emphasises that for the most part, it is a true representation of how he lives. He describes his lifestyle as low budget and explains that living in New York, it is necessary to make every penny count. Despite his explanation, people are still sceptical about his lifestyle as Axel has said that he chooses to live like this, even though he has access to family money.
Famous for his tiny Manhattan apartment, Axel is also known for his application to attend Juilliard, and the subsequent fallout. As an aspiring actor, Axel decided that he would apply for Juilliard for acting, proceeding to share the news with his followers and fans.
Notorious for its extraordinarily low acceptance rate, Juilliard unsurprisingly did not accept Axel’s application. After announcing this on TikTok, the reaction was immediate, with many fans petitioning Juilliard for him to be accepted. Escalating the situation from TikTok alone, many people commented on the school’s cross-platform social media accounts. While this kind of behaviour has become synonymous with online fandoms, the onslaught of fans were thought to have crossed the line when they flooded the comments of a memorial post on Juilliard’s Instagram account.
Current Juilliard students also criticised his nonchalant application to the school and the subsequent reaction from the fans. Juilliard students are notorious for their work ethic, many students were offended that Axel thought that he would be able to get into the school while not having any acting experience. The extreme reaction by fans garnered mainstream attention, being picked up by the New York Times for Axel’s followers tanking Juilliard’s Google rating, amongst other things, leaving more than a thousand one star reviews.
Amongst the TikTok community, opinions on Axel are divided, with many supporting him and many criticising him. As he stands, Axel has not yet fallen from grace and maintains his dominance over the TikTok algorithm. He continues to churn out videos and his growth shows no signs of slowing down.