The anti-Instagram in a way, TikTok’s success has stemmed from its ability to platform creative, relatable and authentic content. And while its most-followed creators are worlds apart from the curated, filtered content we have come to see on other platforms, a notable similarity remains— a middle class, conventionally attractive woman or man, à la Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae, and members of the Sway House, shooting to viral fame makes for a relatable success story audiences can’t get enough of.
This, however, is part of what makes Khabane Lame’s TikTok ascent even more meaningful.
Boasting (at the time of publication) 89.9 million TikTok followers, the Senegalese-Italian creator, who posts under the handle @khaby.lame overtook Addison Rae last week to become the second most-followed person on the platform. And he’s not stopping there. According to Social Blade, Charli D’Amelio’s 120 million followers have grown by 2.6 million in the last calendar month. By comparison, Khaby has seen over 21.9 million followers in that same time period— according to Insider, a trajectory that will see his following surpass Charli as the most-followed creator on TikTok by mid-August.
Joining the platform in March 2020 after losing his factory job in Italy at the height of the pandemic, Khaby dabbled in trending dances and skits— the default content for most creators when initially creating videos. He has since truly found his step, with his most successful content parodying lifestyle hacks by stitching them with common sense and simpler alternatives. This led to the start of his hashtag #learnfromkhaby.
Despite Khaby hailing from Italy (his early videos were captioned in Italian), his international popularity has been cemented through a few key components. The first being the fact that his videos are often silent, conveying his message via expression and movement. In speaking to the New York Times, Khaby explains, “It’s my face and my expressions which make people laugh,” referencing his now-iconic “duh” action; an arm movement recognised by TikTok users all over the world. His universal appeal is evident throughout his comment section, as he often asks his followers to comment the flag emoji of their nationality or residence— a call to action that saw over 450,000 comments on a single video, which featured symbols from Norway to Egypt to the US to Azerbaijan. Additionally, his clothing choice of soccer jerseys, often the Italian national team or local team in the Italian Football League, Juventus, have meant those who support the sport worldwide have been able to participate in a wildly engaged community within the greater fanbase.
His lack of high production combined with the universal comedic appeal of Khaby’s content speaks to the authenticity TikTok prides itself on— something that had been lost somewhere between Charli and Addison’s first million followers and now— at least in the realm of top-tier creators who have seemingly traded relatability for the glamour that comes with viral stardom in 2021. This is not to say big opportunities aren’t awaiting Khaby in his own rise to viral stardom. A member of the TikTok Creator Fund, Khaby is now steadily monetising his following. This, combined with brand partnerships, has meant Khaby is able to create TikTok content as his full-time job.
While many are calling for Khaby to overtake Charli as the most followed account on the platform (and soon), he tells the Times, “I’m happy to be the first in Italy and all, but I didn’t start TikTok for this,” further explaining it has provided a platform for him to make people laugh, like his idols Will Smith and Eddie Murphy.
Regardless, the trajectory of Khaby Lame speaks to the power of TikTok to connect people globally— in a way Instagram, even Facebook or YouTube, as conversationally led platforms haven’t been able to, the language barrier prevailing. But, and arguably more important, it speaks to the kind of content audiences are responding to, Khaby paving the way for a different kind of creator.