Buckle up; we all drive this thing now. We’ve actually been driving the fame wagon ever since digital media turned “stardom” into a community calculus of shares and streams, retweets and traffic spikes. Every smartphone shines with catalytic potential, a small spotlight. We can make anyone famous, including ourselves. It makes us all actors in the future of fame. What are we going to do with it? Here, 16 experts pile into Cosmo’s stretch limo time machine for a tour of the famous landscape of tomorrow, which will look a lot like…
More monetary control
“We often think that fame and wealth go hand in hand, but that’s not always the case. Often, black and brown creators become famous but then see their work monetized by white creators. Like Jalaiah Harmon, the teenager who created the Renegade dance, or Kayla Newman, aka Monroe Peaches, who coined the phrase “on fleek”. So when we think about fame and influence, we also have to think about who gets paid.
The next generation of creators are very aware of this inequity. Some are already using social media to hold people and platforms accountable for ownership. Last year, a group of black creators promoted the #BlackTikTokStrike hashtag, refusing to add their work to a dance challenge until TikTok addressed its apparent preferential treatment of white users. Power is being able to make money from your creative work and being the person who has the right to control it. —Alice Marwick, PHD, author of Status update: fame, publicity and branding in the age of social media
Talent extraction by hashtag
“With creators all over the world putting together projects themselves, most of the time I get up early on Instagram doing what I call the hashtag method: scrolling hashtags like #NYComedian and #NYSketchComedy to find people who are not on my radar. We are going to see a major power shift that will inspire more people to build their own table to tell stories. We have to stay open to that to find the talent. —Erica A. Hart, CSA, casting director, That fucking Michael Che
“I think a common assumption is, Oh, people just wanna be famous because they’re narcissistic. No, a lot of people are driven to come forward and become commonplace because they know that in America a little notoriety can be helpful. It is a question of opportunity.
Fame is now driven by technology. The more we move to algorithmic feeds, the more algorithms are going to determine who is famous. And fame has always come with its pitfalls, like online hate, loss of privacy, loss of autonomy. It’s something that “real” celebrities understand: they know they can’t control the stories about them. They have entire teams to deal with it.
Now, however, average people are learning these lessons on their own, and it can be incredibly traumatic. In fact, they can’t handle it because they’re not narcissistic. With the continued democratization of fame, we’re going to see more people suffer the inconvenience. —Taylor Lorenztechnology columnist, Washington Post
Virtual Mind Fusion
“We know from history that a major technological invention always affects fame. If you had asked someone in 1915, “What will fame be like in five years?” a good prediction would have been the explosion of silent cinema.
My prediction now: Keep an eye on virtual reality. We know people care about feeling close and intimate with celebrities. And with virtual reality, you can walk through the portal and inhabit another person’s perspective. It’s a shape that no one has really understood yet. Artificial intelligence is another area to watch. The qualities that make people people—autonomy and unpredictability—are the gold standard that AI aims for. The closer we get to that, the more likely we will have AI celebrities. It’s kinda scary and really exciting. —Sharon Marcus, PHD, author of The drama of fame
retirement planning for human memes
“In 2012, Justin Bieber held a promotional contest where he asked fans to record parodies of his song ‘Boyfriend’. The day after I uploaded my entry – a video made from the point of view of a clingy girlfriend – she started going viral. So did a screenshot of my face, a meme that everyone called the overly attached girlfriend. Ever since I was in the joke, I had fun riding the first wave of attention. Very quickly, however, the meme felt out of my control. I would see it and think, Oh, there’s my meme, rather than, Oh, there’s my face. Some companies have even used the image to promote their products without my consent.
Last year, my friend Kyle – he’s known as the Bad Luck Brian meme – asked me if I had considered making Overly Attached Girlfriend an NFT. [a non-fungible token, a digital asset on the blockchain]. At the time, I had almost no idea what an NFT was. Kyle explained it, then said that he and other people behind the memes – Grumpy Cat, Scumbag Steve – create NFTs and make money from them. With her help and the help of Nyan Cat creator Chris Torres, I created and sold Overly Attached Girlfriend as an NFT the same week.
The sale [valued at about $400,000] almost felt like a way to finally get some sort of compensation for those early days when my face was all over the place without my permission. It’s amazing that 10 years after my meme went viral, something like selling an NFT is even possible. I feel very lucky. I was able to get out of my debts. I was able to focus on my mental health, my future. —Laina Morrisex-YouTuber, human NFT
Legitimacy as a side effect
Abigail Barlow, 23, and Emily Bear, 20, aka Barlow & Bear, aspiring musicians who wrote an unofficial text Bridgerton musical, recorded the process on TikTok and… won a Grammy this year
EB: It shouldn’t have been possible. Our project was completely DIY – no money, no label, no PR. And yet here we are with a Grammy.
A B: The history of the music industry is that artists essentially have to give up their lives and will not own what they have created.
EB: Have the power to post a video and immediately reach 10 million people? It’s quite incredible. Our project would not have gone the way it did if it hadn’t existed on social media. This is the way of the future – the power of the people, which is very powerful.
The stars you will see in 2032
—Crystal AbidinPHD, digital anthropologist and ethnographer of Internet cultures
The fall of symbolism
“One of our founding policies in 2015 was that we would not submit actors for casting calls until we ensured the script was an authentic representation of our community. Younger audiences now demand such representation – in terms of gender, sexuality, race and culture. Entertainment executives know this. They’re trying to keep their finger on the pulse so their businesses don’t go under. With so many trans and non-binary actors highly skilled workers entering the market, excellence is the future. —Ann Thomas, Founder and CEO, Transgender Talent
No more black bumps
“A lot of people think of writing, directing and acting when we talk about diversifying TV and film, but the business side matters too. Do decision-makers like agents, lawyers, publicists, managers understand your culture and your motivations? Organizations like the National Black Public Relations Society and Women of Color Unite are making progress in diversifying these spaces. Change is slow, but it is coming. —Pamela Chinawah, multicultural entertainment publicist
Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber, co-hosts of the gossip podcast Who? Weekly
BF: Social media has allowed anyone to build a huge following, but it’s hard to imagine a time when traditional agents, publicists, etc. will not be required to bring anyone to List A.
OL: Each new platform will have its own set of “famous” people. It’s up to these people to transcend into more traditionally popular formats like movies, music, and TV. Even the most famous TikTok star in the world is just a TikTok star.
BF: And I just can’t think of the metaverse.
Fame as a team sport
“Today’s Internet is evolving into a form called Web3, which means we are moving from a centralized social network to a decentralized spatial environment where people can interact in new ways. The metaverse is part of this ecosystem. This is where all the blockchain-enabled tools, from cryptocurrency and wallets to NFTs and digital assets, come together. This gives rise to narrative worlds that stimulate community participation. Over the next five years, we could see celebrities and fans unified in the creative process. For example, fans of a TV series could purchase a “development NFT”, giving them the opportunity to interact in the writers room to help produce shows and earn content they help develop. Web3 will drive direct engagement between celebrities and fans in a way we’ve never seen before. —Falon Fatemi, Co-Founder and CEO, Fireside
Reported by Christen A. Johnson, Patrice Peck, Erin Quinlan and Caitlin Youngquist
Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.