In March 2020, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Khabane Lem, a young factory worker in the industrial city of Chivaso in northern Italy, lost her job.
He moved back to his family’s modest apartment, and despite his Senegalese father’s insistence on applying for other jobs, he ended up spending hours every day posting videos on TikTok under the name Khabi Lem.
Using the social media app’s doubles and stitches features, 21-year-old Mr. Lem capitalizes on the momentum of viral and often absurdly complicated life hack videos – cracking open a banana with a knife, using weird contraptions to put on socks – Responding to him with wordless, easy-to-understand reaction clips in which he’ll perform the same task in a much simpler way.
He peels the banana. He wears a pair of socks. And almost always he punctuates his gags with the video equivalent of a “duh” punchline, extending his arms as if to say voila and an expressive roll of eyes or nod.
His early posts were mostly in Italian, with Italian subtitles; Sometimes Mr. Lemm spoke in his native, northern-accented tongue. But this wordless, expressive reaction clip was – While poke fun at forks transformed into spoons with tape or defending the sanctity of Italian pizza from a video that proposes the Sour Patch Kids topping – that has propelled Mr. With 65.6 million followers TIC Toc And counting, if he continues to gain followers at or near his current rate, he will become the most followed creator on the platform. (Currently he is 17-year-old Charlie D’Amelio, who has 116 million followers.)
“It’s my face and my expressions that make people laugh,” Mr Lam said in an interview on Wednesday, a national holiday celebrating the birth of the Italian Republic. Their tacit responses, he said, are a “global language”.
Mr. Lamm’s meteoric rise as a digital producer is particularly noteworthy because his work lacks the polished production value associated with today’s most famous TikTok stars, many of whom embraced by hollywood. a. They did not succeed by joining other 20-somethings. collab house with, or by relying on artificial growth such as buying followers or views. His rise has been completely organic.
The secret to Mr. Lam’s success is his universally desperate everyman. “Their content almost defies or scoffs at overproduced trends on social media, be it life hacks or other things,” said Sameer Choudhary, founder of the company. publish press, a newspaper covering the producer economy. “He almost represents this authenticity on production. I think it’s so appealing to people, this feeling of someone not trying too hard, it’s something that feels authentic.”
About 40 days ago, when Mr. Lam hit 10 million followers, “I realized things were going well,” he said. Now, with over 65 million followers, this is his full-time job.
Global reach, from Italy
Mr Lemm’s fans operate fan pages in English, German, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish and more. Well-known YouTubers, including Raja Bacchu, has approached him for collaboration, and he is making some money through TikTok’s Creators Fund and working with brands to which he said, Italian Pasta Maker Barilla.
“Being an international star,” he said, “I am in high demand.”
But while Mr Lemm is known internationally as an Italian TikToker, he is not technically recognized as Italian in Italy. The lack of citizenship, despite having lived in Italy since the age of 1 and being rigidly rooted for the Juventus football team, is “definitely wrong,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t need a piece of paper to define myself as Italian,” he said, adding that the lack of an Italian passport never gave him a problem.
“So far at least,” he said.
An unexpected side effect of Mr Lam’s TikTok climb is that it has exposed the weak side of the lack of Italian citizenship. He said his Senegalese passport made it difficult to obtain a visa to visit the United States. He is still dealing with Italian bureaucracy and paperwork to obtain his citizenship.
Italian citizenship is based on blood and can only be acquired by the children of immigrants who reach the age of 18 years after living in the country from birth. For those not born in Italy, it may take longer. Liberal MPs, despite their strong influence in government, have largely stayed away from previous efforts. change the law and grant citizenship to immigrants and their children who have been living in Italy for a long time.
“I’m not the mayor, I’m nobody. I can’t change the laws,” said Mr. Lam, as he sat next to an Ironman man in his manager’s Milan office. Reminded that most lawmakers have no more than 60 million followers, he flashed his wide smile and said, “Maybe I can replace it with popularity. With my influence.”
Celebrities and other influencers are certainly paying attention to his rise. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg commented on the thumbs up emoji on one of Mr Lam’s recent Instagram posts. On 19 May, Mr Lem appeared with Alessandro Del Piero, the great football player of his beloved Juventus team. Top influencers have arrived, inviting Mr. Lang to cooperate.
He has a large following in Brazil and the United States, the national football sweatshirt that he often wears. He is also huge in Senegal, where he has family and where he is often talked about on television. “I’m followed more abroad than in Italy,” said Mr. Lam.
Still, he said, fans stop to take selfies in the street and in restaurants. “I have a lot of influence in Italy,” said Mr. Lam. Not so, he acknowledged, on the front pages of his magazines or newspapers or on television news, the mediums conquered by Chiara Ferragni, who is effectively Italy’s most powerful woman and who is dipping her toe in politics and big business.
At the end of April, Mr Lam left behind gianluca vacchio As Italy’s most followed TikTok personality. Mr. Wachi, 53, who is known for his dance routine and extreme lifestyle, is a wonderfully affluent descendant of the plastic magnate. He is obsessively fit, has tattoos profusely and is married to a 26-year-old model. Mr Lemm’s current manager, Rigio Alessandro, used to manage Mr Vacchi.
While Mr. Vacchi represents a lavish way of life often associated with Italian extravagance, Mr. Lam often posts from the bare-bones bedroom he shares with his older brother. It is decorated with the flag of Senegal and Juventus soccer scarf. He used an old phone for several videos, and the lighting is not great.
But that’s what people like.
Adam Mescouri, a 17-year-old student and content creator in Birmingham, said, “I think the problem people are starting to see with big influencers is that they set certain standards about how to look, what’s good and what’s good. what not.” Mitch. “Then, Khabi arrives and she is just a normal friend. It is refreshing to see that. It is much easier to relate to than most of the big influencers.”
Mr Chowdhary of The Publish Press noted that when it comes to the top three creators who still have more followers than Mr Lemm – Ms D’Amelio, Addison Easterling and Bella Porch – the production value “has gone through the roof”. “
“This opportunity to connect with someone who feels unconnected, under-produced and very real is a concoction of what we’re seeing in the social media space,” he said.
meme bat money
Aside from his head-shaking clips, Mr. Lemm’s material mostly consists of tributes to his girlfriend and tight-knit group of friends. However, some of his posts, while they will not cause much stir in Italy, will be off brand In the more progressive corners of the United States or Europe.
In one, she’s the opposite of a sensual woman. seductively saying “If you had 24 hours with me, what would you do?” By listing all the parts of the house he will clean it. In one more, he mocks a woman who complained about being called an old hug on TikTok. In still another, he is seen comforting a crying woman. plate to clean.
Part of Mr. Lamm’s success is related to how prominent his content is to penetrate the Internet aggregation machine. YouTubers made compilation videos of their TikTok clips attract millions of views.
Mr. Lamm’s content is also perfect”meme page bait”, which means that many meme pages download their TikTok videos and repost them on Instagram for easy engagement, or they use their faces for reaction images. His videos are also frequently reposted on Twitter, where they spread further.
Many black TikTok creators in the United States have spoken openly about themselves over the past year. Struggling to get proper credit along with the online trends they produce the racism they experience. Prominent Black Italians, including once the country’s most famous black football star Mario Balotelli, have also spoken out about the enduring years of racism.
But Mr. Lam said his experience has been different. He said, ‘My friends have always been protective of me. “I’ve never had such a problem. No one ever dared to insult me because we were a united group and we had a lot of respect.”
Mr Lam said he believes his comical facial expressions and the simplicity of his content have helped him grow at the rate he has. He posts frequently – almost every single day on TikTok and on Instagram Stories every day throughout the day.
“The secret is endurance above all else,” he said.
Although Mr. Lam may soon become the most followed TikTok star in the world, he insists that he does not treat TikTok like a competition. He stated that he does not encounter much material by Charli D’Amelio (although Ms. D’Amelio’s sister, Dixie D’Amelio, who is also a top producer, follows him and she follows him). . He said, “I am happy to be the first in Italy and all, but I did not start TikTok for this.”
He joined in, she said, to make people laugh, as did his idols Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, and Pugliese actors. checo zalon, known for his broad Italian humour. Mr Lam said he hoped to one day join his ranks.
He is consistently earning money but has not been able to make enough to make his mother realize her dream of buying a house. “Maybe,” he said, “in the future.”