Dixie and Charli D’Amelio are learning as they go.
The sisters, who skyrocketed to TikTok fame in the early days of the pandemic before many people over the age of 30 even knew what TikTok was, have made the jump to mainstream success. But what that could, would or should look like is unchartered territory. Charli is on Dancing With the Stars this season and Dixie has already released an album and toured the country. Social media apps have born many a star in the past — Shawn Mendes blew up on Vine, Justin Bieber was discovered via YouTube — but with TikTok, where viral songs become No. 1 hits and then disappear from the charts in an instant, where trends come and go before you have time to learn the accompanying dance, how do you maintain your star? How do you capture enough people’s attention for enough time with enough projects to know that you’ve made it for good?
That’s a question that Dixie, 21, and Charli, 18, are in the process of answering. With the help of their parents, Marc and Heidi, the sisters are figuring it out. Two seasons into their Hulu reality show, The D’Amelio Show, it’s difficult not to feel as though they’ve begun to solidify their space in the broader entertainment landscape. People know their names. They’ve heard Dixie sing and watched Charli dance and read about their love lives and seen them on red carpets. They’re here, and they’re laying the groundwork to make sure that’s true for a long time.
The family of four recently announced the launch of D’Amelio Brands, smartly bringing product development in-house. They still have partnerships with major brands like their Social Tourist line with Hollister, but the successful launch of Charli’s first fragrance, Born Dreamer, earlier this year seemed to show them that they don’t need to rely on established brands to reach consumers. They are the established brand.
Last month, Dixie and Charli D’Amelio sat down with In The Know by Yahoo’s Gibson Johns on the set of our Fall/Winter 2022 digital cover, where they discussed what they’ve learned over the past couple of years (Engaging in internet beef: bad. Listening to their dad: good.), their complicated relationship with the label “TikTokers,” their evolving mentalities around social media in general and more.
Gibson Johns: 2022 has been a good year for both of you and for your family. I feel like it just gets better and better for you every year. How would you characterize your 2022? Are there certain words that come to mind?
Dixie D’Amelio: I can't think of anything I've done this year.
Charli D’Amelio: I feel like it's everything all at once. It's been...
Gibson: It's a blur for you guys.
Charli: Yeah! This year has been like three years.
Dixie: It's been a very long year. January to now, we've done so many different things, but it's been good.
Gibson: Yeah, that's a good problem to have though, right? You're both very much "multi-hyphenates" and you wear many hats. Are there any titles or labels or descriptors that people use for you that you don't like or find kind of annoying?
Dixie: It's not that I don't like this — and I will explain after — but the term "TikTokers" is definitely a little like, so what? I don't see a problem with it, but the negative tone that people put with it I do have a problem with. People start [their careers] in all different ways; people get found on the street, people are found on YouTube or Vine: Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes. So I don't think the negativity toward it is justified. There are so many talented people and smart people who have gone on to do amazing things from TikTok that I don't see the problem with it. Anytime people are like, "Oh, those TikTokers..." Like, maybe you should get on it too! I'm telling you, there are so many different avenues for people to go down that start on TikTok. There are people who started talking about news on TikTok, then have literally become reporters on the actual news. There are so many different outlets for people on TikTok, and I just don't think it needs to be so negative.
Charli: Yeah, I feel like when it comes to all the labels and everything ... I mean, this past month has been very funny for me to watch from an outside perspective, because for so long, people were like, "She's not talented. She has no talent. She's a dancer. She's just a TikTok dancer." And since I started doing Dancing With the Stars, it's been, "She's too good to be on the show. She's a professional dancer." So I'm kind of just like, I'll do whatever I do, and however people interpret that is on them.
Gibson: You've both been able to turn TikTok success into more mainstream industry success in a way that a lot of other people who have tried to do what you're doing have not succeeded. That's not a shot at them — I think it just speaks to how difficult it is to make that jump. And, not only that, but you're also sustaining it too. How do you think about that? Like, when you see some of your peers that have not been able to do that and you guys have successfully done it, how do you think about it?
Dixie: It's such a difficult time — right after you start gaining popularity — to make the right decisions or be able to navigate it correctly. Sometimes I've watched people when they're new to L.A. and ... [sighs] yeah. I feel like our time, when we came up, everyone was starting from the same point. So it was really that everyone was working together. Now it's about individual people succeeding on their own. It's hard to watch people because I'm like, "You're messing this up for yourself! You're hurting yourself."
Charli: There are so many people that are joining this world [of TikTok] every day.
Dixie: Just be kind; don't be shady. People will [be shady], though — especially the people who are trying to help you. Don't stab them in the back for the new and better thing, because people are going to realize that behavior. It's a very confusing world to be part of.
Charli: We're also very lucky to have our parents, which not a lot of people have. To have made that move out to L.A. without them [would've been so hard]. As much as my dad and I go back and forth on decisions — I'm like, "No, I want to do this. I want to do this" — he's always right, which is so annoying [laughs]. In the beginning, we were like, "Come on, we need to do this. It'll be so fun. All of our friends are doing it." He'd be like, "Nope, I don't think so. As your dad, as the person paying for your flights to L.A. at the time, I'm not letting you do that." And now we look back, like, "Thank you so much," because the decisions I would have made two years ago would probably still be affecting us now and would've put us on a totally different path.
Gibson: When it comes to your Hulu show, The D'Amelio Show, how do you think that has helped you? Has it either connected with a bigger audience or does it deepen your connection with your old one?
Dixie: The first season definitely connected me to a lot of people, and I think Charli as well, because we did talk a lot about mental health. When people come up to us and talk about the show, they're like, "Seeing you break down on the show is just so relatable" — things like that. I have different feelings about it. And then this season, I was like, "Oh, I'm fine mentally." And now watching the show back I was like, "Wow, I was actually really going through it," and didn't realize it. I thought I didn't cry during Season 2 [laughs].
Gibson: Your platforms ballooned during the pandemic, when people couldn't go anywhere in a big capacity. Do you remember the first time that you went somewhere and you were like, "Oh, this is how many people we're reaching," or, "Here's how many people we're impacting"?
Dixie: During the pandemic — and this is part of the reason why we moved — people were coming up to our door every day, and we lived in a neighborhood with no gate or fence or anything. It was just our driveway and our front door. People were coming every day. And obviously, at the time, we were not going anywhere. I would drive with my windows up or I was not going anywhere. I didn't go anywhere. So, people were coming to our door, being like, "Can we meet Charli and Dixie?" Or it would be parents coming and then being mad if we didn't [come outside]. I was like, "What is this?" It was scary because of the pandemic, then it's also scary because it's, like, "Why are you at my door?"
Charli: There was one time — and I have a video of it somewhere — that this kid came up in a blow-up shark costume. He didn't want anything, but he was just dancing across the street from our house. We watched him from my window, and it was so crazy. Another time, this mom drove a minivan full of girls for a girl's birthday. She was like, "We drove here for her birthday!" And I was like, "Okay..."
Dixie: We weren't even in L.A. [full time] at the time! We were close with our L.A. people, and we obviously were all going through this together. But, otherwise, we couldn't relate to anyone, and I would just be posting on my private Snapchat or someone's at my house [not experiencing anything else in person]. It was so weird, but we were dealing with it just with our family.
Gibson: Dixie, on the show, you said that you've gotten to a place where you try not to worry as much about a follower count or how many likes you're getting. And, Charli, somebody else recently surpassed you as the most followed person on TikTok. To me, that's an indication that you guys have sort of grown beyond the platform that first introduced you to the world — not in that you're done with it, but in that your worlds are expanding. Do you have that idea that some of that stuff doesn't really matter anymore? Or at least as much as you thought it might've a year ago?
Charli: I feel like at my peak of gaining a following I wasn't doing as many cool things as I am right now. So it's like, yeah, it might have been super-big at that point. But, I also look at it as, like ... it can't always be the same person. You know? People come and go, they grow, they get a new job — whatever it is. I look at it as, "That was something that I got to have for, what? Two years?" That's a pretty big deal! So now I'm focusing on other stuff. I don't really post as much on TikTok just because I'm so busy with everything else going on, but that doesn't mean that I'm never going to go back and start posting super consistently. It's just that this is kind of where I am right now, and my focus has shifted a little bit to other things.
Dixie: I also feel as though people always ask us, "How does it feel to have that many followers?" The thing is, though, that you can't even visualize that many people. When this was happening at home in Connecticut, and we were gaining and celebrating [certain milestones], it's like, you've never even seen that many people at one time. I think the most people I've seen was probably 20,000 at a concert or something, and 20,000 on TikTok is the smallest type of creator, which is wild because on Vine that was a lot. Like, "Oh my gosh, 20,000 people follow you on Instagram?!"
Charli: I remember when 100,000 followers was insane, like the biggest you could get on TikTok. But now it's, like, at some point, a number just becomes a number. It's just a big number — it doesn't matter if it's 100,000 or 1 million. It's not to diminish anybody else [for their following size], but it's just, like, there are also all of those people that are following you, but don't keep up with you, and then there are your fans. I saw the other day someone posted something saying, "You know, I'm not a diehard fan of Charli, but I check in on her every few months to see what she's up to. I really liked her, and she's doing good. I'm proud of her." And it's like, that person isn't necessarily a fan that has a fan page, but they still follow me and appreciate what I do.
Gibson: Earlier this fall, you launched D'Amelio Brands, which will bring a lot of your product development in-house — meaning that you guys will likely be more intimately involved in that process instead of always doing external partnerships. This feels like the wise next step for you as a family. Why did that feel like it was the right thing to do right now?
Charli: I think with a lot of the things that we've done and a lot of the companies that we worked with, there were some great learning experiences, where we got to see how other companies work. I saw it for the first time with [my fragrance] Born Dreamer, seeing how to make a brand and make a product and then wanting to be able to go and do that with other things that we enjoy. We get to do it completely start to finish now.
Gibson: You've worked with a lot of amazing brands and companies, and you've done a lot of collaborations — Social Tourist at Hollister, Born Dreamer, Valentino, Prada... You must have opportunities coming in constantly, but how do you know when it's a good idea or bad idea to work with a specific brand? Is it a "go with your gut" thing? Or is there more to that mindset?
Dixie: We look at every opportunity and ask, "Would I enjoy making that content? Is this something I would actually use?" No one's going to trust me if I'm saying, "Here, use this!" and it's not something that I actually like or truly support and use. If I'm showing it to people and they're like, "This sucks," no one's gonna trust that. So I think it's really important to us when we are working with a brand to make sure it's a right fit both ways. My problem is that I definitely talk too much in meetings [laughs]. I'm like, "Oh, my gosh, I have this idea for you!" And then I don't end up working with them, but then six months later [they've used my idea]. I feel like that's all part of [the process, though,] and being able to be creative like that. Anytime I meet with someone or a company or a social media platform, I'm like, "This would be great." Or, "I'm really needing this on Snapchat or Instagram." They're like, "Oh, that's a good idea."
Gibson: What is something that you wish somebody had told you when this was all starting for you two?
Charli: I wish someone had told me to enjoy the moment. I was always so stressed that I didn't really get to sit in those beginning moments as much as I wanted to.
Dixie: I feel like "be quiet" a little bit. Because in the beginning, when it was just the TikTokers, and the outside world [wasn't involved], the drama was fun. We'd go back and forth. But looking back on it, I do have a lot of regret for doing that. It was exciting. We'd all go back and forth in the fights, but I feel like we're all a little embarrassed now. It's on the internet forever. So, yeah, [I wish someone had told me to] just kind of let things settle. Everything works out. You don't always have to defend yourself. A lot of things clear up on their own, and I feel like we were always like, "No, not this. This isn't true." Whereas now I'm just kind of like, "It's OK." The best thing to do is just not look. Any person I've had internet beef with, I've always cleared it up, and it really wasn't worth it. Like, we'd just give these people free entertainment for something that actually affected us. It's just not worth it.
Gibson: What kind of impact do you both hope you're having on people?
Charli: I hope that people understand that this could have happened to literally anyone. I was doing social media for fun! You never know what you can achieve, so just don't stop trying.
Dixie: I think my biggest thing and the thing that's helped me the most is that I realized no one ever knows what they're doing. That's the thing that's cleared my head the most — that no matter how put together someone looks or how happy you think someone is or what point of someone's life they're in, no one knows what they're doing and we're all figuring this out. So, just give people grace.