Kim Kardashian Gets TikTok Clout for Being North West's Mom: Expert

Complex caught up with the mind behind Kardashian Kolloquium to chat about the Kardashians' efforts to gain relevance on TikTok through their kids.

Kim Kardashian TikTok North West Ice Spice

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Kim Kardashian TikTok North West Ice Spice

TikTok videos of North West hanging out with Ice Spice a few weeks ago set fire to the internet. The viral sensation teamed up with Kim Kardashian’s firstborn to create the kind of content we have all grown to expect from the famous family.

Despite North’s father, Ye, being against his four children using social media, Kardashian and her daughter launched a joint TikTok account in 2021. They have been sharing videos of them together using viral sounds, showing North’s moments with her younger siblings, but mostly displaying the child’s boundless creativity. They are currently sitting at more than 15 million followers on the app (which pales in comparison to Kim’s 349 million on Instagram), and the Ice Spice videos alone have racked up more than 100 million views. Kardashian has disabled the comments on the page to protect North.

Psychotherapist and writer MJ Corey runs the Kardashian Kolloquium TikTok and Instagram accounts in which she shares informed and academic takes on the family and how they use media and social platforms to heighten their influence. Corey also launched the Kardashian Data Koalition along with data scientists to track online information and insights about the family to back her theories. 

While Complex initially reached out to Corey to discuss the meaning of Ice Spice’s appearance on North’s page, the expert dove deeper into a theory that has been floating around the internet—for the first time in a long time, the Kardashians may be struggling to keep up. While fans have been chasing the trends they set on Instagram and beyond, Gen Z seems to have one-upped the famous sisters by shifting their attention toward TikTok—a place they have yet to claim as their own. (Except Kylie Jenner who has more than 52 million followers on the app.)

“Some part of Kim’s major relevance and eventual dominance can be attributed to the fact that she was an early adopter of Twitter and Instagram, and she really knew how to use those forms as they were really dominating culture,” Corey tells Complex. “The dominance of Kim Kardashian is very parallel to the dominance of social media itself and her uses of those forms.”

Selena Gomez recently knocked Jenner from the top spot as the most followed woman on Instagram with 400 million followers (that’s 50 million more than Kardashian if we’re keeping score). Before Kim and North’s TikTok account, the reality star family didn’t have much presence on the app aside from Kourtney Kardashian and her kids’ videos. Corey believes that North’s videos are a way to help the family cut through the noise and assert their presence on the platform, by any means necessary. 

While the way the Kardashians used Instagram became the standard for how most people currently use it, they have not had the same impact on TikTok. “People are saying they’re struggling because their brand isn’t defining the aesthetic of the app the way it did at peak Instagram,” Corey adds.

One way they have attempted to stay relevant is by aligning themselves with people who are already popular on social media, and that’s where someone like Ice Spice comes in. While some believe it was just a way for Kim to flex how connected she is or perhaps a way to hint at a possible Skims campaign collaboration, Corey believes that it’s all premeditated and based on data pulled from analytics that shows them who is of relevance that they could benefit from—even if the person in question doesn’t see the same benefits in return. (Like the video they shared with Mariah Carey, who had a trending sound on TikTok at the time.)

TikTok is more appealing to a younger demographic that the famous family could have trouble tapping into, but that is where the children come in. And now that they don’t have a direct connection to Black culture, specifically after Kardashian’s divorce from Ye, North might be their bridge to reach a younger Black audience. “North seems to be fulfilling in their narration of their family the role that Kanye once played as far as Black culture goes, but also the ‘brilliant, creative, unpredictable artist in our sphere,’” Corey says.

Complex caught up with the mind behind Kardashian Kolloquium who thoroughly explains why she believes the Kardashians are failing to stay relevant and how their children are helping them connect to TikTok users in ways they alone can’t.

What made you interested in making this account about the Kardashians?

I was late to the game in even discovering the Kardashians. Obviously, they were very present in media, and they were peripheral to my interests. I was a Kanye fan at that time, but I still never deep-dove the family, nothing really grabbed me enough to get me into the show or anything like that. But in 2018, our roommate put on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I was so much more affected than I expected to be by the Bora Bora episode, where Kim and her brother Rob are fighting about how Kim was acting like a diva at the resort. The fight itself felt really raw and real. I should also mention by day, I’m a psychotherapist, and I was at the time in training. So I was very attuned to emotional intensity and what seemed to feel real about people’s emotional processes. 

But in the larger context of the super-staged reality TV kind of structure of a show, there was something uncanny about this very real fight and this very staged, larger show construct. I sensed that it was sort of a feeling of the uncanny valley, but I couldn’t put my finger on it beyond that.

I told my sister, who was a film student, about this feeling, how amazing and captivating the show actually was after all. She was like, “Oh if that intrigues you, you should read Jean Baudrillard.” Jean Baudrillard was a French postmodern theorist. Reading Simulacra and Simulation really helped me put a name to what was so powerful about what I was seeing from the Kardashians in their reality show. It kicked off basically a journey of self-study of these ideas. I started to document my self-study on Instagram, and it kind of took off. I’ve got a little cult following on Instagram. And then when I got on TikTok in 2020, things intensified and amplified because of that FYP algorithm and more people found out about my work. It’s been very rewarding to make philosophy accessible through the Kardashians.

The whole concept of North being on TikTok now. Do you see that as they're looking to extend their relevance?

Yeah. When the Kardashian kids initially got onto TikTok, what I immediately clocked it as was the kids are the mediating factor. They’re the excuse or the catalyst for the Kardashians to become present on TikTok. And while I don’t think that TikTok is necessarily going to be the thing to bring the Kardashians down, which I know a lot of people do, it is important for the Kardashians to be visible and present on every popular medium. That’s what we can look to, to understand at least a portion. Some part of Kim’s major relevance and eventual dominance can be attributed to the fact that she was an early adopter of Twitter and Instagram, and she really knew how to use those forms as they were a really dominating culture. The dominance of Kim Kardashian is very parallel to the dominance of social media itself and her uses of those forms.

So they needed to be on TikTok, but it’s weird for these older ladies, to me, to do TikTok dances. People are saying, “The Kardashians aren’t good at TikTok and that’s why they’re going to fail.” But it would be weird if they were. The kids are of convenient ages, and TikTok is a great way to almost announce to people there’s going to be another generation of this dynasty pretty soon to take the center stage. The kids were the excuse for TikTok, and I’ve noticed that North’s TikToks with Kim tend to do better. I’m going to look into the data. I have a data coalition wherein we track the Kardashians’ data and I want to prove it, but I’m pretty sure Kim cameos do better in North’s videos. But North’s TikTok itself is a medium now for the Kardashians to tell their stories in a new way.

That’s such a good point. It’s probably because, maybe, more people recognize Kim as soon as they see her. How do you feel about this happening while Kanye has been outspoken about not wanting his kids on social media?

TikTok as an inflaming factor in the iconic Kimye divorce is really interesting. As far as the idea of their going against Kanye’s wishes and stuff, to be honest, I’m not so good at weighing in on the dynamics between them as parents. But for me, what’s exciting is more media analysis, but I do think there’s a lot of energy and engagement being directed toward North’s TikTok. It stimulates those conversations; it stimulates the anxiety of people. 

There are cultural wars happening around TikTok itself as an app in this society and what it means and the impact it has. So it doesn’t surprise me that even North’s use of TikTok is generating whatever discord might be in the family system itself. And then it kind of ripples outward to our experience of the spectacle of North on TikTok. That’s certainly a conversation point for one side of it. People are watching it. That’s the thing. I can no longer say the Kardashians are struggling on TikTok because of the ways that they’ve decided to make use of the kids on TikTok. It’s working.

You said something earlier about people believing that TikTok will be the end of the Kardashians. I haven’t heard that conversation yet, but why are people saying that?

I’ve noticed among Gen Z, especially in my comments, that people are saying, “The Kardashians are having a hard time adapting to TikTok. They’re not as dominant on the feeds as they were on Instagram.” What I think that means to people is, Instagram’s peak days—and the Instagram days aren’t necessarily over—but TikTok has just come in and disrupted the status quo. But at the peak of Instagram, when it was really integrating society and being adopted by so many people feverishly and when Kim was getting bigger and bigger because of her reality show, she started to stake a claim on selfies.

People have always been taking pictures of themselves with their different versions of whatever cameras were big at the time, but Kim started very visibly taking selfies everywhere. She would sort of lean into her image as this main reality pop princess type of figure. In fact, there’s a meme. It’s like a catchphrase: “Kim, stop taking pictures of yourself. Your sister’s going to jail.” And it became a thing she would do on talk shows. I think Andy Cohen took a selfie with her butt, the other thing she was famous for. It became quite a caricature, that Kim was a selfie queen, that she published the book, really staking an official claim on selfies as a concept. That happened around the time when Instagram was shifting from this new app where people were taking pictures of sunsets or food to realizing, “Oh, we could put ourselves on feed. This could be more interpersonal.” 

I can say this as a therapist: There are a lot of studies that have proven that the human eye is more naturally drawn to faces. So to your point about people liking North’s TikToks more because Kim’s there and she’s more recognizable, the human face, first of all, is already going to get more likes. Kim Kardashian’s face at this point is as iconic as the Coca-Cola bottle. You’re going to notice it immediately because it’s become such a brand. So basically, she started to dominate selfies at a time when people were starting to realize Instagram could be used that way. And the Kim Kardashian face, as we know, took over the app. It was called Instagram Face, but it was a very Kim-looking makeup style and injectable style. We’re not seeing that on TikTok. We’re not seeing the Kardashians have stepped out onto TikTok, and now every major influencer’s account looks like the way they use TikTok. So that’s why I think people are saying they’re struggling because their brand isn’t defining the aesthetic of the app the way it did at peak Instagram.

Now they are aligning themselves with very specific people like Ice Spice. I think Pete Davidson was one of those people and Addison Rae. So all these people whom they are very consciously wanting to be surrounded by, even if it leads to Ice Spice getting a Skims campaign, it still doesn’t feel like it’s an even exchange.

Yeah, that’s interesting—the cultural capital of it. That’s what an American icon will inherently do: subsume any nuances in culture. Ice Spice is a rising star. She’s viral right now because of this TikTok sound. She’s got a career beyond a viral TikTok sound, but at this point, that’s its own conversation about TikTok sounds really accelerating a new artist’s career. So she’s in that moment. It’s also just an example of the Kardashians, how high scale they are, what it means to be a billionaire, that there is an immediate absorption of that force. When you say it doesn’t feel like an equal exchange, it’s like, she’s coming to their Skims HQ, this multi-billion-dollar company, to make a little cameo. But we don’t know the terms of if it’s a Skims campaign she’s going to be in or how it came to happen. The randomness, I think, is also intriguing to people and stirs conversation.

But in any event, it’s almost like she’s the Coke metaphor: like, amazing, delicious new boutique flavor, something coming in and being bought out by Coke, which is always going to dominate. And then it’s like, what are the advantages for both parties in it? For Kim, it’s alignment with viral media cycles. For the rising star, what is it? Is it also mutual? We can look at other Skims campaigns to consider this, like Victoria’s Secret. That was a power move on Kim’s part when she featured those models in her campaign. 

And White Lotus.

What did they get out of it? Was it a renewed relevance? Was it amplified relevance? It’s an interesting question about corporate America. The same way in the influencer economic life. People are excited when one gets a really big deal, but it’s still capitalism. Even when you’re rooting for your influencer or artist on social media who’s chasing a good contract or chasing a deal that will really legitimize them and get them more visibility, we’re excited when we see someone be able to say, “I signed with Spotify or Apple or whatever the fuck.” But what does that largely mean?

For sure. It’s just a way for them to get richer, more famous, and more exposure.

Right. And we’re like, “Cool, you’re going to get your bag.” But that’s precarious. It’s a little precarious.

And it’s also like, to support them, we have to spend more money.

Yes, exactly.

For sure. I’m really interested in where this North TikTok situation goes. I think North is also a window, which Kanye used to be, into Black culture and how they probably wouldn’t know who Ice Spice is without North.

The truth is, I think in the narrative of it, North drew a picture of Ice Spice and then they brought her in. That tracks; it’s a good story. But at the same time, I’m sure that’s what Kim is going to say. She does a lot of, “North wanted this, so then we made it happen.” Whether it’s Kim wearing braids or North drawing the picture and then they make her imagination come to life. But I also think it’s possible that they were like, “OK, who’s viral right now? Let’s invite them over.” I think there’s probably a lot of data people on the inside, looking at how social media functions.

That’s why I think they feed us certain storylines because they know we are engaging with certain storylines. Every way that we relate to the Kardashians is through screens, through social media. The essence of social media is data analysis and user engagement and compressions. So that’s why they are near for all of us because they know what we’re engaging with. And like Instagram or TikTok or any of these crazy algorithms, the Kardashians are an algorithm too. 

They’re Mark Zuckerberg–ing us.

Yes, they are. So I’m kind of like, “Yeah, I think it could be something that’s simple potentially, or that’s how they’re going to package it.” But it’s more likely, I’m guessing, they are now having people monitor what songs are doing really well on TikTok, and they’re figuring out how to bring those things into their narratives and their grids. The same as Kim buying Princess Diana’s necklace when the Royal family was having a really sensational moment in media and wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress and aligning herself with an icon in that way. So that’s my sense; it’s a bit more strategic potentially.

A way to stay in the conversation and stay relevant.

Yes. I will say this: I always have to strike a balance with talking about the kids. But it’s true that North seems to be fulfilling in their narration of their family the role that Kanye once played as far as Black culture goes, but also the “brilliant, creative, unpredictable artist in our sphere.”

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