He’s the most popular man on TikTok. And he doesn’t say a word


By Faith Karimi and Gianluca Mezzofiore, CNN

When Italy first entered a coronavirus lockdown last year, Khabane Lame had just lost his job at a factory near the northern city of Turin.

He spent his days locked up with his parents in Chivasso with his three siblings, looking for other work. One day he downloaded TikTok and started tinkering with it in his bedroom, posting videos of himself as Khaby Lame. And little by little, a surprising career was born.

At first, like many TikTokers, he created clips of himself dancing, watching video games, or doing comedic stunts. Then, earlier this year, he started poking fun at the hacking videos that flood social media platforms – reacting to them with a wordless shrug or an exasperated look – and he struck a chord.

Now Lame (pronounced Lah-MAY) is the most popular man on TikTok, with 114 million followers. The only other person in front of him is dancer Charli D’Amelio, a teenage Californian who posts playful videos, often with her older sister Dixie.

And Lame, 21, does it all without saying a word. On TikTok, his silence speaks volumes.

“I got the idea because I saw these videos going around and I liked the idea of ​​making it a little simpler,” Lame told CNN in a recent video interview.

“The type of gesture came by chance, but not the silence. I thought of a way to reach as many people as possible. And the best way was not to speak.

His videos have a unique style

Lame is a slender Senegalese with long limbs and an expressive face. In most of his clips, he pokes fun at videos of people doing overly complicated hacks by responding with a simplified, more logical way of doing the same task.

In one video, Lame peels a banana with his hands in response to a video of someone delicately cutting a banana with a cleaver. In another, he reacts to a video of a woman noisily peeling a cucumber with her teeth while using a vegetable peeler to accomplish the same task.

His reactions personify the term “shake your head”, or SMH for short on the Internet. After his sensible approach to a task, Lame extends his arms with his palms facing upward, as if to say duh. Sometimes he rolls his eyes or nods.

These silent but expressive reactions made him one of the most recognizable digital creators on social media.

“Maybe because my facial expressions are funny and make people laugh, this simplicity makes people laugh and I love it,” Lame said.

A marketer says the popularity of Lame’s videos shows how non-verbal communication can transcend language barriers and make connections between cultures.

“You don’t have to speak to be seen or understood,” said Christina Ferraz, founder of Houston-based marketing agency Thirty6five. “His exasperation is relatable and his feelings are universal.”

It sends a message that life doesn’t have to be complicated

Lame’s tongue-in-cheek humor has drawn fans from all over the world, who regularly send him videos of people doing simple tasks in complicated ways.

“They know I’m the problem solver, so they tag me or mention me and they say, ‘Khaby, it’s your turn, solve this problem because we need you,'” he said. he declares.

His stoic facial expressions have also made him a memes star – with his face reposted in reaction videos on social media.

Unlike other social media stars, Lame’s videos aren’t overproduced. They appear organic and use simple actions and images to convey humor, which reinforces its authenticity and reinforces its take on making life easier, Ferraz said.

She also believes its content resonates with people because it rose to fame during a time when the world was in quarantine.

“People were scouring social media both to escape and to connect,” Ferraz said. “The lack of verbal communication allows the audience to focus only on their actions, and no other senses can be applied other than what they are literally doing or expressing.”

For her, Lame’s videos reveal “how often we make life more difficult or complicated than necessary”. I think most people prefer to keep it simple.

Lame is one of the fastest growing content creators on TikTok. It averages nearly 200,000 subscribers per day and is set to eclipse the platform’s most popular star, according to Social Blade, which tracks social media analytics.

But Lame said that’s not why he started posting videos.

“I don’t care if I’m the # 1, # 2, or # 4 most popular on TikTok. I started making videos because I wanted to make people laugh during this time of confinement, ”he said. “And I continue to make videos with the same ideals. I am happy with my accomplishments, but these are not my main things.

His popularity opened international doors for him

Like its popularity, Lame’s past transcends different continents.

He was born in Senegal and moved to Italy with his parents when he was one year old. He has spent most of his life in social housing, which he attributes to being free from racism and exposure to the world beyond Italy.

“There, we were people of all ethnicities, so we protected ourselves a lot. There has never been a problem with racism, ”he said.

Although not yet an Italian citizen, he is fluent in Italian and has said he considers the country house. He applied for citizenship and while waiting for the process to complete he said it had been difficult for him to travel to events in the US and other countries with his Senegalese passport.

But the inability to travel did not affect his fame. His popularity – he also has 47 million Instagram followers – has opened the door for him to partnerships with international companies, including Netflix, Italian food company Barilla and Indian fantasy sports platform Dream11. Lame has several other pending deals that he cannot yet disclose, he said.

Lame declined to say how much money he makes from partnerships, although the biggest social media stars can make millions of dollars a year from their content.

He said his biggest purchase since he rose to fame is an iPhone 12 so he can shoot better videos. “I don’t buy anything crazy,” he said.

But his life is a long way from his days – just 18 months ago – as an unemployed young man living with his parents. He says his mother and father are proud of his success.

“It was unexpected (for them) as for the rest of the world. So they came into the prospect (that I’m famous) quite late. And so am I. You don’t realize what’s happening to you,” he said. he said, “They had no clear idea of ​​what they wanted me to be like as a kid – the important thing is that I was happy and had a good job.”

Lame now lives with her agent in Milan. Her posts are endorsed by celebrities, including her idol, actor Will Smith.

And as more and more TikTok stars sign deals with film companies, Lame is hoping to fulfill a childhood dream and work with Smith on a project.

Meanwhile, he will continue to crush ridiculous life hacks – with his deadpan silence.

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