Mon, Sep 05, 2016 - Page 8 News List

A celebrity Z-list? Yes, it exists

Meet the striving celebrity underclass that has risen to dominate the gossip machine

By Amanda Hess  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Rap video vixen Blac Chyna, left, was once a “Who” but is rapidly becoming a “Them.” She’s pictured here in May with fiancee Rob Kardashian at her birthday celebrations at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood California.

Photo: EPA

When Sofia Richie chopped her hair and visited a doctor’s office recently, Us Weekly was there. Not to be outdone, People heralded Mindy McKnight as “the voice for millennial moms.” And In Touch offered an “adorable” picture of Sarah Wright Olsen’s infant napping next to a plush rabbit.

Meet the striving celebrity underclass that has risen to dominate the gossip machine. Aspiring models, third-tier reality show stars, impossible-to-place actors, YouTube vloggers and viral news subjects can now all curry coverage just by replenishing their social media accounts with photos of their babies, their butts or both. These are people you’ve probably never heard of — or have a nagging suspicion you might have, but don’t quite know why.

For the record, Richie is a teenager best known for appearing on Justin Bieber’s Instagram account (not to mention being Lionel Richie’s daughter). McKnight films hair tutorials on YouTube. And because In Touch didn’t bother to explain who Wright Olsen even is, I Googled it. Turns out that after a supporting role on the short-lived NBC sitcom Marry Me, she now runs a parenting blog.

QUASI-CELEBS

These quasi-celebrities have crept onto our radar through our supermarket tabloids and Facebook news feeds, and a crop of publications has emerged to cover them, whether sincerely or satirically. The relentless Instagram gossip outpost The Shade Room airs their dirty laundry; the deliciously absurd podcast Who? Weekly pokes fun at their claims to fame, and Time Inc’s shiny new digital celebrity site, Instant.me, hopes to build on their brands.

It used to be that the only way a non-recognizable person could land in the pages of the glossy celebrity magazines was to lose 100 pounds, serve as some heartwarming testimony to good-old-fashioned American values, or be murdered. But in the early 2000s, the magazines started diversifying their coverage of Hollywood’s leading Jens and Bens with stories on the romantic dupes and plastic surgery nightmares of reality television.

Now, as the rise of social media demolishes the leverage that celebrity tabloids once had over their most famous subjects, the gossip industry keeps defining celebrity downward. (After all, no magazine can match the reach of Taylor Swift’s more than 90 million Instagram fans or Kim Kardashian West’s 47 million Twitter followers.)

When Kardashian West first rose to prominence, commentators sneered that she was “famous for nothing.” The accusation seems quaint now: Tabloids have moved on from covering reality television stars like Kardashian West to following reality TV supporting characters, former reality TV stars, friends and exes of former reality TV stars — even people who post their own family dramas straight to YouTube.

These days, gossip sites are also fueled by figures largely famous for doing nothing much. Jeremy Meeks, whose image went viral when Twitter swooned for his hot mug shot, has popped up on the Web sites of Us Weekly and People since his release from prison earlier this year. Instagram models like Richie, Sahara Ray and Bronte Blampied can milk months of coverage out of a couple of shots of themselves posing with Bieber.

And Refinery29 recently ran a photo-laden spread on the “Gucci Gang,” a group of four stylish 14-to-16-year-old Parisian girls whose central accomplishment is attracting a combined 50,000 Instagram followers. As the de facto crew leader, Angelina Woreth, put it, “It’s easy to hate us, actually, because we are not doing something; we’re not really doing anything.”

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