There aren't that many famous people from Connecticut. I grew up there, and can barely name enough to count on one hand. There's Chloë Sevigny, John Mayer, Katharine Hepburn... and, as of approximately 18 months ago, TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D'Amelio.
Prior to then, the D'Amelios were regular suburban teenagers from Norwalk, a city located in Connecticut's southwestern panhandle: a particularly WASP-y stretch of commuter hubs that eventually lead to New York City. Now they're speaking over Zoom from Charli's bedroom in their parents' sleek Hollywood Hills mansion. Last year, when the sisters' fame eclipsed pretty much everything else they had going on, the family moved to Los Angeles. You could tell, because the backdrop of their TikToks changed to feature sunny skies and cerulean pools. Nineteen-year-old Dixie has her own place down the street; when I ask if she drops by a lot, she waits a beat before replying, "When I have to."
(On Charli) Top: Social Tourist, Earrings: Charli's own (On Dixie) Top: Social Tourist, Ring: Grace Lee
They miss the food back home. The pizza in LA sucks — nothing like the pies in New Haven — and even though California is purportedly having some sort of bagel renaissance, the D'Amelio sisters aren't buying it. As Dixie points out, "They don't have rainbow bagels."
A little primer: 17-year-old Charli is the most-followed person on TikTok. Her popularity rose in tandem with the short-form video app, which reached utter ubiquity during the pandemic; in November 2020, she became its first account to reach 100 million followers. She's currently at 122 million. Dixie, who has 54.1 million, is the ninth most-followed person on the app. They've transformed their fame into lucrative brand deals, a burgeoning music career for Dixie, big-ticket dance performances (including a Jennifer Lopez video) for Charli, and an upcoming family docuseries on Hulu. On top of everything, Charli is the #1 most popular person on Famous Birthdays. For what it's worth, Dixie is #7, just behind Justin Bieber.
The why of it all is ineffable. The sisters are beautiful, thin, well-off and white. Online and off, they appear to be kind and silly and, most of all, incredibly normal. They come from a loving family and seem like they would make really good friends or cool big sisters, roles they can virtually fill for their many followers. Dixie is hip and wry, with a rising stock among the Instagram fashion set. Charli is soft-spoken, but writhes around when she dances — the result of years of competitive training in the field. Over Zoom, she fiddles around with a hair clip while she speaks. For a while early on in her skyrocketing internet fame, her TikTok bio read, "don't worry i don't get the hype either."
Dixie, who performs mononymously under her first name, has been focusing on music lately, and while her first single, "Be Happy," hit the number one trending spot on YouTube the same day it was released last July, she hasn't topped the Hot 100 just yet (although her latest release, "Psycho," is currently number one on the Billboard Triller chart). Earlier this year, I interviewed the D'Amelios' friend and Charli's ex, Chase Hudson (AKA LILHUDDY) about the pressures of breaking into the music business from TikTok, and wanting to be taken seriously. The tension, Dixie agrees, can come from online — and up top. "We were in a conversation where a person on a label was telling us that TikTok didn't do anything for music, and we [were] just like, 'Huh?'" she recalls. "We felt [like] we knew songs from TikTok. Artists love TikTok because it blows up music... There's always new things, and it's always gonna be scary when there's new things or new people."
But the sisters are also just living their lives. "We're still with our parents, and have chores to do, [and] still get in trouble sometimes," Dixie says. "We just have jobs, which is weird. Jobs [in which] a lot of people count on us, and a lot of responsibility and also, like, making people happy." Charli jumps in: "That's kind of the most new part, having people depend on us. I mean, this is my first real job, and the fact that my job is also my life is pretty weird. Most people, you get to go home from your job and you're done, you don't think about it." Their day is never over, because their work is just being themselves.
Before all of this, in fall 2019, Dixie had already been accepted to the University of Alabama by the start of her senior year — a little future cushioning that allowed her to join in on social media opportunities on the West Coast. Charli also already knew which college she wanted to go to, and that she wanted to be a backup dancer. "I kind of had my whole life planned out," Charli says. "I was thrown for a loop, for sure, in the best way possible." Nowadays, they keep rigorous schedules, which have only become more exciting since the gradual, slightly uncertain lifting of pandemic restrictions. Because they reached Hollywood-level fame during quarantine, they hadn't actually gotten to experience much of it IRL: The photoshoots, the red carpets, the award shows. I wonder, especially after a year like this, do they ever get... tired?
(On Charli) Top: Vintage (from Unholy Saints), Boots: Masha Popova, Necklaces: John Hardy and Fallon Jewelry (On Dixie) Top: Vintage (from Unholy Saints), Boots: Masha Popova, Necklaces: Dale Novick, Misho, John Hardy and Melinda Marie, Rings: Misho and Grace Lee
"I think the only times where we get tired is when we stop for a second," Charli says. "It's like after you work for a long day and you get into bed or you're about to shower, and you're like, 'That was a lot.''
And when you're an influencer who's famous for being yourself, you don't get to stop much. "I think when you're an actor and you're playing a character and people don't like your character, you can say, 'That's not me as a person.' But when you got where you are because of who you are —" Charli says, before Dixie finishes the thought: "It's a lot harder when people hate on you."
Since entering into the public eye, they've experienced a steady hum of controversies, for a variety of reasons. Charli often comes up in discussions of how white users on TikTok algorithmically and publicly outperform Black creators, many of whom created the viral routines in the first place. She's since made a habit of crediting non-original dances in her TikTok captions (and she's pretty consistent about it, maybe even more so than other big creators). The sisters got heat when people found out that their dad, Marc, ran as a Republican for a state senate seat in 2018 — again, not so out of step for the Connecticut panhandle — and when a 2017 photo from Dixie's VSCO account of an American flag and several Trump-Pence lawn signs resurfaced on Twitter. (For the record, neither sister is affiliated with the Republican party, and Dixie has publicly stated that she did not vote for Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election.)
As their profiles have grown, it's hard for fans not to notice the ways in which the sisters' online behavior has changed. Lately, they seem to post mostly when it's out of sponsored obligation. They're usually impeccably done up, rarely dressed down. Their performances of already-rote TikTok dances look even more mechanical than usual, and what's worse, their smiles seem forced.
The sisters discussed these sorts of comments on their podcast, 2 Chix, in January: "What do you think of those TikToks where they're like, 'Fame ruined their smile?'" Dixie asks Charli, who quickly responds, "They're right," though they both agree that "it wasn't fame, it was just growing up." (Cue a sentient Billie Eilish singing from the rafters: "Things I once enjoyed/ Just keep me employed now.") What does it mean when it feels like the only warmth behind someone's eyes is the uncanny halo of a ring light?
Speaking of Eilish, I keep thinking of the series of annual YouTube interviews the singer has done with Vanity Fair over the last four years, in which she answers the same questions about her life and career to a stultifying effect, comprising an audiovisual flipbook of what massive fame does to a young person in this very-online day and age. Charli and Dixie have both been candid about their mental health on social media, and many of Dixie's early songs center on similar themes: the "Be Happy" chorus goes, "Sometimes I don't wanna be happy/ Don't hold it against me/ If I'm down, just leave me there/ Let me be sad," and on "Roommates," she sings of the "voice in my head, seems like it's obsessed/ With keepin' me up all night." (In the latter's music video, Dixie stands in front of a graffitied wall strewn with criticisms, including "famous bc of ur sis!") It's clear they are incredibly grateful, but happiness and gratitude can be two different things. Does it ever feel like too much?
(On Charli) Dress: Prada, Earrings: Charli's own, Necklace: Fallon Jewelry (On Dixie) Top: Area, Skirt and bracelet: Chanel
For now, the sisters tell me, fame still seems new enough — and they have a strong enough support system — that it hasn't lost its excitement. This is, by all accounts, a good thing. Part of me wonders how they'll feel a year on, if we circled back like those Billie Vanity Fair videos that feel like an eerie timelapse, in which you can watch a social-media-native star grow disillusioned as the protective measures go up: daily world becomes smaller, skin becomes thicker. I think, too, of Kylie Jenner, who's spoken on how she learned to hide emotions as a public figure, creating a persona that is more of a character than her real self.
"I used to definitely show my emotions a lot more, but I realized the more you show it, the more people kind of try and get those reactions out of you," Charli agrees, though she maintains that it would be harder to keep up a persona rather than shift her emotions around to let her personality show through. "It takes time to really understand your own feelings. I'm also still a teenager, so I think I'm learning who I am, and how to deal with… anything." A few hours after our interview, Dixie shared a graphic on her Instagram Story that read, "No amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen."
In the last decade or so, social media stars have sought entryways into more "legitimate" industry paths, be that through acting, making music or simply doing the things that "real" celebrities do, like attending awards shows and raucous parties in the Hamptons, or appearing in Superbowl commercials and cover stories for publications like this one. Charli and Dixie acknowledge that for TikTokkers, there is no role model here, no barometer of "too much" — it's all too new, too much of a Wild West, though they hope to someday be that resource for up-and-comers.
Indeed, we expect our social media celebrities to be a number of things: to be woke, to use their platforms wisely, to be gracious about the immense fame we the people have bestowed upon them — presumably because, maybe more than any other celebrity-making industry before, we the people feel more directly responsible for their success. It's a latent mentality of, We made you famous, so we have a say in how you use that fame, in how you react to this mind-bending, reality-obliterating machine. There also aren't many other kinds of celebrity that constantly require the famous person to explain why they're famous, a question the D'Amelios have been tasked to answer countless times. "It's not as difficult as other people make it seem," Dixie attests. "Because I've been able to explain it to both of my grandmothers, and they get it."
And so they journey on, enjoying the ride even if they're not sure where it will take them. "At the end of the day, I don't think that anyone can kind of take this away from us," Charli says. "There's just so much to come and I can't think of, 'Well, this is gonna be bad in this amount of time, because people are going to say whatever.' It's not going to take away from the fact that we have been able to do all of these cool things." Keeping a positive outlook, they agree, is crucial, mostly for their own sanity but also that of their supporters.
Thinking ahead, she continues, "I think the ideal path is winging it and seeing what happens." As Dixie emphasizes, they're all about "doing as much as we can while we have this opportunity. There's gonna be a time where no one cares to do this kind of interview... I feel like a lot of people just forget that nothing ever lasts forever."
This article has been updated from the original to clarify facts around the chart position of "Psycho," crediting on Charli D'Amelio's TikTok page and the sisters' political affiliations.
Photography: Tyrell Hampton
Styling: Chris Horan
Hair: Jesus Guerrero
Makeup: ROKAEL (at Opus Beauty using Basma Beauty)
Nails: Eri Ishizu (at Opus Beauty using OPI)
Set design: Anjelica Vasquez
Retouching: Matthew So
Production: Cookie Walukas
Type treatment: Crystal Zapata
Photo assistant: Khalilah Pianta
Styling assistant: Lauren Jeworski
Hair assistant: Jinju Bae
Set dressing: Amanada Hills
Art PA: Kelly Wreave