When I tell Quenlin Blackwell that most young Americans want to be career influencers, the only thing she can do is gape and let out an emphatic "that’s fucking horrifying." It’s the first time she’s looked visibly perturbed during our Zoom interview, extremely unsettled by the premise of there being "no doctors in 10 years" if 86% of the incoming workforce go down the path of photo editing, brand sponsorships and product peddling.
"Like what the fuck were you thinking in high school?," Blackwell said of the people who move to LA in the hopes of becoming an internet star. Because while she may have 7.9 million followers on TikTok, the 21-year-old has never wanted her primary source of online notoriety to come from "trying to influence people to buy anything from me." So even though she’s forced to say otherwise on her taxes, Blackwell is quick to distance herself from a job title — a term she called "as loose as a creative director" — that wouldn’t even make her "turn my head and look at you" in real life, especially when she has other things to do.
"It's an empty career, an empty statement. Like influencers do what? What do I ‘influence’?," she said with a small shake of her head, while explaining that this is a "stepping stone" towards her ultimate career goal, which is more about her craft than a constant stream of online content creation.
"I just make people laugh, which isn’t ‘influencing.’ I'm not like, ‘Now this is how you want to live your life.'" I’m like, ‘Do you wanna laugh? Do you want to be entertained? Then listen to me real quick,’” as Blackwell continued, before clearly stating, "I'm an entertainer more than an influencer."
Despite spending much of her childhood consuming and creating on YouTube, the Texas native has always aspired to be "more than just a social media content creator," which allows her to view her camera as a tool for creative expression rather than as a conduit for fame. But when Vine came around, Blackwell decided to pivot towards short-form comedy content under the name “Quensadilla,” which quickly earned her a devoted fan base that eventually followed her to TikTok once the six-second video sharing platform shut down in 2016.
"I just fell into it, because I was making videos before the whole ‘era of the influencer’ came about. I didn’t really pick it as a career path," she said. However, Blackwell also clarified that while she doesn’t "hate" being a social media star per se, as "it’s given me the life that I have," she does "want to do more [so she can] die being happy" with the things she's done in her life.
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"It’s more a question of what I think has substance and what my legacy in life will be," Blackwell reiterated, before adding one quick caveat, "I do think the internet is brain rot though."
"We're in a post-ironic world. If you turn on the news, turn down the volume and just read the headlines, it actually sounds like people doing Mad Libs, where you're just filling in things and don't know what's going on," she said, alongside a quip about how much potential set material she has when “everything is just jokes fucking right now."
"And as a comedian it's insane to see and watch the shit people argue about. Like are y'all deadass?," Blackwell said, before arguing that "the internet has clouded people's judgment on what's important or not."
She continued, "Why are we spending three days debating about this? Go outside and everything's on fire. The internet has people's priorities totally fucked up. Like mashed and mangled and blended."
So in lieu of that, Blackwell is now shifting her energy towards the IRL endeavors she’s always dreamt of through the industry connections she’s made thanks to her current position, meaning lots of acting lessons, learning about screenwriting and live stand-up sets, where she’ll have plenty to talk about.
"I'm kind of working backwards," Blackwell mused, taking a moment to reflect on how her internet presence has acted as both a launchpad for her career and a solidification of her legacy. Not to mention, how her incredible body of work will be preserved via TikTok duets and Vine compilations.
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"I have this database of work that I've been creating since I was 10. I've already done something a lot of people try to prove they can do," she said. "And so I do have to prove myself in acting and singing and show writing, but I don’t have to prove to somebody that I’m funny. I’ve built a career off it by just existing on social media and here’s my proof."
Blackwell giggles to herself, "So thank you and now let me make a show."
Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.
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