Charli and Dixie D’Amelio on Being TikTok Titans and Building a Brand Beyond Social Media

An interview with our 2020 Young Influentials cover stars

Charli and Dixie D’Amelio
Siblings Charli and Dixie D’Amelio have 100 million TikTok followers and millions more on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Hollister
Headshot of Diana Pearl

In just over a year, sisters Charli and Dixie D’Amelio have become two of the most talked-about names in social media, thanks to their explosive popularity on TikTok. Beloved by Gen Z, the social media platform boasts 800 million active daily users worldwide, according to DataReportal’s Digital 2020 report. Charli, 16 and a trained dancer, joined in June of last year and is now the platform’s most-followed user, with nearly 75 million followers (and counting). Dixie, 18 and a budding musician, joined in November, and her new tune, “Be Happy,” just knocked Kanye West out of the top trending spot on YouTube. Together the siblings, who hail from Norwalk, Conn., have 100 million TikTok followers and millions more on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. In just a year, the two have gone from, in their words, “normal teenage girls” to bona fide celebrities, with their names making frequent appearances in media outlets like People and Cosmopolitan.

Naturally, brand opportunities have also followed—to the point where the two began making frequent trips to Los Angeles, where they’ve spent the past few months during the pandemic, to take meetings. They started doing sponsored posts on their pages, and opened up official online stores for each sister to sell branded merchandise. In February, Charli appeared in her first commercial—Sabra’s Super Bowl ad. (In the spot, she uttered the quip that’s become the unofficial Gen Z tagline: “OK, boomer.”) And at the start of the pandemic, she fronted P&G’s #DistanceDance campaign, which spawned over a million copycat videos. The sisters are also starting to harness their influence: Last month, they announced partnerships with retailer Hollister, a brand ambassadorship for makeup brand Morphe and, just a few days ago, a collaboration with nail polish line Orosa. “Brands really want to reach Gen Z’s ears,” says Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Influence Central. “They represent the epitome of that.”

Charli and Dixie sat down with Adweek—virtually—to discuss their rise to fame and figuring out the world of brand partnerships. They also shared what they think of the possibility of a TikTok shutdown. (The White House was threatening to close the app due to data concerns over its ties to China. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is headquartered there. At press time, with Microsoft in talks to purchase the app, President Trump was arguing that the government should get a cut of the sale.)

Adweek: When did you join TikTok? Was social media something you were interested in before then?
Charli D’Amelio: We’ve always had Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter and all that. I used social media quite often, but never really thought that I would take it further than just sharing photos of me with friends. My first official video was me in the lunchroom with my friends, just lip-synching to an audio. Then a few TikToks in is when I started dancing, and people liked that a lot.
Dixie D’Amelio: I joined when Charli got a million followers. It was all my family was talking about, and I thought, “All right, let me just do this. I might as well see what’s going on.”

When did you get the sense that something was shifting—going from more than just making videos for your friends?
When I started going to L.A., I was able to sit in meetings with these incredible companies and meet all of these amazing people. I realized, “Wow, this is crazy. This is really giving me so many opportunities.” I have been able to do a lot of things that I would not be able to do without TikTok. I mean, most people’s first commercial isn’t a Super Bowl commercial.

Beyond the Sabra ad, you’re both doing more work with brands lately. What’s that been like, and what are your barometers for what makes a brand partnership a good fit?
We decided to take the route of, “Let’s work with brands that we really enjoy, that we’ve used even before TikTok, and campaigns that have a message.”
DD: I’ve always wanted to go to business school and start my own business, so being able to see the beginning steps is super exciting.

What do you two do when creating a TikTok? What’s your process like?
We like to keep everything very natural and show our true selves, our messy rooms and messy hair. I think that’s really why we resonate with people, because we are just normal teenagers, and we show that. We haven’t changed from the beginning.
CD: If I find a sound or I find a dance on TikTok, I do it right away and then I post it right away. I don’t prepare a lot for my posts. I like to just do them in real time.

How do you measure success on TikTok? Do you measure success?
When you’re having so much fun making videos, it’s not about the likes or the comments. It’s more about enjoying what you’re doing and having fun while doing it.
DD: The numbers don’t even seem real. Like, 20 million people viewed my TikTok? That’s insane.

What is it like to go through this experience—this rise to social media stardom—together?
CD: It’s really great to have someone that will always be there for you but also to understand that this might not be normal, but this is what we’re going through. It’s not always super happy 24/7 because that’s just how it is with teenagers.

There’s been a lot of talk about the future of TikTok, particularly in the U.S., thanks to President Trump’s threats. Do you two think at all about how that might impact your future? Or do you think your followers will go wherever you go?
As for TikTok, whatever happens is going to happen. Of course, TikTok is our biggest platform, but we are also getting more into YouTube and Instagram. As long as we keep doing that and keep having fun with what we’re doing, I think people would still enjoy watching us—I hope.
DD: We’ve done a good job of building all of our platforms. We’ll just continue making people happy, posting our content. I’m not worried about anything.

Why do you think you two have found such success on TikTok? What do you think your followers love about you?
I think that people like that we are normal teenage girls. And the fact that the things we do [the fame they’ve achieved, the brand deals] can happen, because it happened to us in such a short period of time.

What’s up next for the two of you?
I’m working on music and just taking all the opportunities I can because this is such an exciting experience. I just want to have fun, meet new people, try new things.
CD: I would definitely like to get back into dance and will hopefully be dancing in my home studio a little bit when I go home [to Connecticut]. But now with these opportunities, being able to do them on a bigger scale is so amazing.

(Check out our full list of Adweek’s 2020 Young Influentials here.)

This story first appeared in the Aug. 10, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@dianapearl_ Diana is the brand marketing editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.