If you haven’t heard of Baby Ariel, one of two things is probably true: You’re either legally allowed to vote, or you’ve never used Musical.ly, the hyperaddictive social media platform that counts more than 100 million users, or “musers,” many of them Gen Zers.
(In case you’re unfamiliar with Musical.ly, here’s a quick primer: Founded in 2014, the app lets users share short videos of themselves lip-syncing to popular songs or bits of prerecorded dialogue. It’s since become a popular place for artists to debut new singles and for brands to connect with kids and teens.)
With 19.5 million fans on the platform, Baby Ariel—real name Ariel Martin—is arguably Musical.ly’s biggest homegrown star. The 16-year-old Florida native first started using the app just two years ago, downloading it on a whim after seeing a video a friend had shared to Instagram. Her first post, set to a Nicki Minaj song and featuring Martin’s now famous jerky hand motions, ended up on the app’s featured page—a stroke of “pure luck,” she says—and seemingly overnight, she amassed a following of millions. From there, she expanded her act to YouTube (2.2 million subscribers), Instagram (6.8 million followers), Snapchat and other platforms. And about a year ago, she moved her schooling online in order to pursue social stardom professionally.
Since then, Martin has signed with CAA, won a Teen Choice Award, headlined the DigiTour and collaborated with a growing list of big-name brands. We caught up with Baby Ariel to talk about how she got her start on Musical.ly, working with advertisers and life as a teenage internet celebrity.
Adweek: Two years ago, you had just joined Musical.ly, and now you’re a major social media celebrity. How did that transformation happen?
Ariel Martin: In May 2015, I published my first Musical.ly, and I fell in love with the app right away and started posting every single day. One of my first Musical.lys got featured [on the app’s home page], which means that pretty much everybody sees it. I guess a lot of people liked it, and they started to follow my account, and my videos became featured more frequently, and I started to gain a large following, and that transferred over to Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, slowly but surely.
Your first Musical.ly looked pretty professional. Had you had any experience making videos before?
I had an Instagram account, but I wasn’t a social media anything. I was just posting things for fun and following my friends to see what they were doing. But I loved to sing. I loved to act. So when this happened, it allowed me to branch out into other things as well. I’m able to take my acting onto YouTube or even take my singing onto Musical.ly.
How long after you started posting on Musical.ly did you decide you wanted to do social media full time?
Probably about two months. It was pretty crazy. It definitely took some time to realize what exactly was happening, just because the social media world is so new and so different from anything else. And once I was connecting with everybody, I realized it is something that I love to do and wanted to continue professionally.
What did your friends think about it? Were they already big Musical.ly users too?
My friends were supportive. There were a few that were confused—just like, “What is happening?” But my real, real friends stuck with me. And also through social media, I’ve met some of my best friends, which is really amazing. We all make videos together.
Speaking of that, tell me about the DigiTour you went on last year.
DigiTour brings social media influencers together to travel to different cities and do shows and meet and greets. During the show, there’s usually a type of game, like The Dating Game or Truth or Dare, and there’s usually some musical performances. It’s really cool—it’s like a concert-slash-meet and greet. [Meeting my followers] is my favorite part. I spend my days talking to them through a screen, but to actually be able to hug them and talk to them in person is amazing.
When you started doing videos, were there any other social influencers you looked to for inspiration?
Yes. I’ve always looked up to Miranda Sings. She’s hilarious. I love the way that she makes me laugh, and I wanted to be able to do that for other people.
You’re on so many different platforms. How do you choose what kind of content goes where?
When I first started social media, I researched all of the different platforms, and I didn’t want all of them to have exactly the same content, so I had to differentiate them by what they’re best at. For example, I’ll post my most high-quality pictures on Instagram and then on Twitter. I’ll tweet what’s on my mind or updates about me. On YouTube, I’m known for superlong videos and then shorter ones on Musically. On Snapchat, I’ll put what I’m doing throughout the day. And on Live.ly, I’ll go live here and there and show what I’m doing exactly at that moment.
It sounds like your fans can follow what you’re doing pretty much 24/7. Does that put a lot of pressure on you to always be “on”?
Yeah. [Laughs] I could sit here and say, “No, no, it’s fine!” But, I mean, it does get hard sometimes just because what I do is me, so I have to look presentable all the time. There’s days when I don’t want to look presentable or I don’t want to get out of bed and Snapchat something interesting. But honestly, it’s what I love to do, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Those days I don’t want to do it, I’ll still do it, because I want to do it for my supporters.
You’ve worked with some really big brands like Coca Cola, Nordstrom, Burger King and Sour Patch Kids. Take me through that process.
Most of the brands I’ve worked with have come to me, and luckily, they’ve been really open to hearing my ideas and making it a collaborative process, which is awesome because I want all of my promotions and sponsorships to be as organic as possible. When they’re open to hearing my ideas, it makes it a lot more fun for me and a more real experience for my supporters.
What’s been your favorite brand collab so far?
One of my favorites was with Coca Cola. I actually went to The Grove in Los Angeles with my friend [and fellow DigiTour member] Sammy Wilk, and we did a sing-along performance and danced onstage and brought people up with us. It was so much fun.
And you also started your own anti-bullying campaign, right?
When I started [using social media], I got—and I still do get—a lot of hate and commenters calling me ugly and just being rude for no reason. Instead of blocking it out and not addressing the situation, I wanted to make a video about it. After that posted, I got a lot of supporters asking me how to deal with those same situations that they’re going through online or even in real life. That was where the Ariel Movement began. Instead of just DMing everybody individually, I would tweet out positive messages saying, “Hey, you’re beautiful. Don’t worry what anybody thinks about you!”
Are there any other up-and-coming platforms that you’re interested in using? I guess the last thing you need is for “the next Snapchat” to come out and add even more to your plate.
[Laughs] Nope, nope—I’m good! Right now, my main goal is to just continue working on the social media platforms I’m already on and bettering my content on those.