Lil Tay: The rise and fall of a pre-teen viral sensation
Meming of life: The sweary nine-year-old’s fall from internet grace is a cautionary tale
Lil Tay: a social media superstar who spent a brief period last year absolutely everywhere and then, abruptly, nowhere at all
The world of showbiz has always produced precocious wunderkinds; teeny-bopper idols barely older than their fans, child celebrities propelled into super-stardom by dint of their youthful charm. The history of Hollywood and the music hall is littered with infant superstars, and stories of their exploitation to make others millions; Shirley Temple to Judy Garland, Corey Feldman to Macaulay Culkin. Wise to the tropes of the nefarious stage parent, it seemed like we had put the bad old days of exploiting children for stardom squarely behind us. Alas, the curious case of Lil Tay suggests not.
Lil Tay, you may or may not remember, was a social media superstar who spent a brief period last year absolutely everywhere and then, abruptly, nowhere at all. Tay was a 9-year-old girl, who proclaimed herself “the youngest flexer of the century”, and published expletive-laden posts in which she held giant stacks of cash, “smoked” baby carrots and called her many followers “broke b*tches”. After one hyper-viral confrontation with fellow underage social media stars Bhad Babie and Woah Vicky – which saw the three square off in a highly scripted public confrontation – Tay’s follower count doubled to 600,000 overnight. By April she had 2.5 million, and “who is Lil Tay” was the eighth most popular “who” query on Google for the entire year.
Land of Hope
That question, however, still needed answering, which is where this week’s most exhaustive and unmissable bit of internet journalism comes in. Writing for The Cut, Lauren Levy’s “Who Was Lil Tay? The Making & Marketing of a 9-Year-Old Meme Machine” reveals a dismal spiral of poorly executed management and clumsy role-playing, resulting in Tay’s career ending before it had really begun. We hear how Tay – real name Claire Hope – was scripted by her 16-year-old wannabe social media star brother, and her career overseen, however ineptly, by her real estate maven mother.
Far from precipitating a gravy train of riches for these guardians, their schemes ended in acrimony. An abortive rap career came to nothing, they reneged on licensing and merch deals, and her mother was sacked from her firm for using their luxury properties as location shoots. By June 3rd, Lil Tay’s accounts were closed and she was pulled from the worldwide meme orbit after her dad secured a court order demanding she return to live with him in Vancouver, where she is now home-schooled.
Having failed to make the millions that once seemed possible, Tay serves now as a cautionary tale; 2½ months of hyper-stardom left her too young to be rich, and too famous to be normal. But, as the article concludes, there could yet be more Tay to come. “After all, she only turned 11 this summer.” For her sake, let’s hope not.