Khaby Lamé is undisputedly the most popular man on TikTok. But here’s the catch, he has never said a word on the social media platform. His signature pose, the wordless shrug, or his look of exasperation, went viral during the lockdown. Now, his brand has grown beyond his wildest imaginations. In this edition of Diaspora Spotlight, we will discuss the man, his craft, and his goals.
Who Is Khaby Lamé?
Born Khabane Lamé in Dakar, Senegal on March 9, 2000, Khaby Lamé is a TikTok sensation. In 2001, when he was just one, his family emigrated to a public housing complex in Chivasso, Italy. He studied at the Local High School, Chivasso, Italy, before obtaining his bachelor’s from the University of Turin.
Shortly after graduation, Lamé got a job at a local factory in Turin. Unfortunately, things went bad for him as he got fired just before Italy went on lockdown in March 2020. Little did he know that he was about to become a global sensation. As they say, things often get worse before getting better.
How it all Started for Khaby Lamé
When Italy went into lockdown in March 2020 and he was fired, Khaby Lamé spent his days with his family, engrossed in his job search. One day, he decided to download TikTok, experimenting with the app in his room. He began with videos of him singing, dancing, watching video games, or doing comedy skits, just like most amateur TikTokers.
Then, a few weeks into 2021, he started his viral trend. He made fun of life-hack videos by reacting with his signature move—a wordless shrug or a look of exasperation. By a stroke of fortune, he struck a chord with most TikTokers. His videos follow a similar pattern where he shows simplified ways of carrying out seemingly overwhelming tasks.
In one video, he peels a banana with his hands in response to a video of someone using a cleaver to slice it open. In another, he reacts to a video of someone noisily peeling a cucumber with her teeth by using a vegetable peeler to accomplish the same task.
Come April, a few months after his foray into TikTok, he surpassed Gianluca Vacchi as the most followed Italian TikToker, and in July 2021, he surpassed Addison Rae to become the second most-followed TikToker. For Khaby, his silence speaks volumes. In an interview with CNN, he mentions that simplicity is the source of his inspiration.
“I came up with the idea because I was seeing these videos circulating, and I liked the idea of bringing some simplicity to it. The type of gesture came by chance, but the silence didn’t. I thought of a way to reach as many people as possible. And the best way was not to speak.”
Today, Khaby Lamé is worth over $2 million. For every promotional video he does, he is estimated to charge $50,000, and is reported to earn over $200,000 monthly. He does all these without saying a word.
It Has Not Been All Rosy Though
Khaby Lame revealed that living in public housing has shielded him from the brutal effects of racism in Italy. However, that has not stopped him from taking the anti-racism message to his TikTok followers. In August, Khaby’s rise to the pinnacle of TikTok celebrity was sidetracked after he lost several followers. These angry followers decided to withdraw their support for him after he shared an anti-racist message on his Instagram Stories which read, “Say no to racism”.
In response, he said,
“I’m seeing a lot of comments where people say: I unfollow you because you did this video. I don’t mind guys, we are almost in 2022 and people still use racism because they have nothing to do in their life. Be happy, follow your dream and save the planet.”
Predictably, he bounced back and his stock has been rising ever since.
How Khaby Lamé’s Rise To Popularity Is Inspiring Africans
Like his popularity, Khaby Lamé’s background cuts across different countries. He was born in Senegal to Senegalese parents, but his background has not hindered his brand. He has over 50 million followers on Instagram, and this huge social media following has opened him up to several international collaborations and endorsement deals. In June, Netflix collaborated with the sensation for an ad. He has endorsement deals with Italian food company Barilla and Indian fantasy sports platform Dream11.
Lamé believes his goals are simple. “Initially, I started making videos because I wanted to make people laugh. Now, seeing how much fame you have, you want to inspire many, you want to show them that anything is possible.”
Speaking of his parents’ reactions to his success, he said,
“It was unexpected for them just like for the rest of the world. So they got into the perspective of me being famous quite late. They didn’t have any set idea of what they wanted me to become when I was a child— the important thing is that I was happy, and had a good job. Right now, I want to keep them—and everyone who looks up to me—proud of me.”
Much of Khaby Lame’s life isn’t out there on the internet. However, what we know is that he loves to keep it simple—on TikTok and in real life. Since his rise to fame, his most expensive purchase has been an iPhone 12 to shoot better videos.
“I’m not buying anything crazy,” he said. As more TikTok celebrities sign deals with movie companies, he hopes to work with his idol, Will Smith, someday. He is not too far away as his posts have also received thumbs-ups from the Fresh Prince.
Khaby Lamé is showing that Africans can do much more with the circumstances surrounding them. He is breaking bounds, inspiring millions, and keeping it simple. If Khaby Lamé could do it, so can you. Do you think Khaby Lamé worked hard to be where he is or it was just a stroke of luck? Thus, will his fame stand the test of time? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.