From Met Gala to meta TV: This could be the end of the Kardashian era as we know it
Academics believe the family is scrambling to stay relevant
Last month, Page Six received intel that Vogue editor Anna Wintour had dropped the entire Kardashian clan from the Met Gala guest list. According to insiders, Kim was left “embarrassed” by the rumours. Yet, nobody from the family denied the claims. On May 1, we’ll find out if the whispers are true.
Fans theorised the guest list cull came from Kim’s decision to wear Marilyn Monroe’s dress at the charity fundraiser last year. “Playing in dead people’s clothes is bad business,” one person wrote on Twitter. “Met Gala is preservation of fashion history so ruining a dead lady’s dress to attend is really tone deaf.”
But it’s not just Kim K’s outfit. What we’re witnessing is a seismic shift in the relevance of the Kardashians. Anna Wintour (reportedly) doesn’t want them, Gen Z doesn’t aspire to be them— the world simply seems to be moving on. The tide of public adoration is turning against the dynasty.
In February, a month before the alleged Met Gala snub, Kylie lost almost a million Instagram followers after she was accused of bullying Selena Gomez about her eyebrows. Last November, The Kardashians viewers posted on TikTok to say they were turning off the show because all the sisters talk about is weight loss. In a 2022 study where Gen Z were asked to name their favourite influencer, none of the Kardashians made it into the top five.
“I like the Kardashians, I really do, but this season all they did was call each other skinny like it was all that mattered,” one fan wrote of the family’s show. “They are obsessing over being super skinny in this new series and I’m over it, honestly,” another added before declaring they’d never ever watch the series again.
Lecturer at the University of Ulster, Dr. Giuliana Monteverde, who gave a presentation at the first academic conference about the Kardashians (the Kimposium) titled Kardashian Komplicity: Beauty Work in Postfeminist Neoliberal Times in 2015, says the reason we may be losing patience with the Kardashians is they’re simply not giving in the way they gave before:
“If you look at the original TV series Keeping Up with the Kardashians to the current incarnation [The Kardashians] you can see a significant change,” she says. “In those early seasons they literally gave birth on camera, got married, got divorced. They were very intimate and, at the time, that content was shocking.
“The version we’re getting of them now [on Hulu rather than E!] is much more sanitised,” Dr. Giuliana continues. “They say it’s not reality TV, it’s a docuseries. It’s more meta. They’re allowed to speak to the camera and the crew in a way they didn’t before. So, they had an opportunity to provide more intimacy and authenticity but, instead, it’s more polished.”
In 2023, we don’t like our stars shiny and pristine. Celebrities who are notably thriving include Paul Mescal and Emma Chamberlain who maintain some level of normalcy around them. “There’s a feeling the Kardashians are more distant,” says Dr. Giuliana. “I think they might have lost that ordinariness of being a family…going through trials and tribulations,” she adds, pointing out anyone who’s grown up in the era of KUWTK is now intensely aware reality TV is far from real.
Notably, Kim has attempted to be less aspirational and more “normcore” relatable in recent months. She’s taken (almost) barefaced selfies at dentist appointments, dragged camera crews to London pubs for Friday night Insta stories drinking baby Guinness with the girls, and featured in endless TikTok videos with her daughter North (who, incidentally, the internet loves).
“TikTok is taking over as the most popular platform and it has the type of content the Kardashians aren’t necessarily great at,” says Dr. Giuliana of this scramble for relevance. “[The Kardashians] are famously not the best dancers – Kim showed that very clearly on Dancing with the Stars. And, while they can be funny, it’s not the mode they’re most successful in.”
To put it simply, the Kardashian family business needs the next generation, their children, to keep them relevant. “It’s notable that North West has a TikTok account and does amazingly well with that content,” says Dr. Giuliana of the nine-year-old’s 15.5 million followers on the app.
In recent months, trending celebrities – including Ice Spice in March – have suddenly appeared in North West’s videos. Cameos TikTok detectives are certain come at the “momager” (now grandmamager?) of the family’s request: Kris Jenner, who herself has been roasted for flopping after appearing in Meghan Trainor’s Mother music video.
Staged trips to the pub, trending TikToks, music video cameos, and last week the announcement that Kim is going to feature in the next season of American Horror Story— the family’s brand feels less cancelled, finished or fizzling and more overwhelmed, mismatched and confused. It somewhat reeks of desperation.
In comparison to other celebrities, Dr. Giuliana notes the Kardashians’ fame is built on wobbly foundations. Unlike Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana or any other icon whose possessions Kim has coveted, the family’s popularity isn’t fixed to a clear identifiable skill. They are famous simply for who they are— and this makes them susceptible to an identity (and brand) crisis.
“The Kardashian’s fashion credentials, their fame, it isn’t stable,” she says. “It’s built on shaky ground in some sense and it’s not seen as valid or legitimate. So, although I think they’ll always be there, they need to figure out how to do this new era.
“The Kardashians are very adept at changing,” concludes Dr. Giuliana, defending the family’s longevity. “They’ve always been able to shift. So, I’m hesitant to say their era is over. Perhaps, they’re just in a transition era…It depends what their overall goals are, but I would suspect that they’re going to stay in front of us and shapeshift as they often have done.”
So, don’t host the funeral of the family dynasty just yet, but do prepare yourself for many more desperate attempts at being relatable and keeping up with the zeitgeist.
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Featured image credit via Instagram