With 151.1 million followers on TikTok and counting, he is the most followed personality on the platform.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 25, 2021. It has since been updated
Khabane Lame, a 22-year-old from the industrial town of Chivasso in northern Italy, lost his job as a factory worker in March 2020 during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. He moved back into his family's modest apartment and despite his Senegalese father urging him to apply for other jobs, Lame decided to try his luck with something else: TikTok videos. Within a year, the young man became the fastest-growing content creator on the platform. He is now the most-followed TikTok user ever with 151.1m followers. He eclipsed eighteen-year-old dancer D’Amelio to land the top spot, reported Yahoo News.
So what is it about Lame that's catapulted him to international internet fame? "It's my face and my expressions which make people laugh," he told The New York Times in an interview. Lame's simple response does cover the essence of it. His videos capitalize on the momentum of viral and often unnecessarily complicated so-called "life hack" videos by pointing out their absurdity with non-vocal, easy-to-understand reaction clips demonstrating how to perform the same task in a much more straightforward manner. Using the social media app’s duet and stitch features, he shows how instead of slicing open a banana with a knife, one could simply peel it.
The thing that really hits the spot, however, is the video equivalent of a "duh" punchline in almost all of Lame's videos. Extending his arms as if to say voilà and throwing in an expressive roll of the eyes or shake of the head for good measure, the TikTok user makes it clear how some of these life hack videos are trying way too hard. His muted reactions, Lame said, are a "global language" that transcends international borders.
"His content almost debunks or mocks the overproduced trends that happen across social media, whether it's life hacks or other things like that," said Samir Chaudry, a founder of The Publish Press, a newsletter covering the creator economy. "He almost represents this authenticity over production. I think that's very appealing at scale to people, this feeling of someone not trying too hard, it's something that feels authentic. This opportunity to connect with someone who is unaffiliated, underproduced, and feels very real is a juxtaposition of what we're seeing in the social media space."
Lame said that he "realized things were going well" when he hit 10 million followers a few weeks ago. Now, with nearly eight times that, making TikToks is his full-time job. It has opened up some revenue sources for him through TikTok's Creator Fund and by working with brands like the Italian pasta maker Barilla. "Being an international star," Lame said, "I'm much more in demand." Although he is steadily making money, he hasn't yet made enough to realize his dream of buying his mother a house. "Maybe," he said, "in the future."
An unexpected side effect of Lame's astronomical rise to fame is that it has exposed the disadvantages of his lack of Italian citizenship. Although he is recognized internationally as an Italian TikTok user and has lived in Italy since the age of one, attended Italian school, and is an avid fan of the Juventus soccer team, Lame isn't technically recognized as Italian in Italy. This, he said, is "definitely wrong." His lack of an Italian passport has never given him any problems, he added. "Sincerely, I don't need a piece of paper to define myself as Italian," Lame stated. "Until now at least."
Italian citizenship can only be earned by children of immigrants who reach age 18 after living in the country since birth. It takes much longer for those not born in Italy. Despite having a strong influence in the government, even liberal lawmakers have mostly shied away from prior efforts to update the law and extend citizenship to immigrants and their children who have lived in Italy for many years. "I'm not a mayor, I'm no one. I can't change the laws," Lame said, adding with a smile: "Maybe I can change it with the popularity. With my influence."