Group 4

Inside the Addison Raenaissance: TikTok superstar turned (not quite) Tumblr famous

From a leaked hyperpop album to an IYKYK blog, Addison Rae is redefining what it means to be an internet It girl


The year is 2023. You’ve reactivated your Tumblr account (or made a new one after you forgot your adolescent password), because you’ve decided TikTok’s fried your brain. And you’re drawn to sweet, simple memories of reblogging pictures of puddles alongside PhotoBooth snaps of the first era of terminally online teens, a time and type of posting now being aestheticised on TikTok. Your dashboard is reassuringly similar to how you left it — there are still puddle pics and PhotoBooths of pretty girls, made more interesting by a haze of lo-fi demi-pixels. You click to the page of one such girl, a beautiful brunette blogger by the URL of wannabepopstar, who mostly posts photos of herself — blurry selfies and grainy GIFs, cute film shots of her and her alt boyfriend, and high-flash photos posed in party outfits. A tried and true formula for a little bit of Tumblr fame back in the day. But wait a second, wannabepopstar looks familiar… is that… Addison Rae?

Yes, that Addison Rae, symbol of the “talentless” first wave of TikTok superstars that danced their way to the top of everyone’s FYPs during the app’s boom in popularity during the first year of the pandemic. The Addison Rae known for epitomising a certain kind of born-in-the-2000s influencer archetype — a girl who by all definitions made it in the new age of social media (Addison was ranked as the highest-earning TikTok personality by Forbes in 2020), but has committed the sins of dressing basic and being cringeworthy even after blowing up and getting rich. The Addison Rae who caught controversy for failing to give credit to the creators behind her viral dances, used a glass shield as a face mask during the pandemic, dated Bryce Hall, king of the side of TikTok where would-be frat boys with dangly earrings post thirst traps, and constantly got roasted in comment sections (and on the red carpet) for wearing outfits that looked like they were randomly generated in the Sims. Addison also developed a reputation for her painfully brand-safe, family-friendly persona — she has a line of dolls crafted in her likeness at Walmart and one of her most viral moments is a clip of her reading aloud rap lyrics and awkwardly subbing the ‘bitch’ in ‘bad bitch’ with a bleep to keep the clip kid-friendly (commenters assigned extra cringe points because the lyrics are actually about Addison, and extra-extra cringe points for Addison explaining that the song is actually about her). So what is TikTok’s reigning brand-safe-and-basic bad bleep doing on Tumblr, previously the cultural hub for (often NSFW) youthful malaise and rebellion?

It all started a few years back, when people online noticed Addison adding LGBTQ+ alternative artists like Arca and Sophie to her Spotify playlists — not what was expected from a girl largely considered to be the human equivalent of the TJ Maxx store playlist. Then, her outfits became suspiciously more slayful — going from well, cute Maxxinista to showing up to events, or even just on Instagram stories, in pieces on the archival-to-avant-garde-spectrum from designers like Jean Louis de Scherrer and Gareth Pugh. Her style of posting also aligned her with her new edgier ethos. Post-MUA-session glam shots and sponsored posts with brands like American Eagle turned into moodboardable flash photos and photo dumps — solo, or with people beyond the TikTok league, including pop stars Olivia Rodrigo and Charli XCX, who endorsed Addison (aka wannabepopstar)’s music career on Twitter back in 2021. 

But the rebellion of Addison Rae didn’t come to a head until last August, when she posted a photo wearing a Holy Trinity-themed bikini to promote a collaboration between Adidas and Praying, enfant terrible of post-ironic/piss-people-off-online streetwear. The collateral damage was major — Addison deleted the post and was, for a while, considered the incarnate of the wickedness of the devil himself, to certain Christians and those concerned that culture is on a downward spiral whether or not the devil is involved. Around the same time, Addison’s scrapped album leaked and went viral — not because people were trolling it, but rather because it gave self-aware, earwormy bubblegum pop in the lineage of PC Music, the UK record  label behind 2000s-pop-cliche-stars like Hannah Diamond.

So, it makes sense that Addison would find herself drawn to more alternative (and lower traffic) pastures online — it seems she was on her way there anyways. And it’s likely that she’s also come face-to-face with the Tumblr nostalgia that’s taken over TikTok. But while Addison’s been blogging, her brand-safe empire’s been falling — in January, Sephora dropped Addison’s beauty line Item Beauty. Item was launched by Addison in 2020 as a direct-to-consumer brand and entered into an exclusive partnership with Sephora in 2021. The brand is now, apparently, on hiatus — Item’s site and Instagram page have both been stripped of content and locked. At the same time, Sephora announced they were dropping the skincare line of Hyram Yarbro, another influencer who got big on TikTok during the Covid lockdown. Takes were made — mostly about how having millions of followers on TikTok isn’t enough to sustain interest from shoppers. And that influencer brands are starting to cool off — beauty brand Morphe, famous for its constant collabs with influencers, filed for bankruptcy around the same time.

And while these observations are true, they neglect the fact that, ultimately, Item was too aligned with the brand-safe image that Addison has now left behind. Item’s branding was bouncy, summery and appealing to tweenage eye. Its range included products with cutesy-clever-corny names like Brow Chow and Lash Snack — the brand equivalent of the cheerleader-y permasmile Addison wore during her first couple years on TikTok. If wannabepopstar was to make a beauty line, it probably wouldn’t look like Item — it would be something more complicated, likely closer to the territory of ISAMAYA mixed with the branding of a 2000s Britney perfume (who Addison is constantly compared to these days). The point is that this generation of influencers can change up who they are and what they represent faster than their brands, and their original audiences, can keep up — and that these changes are often motivated by the type of internet they consume and first reflected in the nuances of how they post.

There are just a few brands that have managed to tap into the energy of 2010s Tumblr, alive and well on Addison's blog, despite it showing up in content (and endless trend pieces) for a couple of years now. Perhaps most notably Wildflower Cases, which recently created a Tumblr-themed campaign for the release of a new phone case and has reoriented its wider content strategy to include the visual shorthand of the platform like justgirlythings posts and coquette style. And while in-the-know influencers everywhere, including Wildflower co-owner Devon Lee Carlson, have taken to a Tumblr-ish aesthetic of lo-fi pics and moody or random posts — Addison appears to be the first to take it a step further and actually just post on Tumblr. 

Amidst increasing distress that everything is becoming just an aesthetic, perhaps this is a solution — if you encounter something you like online, go see what it’s all about. Don’t just bring the Tumblr aesthetic to your TikTok, close the app and click around to see what’s going on on Tumblr. There’s been tons of talk about how we’re in the second age of blogging, with the rise of Substack, a newsletter and blogging platform used by both ex-industry journos and the new generation of people who have something to say too young to have ever hedged their bets on making it in traditional publishing. But Substack doesn’t do quite what Tumblr, or even its predecessors like Blogspot did. Its interface is too… slick, not janky or customisable enough and only lends to a few kinds of posts.

Stumbling upon wannabepopstar’s blog feels special in part because it feels like a secret — Addison’s never plugged it on her other accounts and most of her posts still have less than 300 notes (Tumblr-speak for all the engagement the post has received on the platform, including likes and reblogs). But it also feels like it’s its own world, more than TikTok or Instagram or even Substack does. On Tumblr, you can create photo, video, audio and text posts, and repost other people’s. You can answer questions from the public, snoop through other bloggers' likes, and fiddle around with html code until your blog feels like you. And the Tumblr dashboard feels remarkably peaceful upon return (maybe it’s all that dark blue) whereas Instagram and TikTok’s feeds are intentionally bursting at the screen-seam with invasive-feeling autoplaying Reels and livestreams, begging to show you more content — TikTok is even introducing an autoscroll feature.

Perhaps most crucially, Addison’s Tumblr shows that she’s willing and ready to post without a massive audience in mind. This is a refreshing contrast to the common complaint that we’ve gotten to a point where the stereotypical mega-influencer seems to only post if they can make money from it (even Addison’s Instagram feed is still a mix of smiley spon-con alongside more Raenaissance-ical pics). Wannabepopstar’s story is that of transformation, of the magnitude we rarely witness in a vibe economy that encourages briefly hopping from one aesthetic to the next — a good girl gone bad, the best of the brand-safes gone brandless, a basic ‘bad bleep’ gone blogging.

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