Keeping Up With the Kardashians Began as a Reality Show. It’s Ending as So Much More
Kim Kardashian went viral after the 2013 Met Gala for all the wrong reasons. At the time, she was best known for her diamond-studded meltdowns on Keeping Up With the Kardashians and a 72-day marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries. But the social media savvy star was about to rehabilitate her image, and she had just the right dress for it. Give in a floral Givenchy dress by designer Riccardo Tisci, whose pieces are worn like haute couture medals of honor. Tisci was already dressing Kim's then boyfriend Kanye West for the event, so he styled her as a favor too. The point was, Kanye was considered a guest of honor that night and Kim was his plus-one.
But this dress had the potential to change things. Refined, unexpected - it was far from the typical bodycon aesthetic that Kim and her sisters embraced. To say she was tough would be an understatement. If the dress got the right buzz, the fashion elite could finally leave their reality show - or sextape - behind and anoint them.
That didn't happen - at least not then. Instead, the dress was meme-ized: mocked and gawked in every corner of the internet compared to a grandmother's poorly padded couch and Mrs. Doubtfire's' 90s dresses. The splash Kim intended capsized her hopes.
But the tide turned less than a year later. Kanye and Kim continued dating, and his position as fashion kings categorically bolstered the Kardashian-Jenner brand. Combine this with the rise of social media - Kim snapping one selfie at a time - and she suddenly had all the cards in her hand. No longer just being written off as a reality star, she became a real phenomenon with real impact.
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Kim and Kanye at the 2013 Met Gala
Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images
Vogue took notice and put her and Kanye on the cover of its April 2014 issue. It was the ultimate seal of approval: Kim had finally reached the upper echelons of fashion's glitterati, and she did it in a Lanvin wedding dress.
We literally saw her star materialize - rather than the way we see other celebrities rise through interviews, talk show appearances, and muddled Oscar speeches. Kim's journey from D-list wannabe to fashion icon to multiple separator was carefully documented in Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which ends its 14-year run on June 10. After more than a decade, it's more than just a reality show. It's a vehicle, a ship, a laboratory experiment that begs a fascinating question: could a relatively anonymous family achieve ubiquitous supersonic fame through the life of their lives? And what would happen if millions followed this journey? Think The Truman Show with pink lip gloss.
"If you've been watching the Kardashians from the start, you know what it means for Kim to be a guest of honor at the Met Gala," said Emma Diamond, co-founder of Comments by Celebs. “Because you know what it was like when she was taken so roughly, when she was completely fooled. When you're someone who's been watching from the start, it's almost as if you feel that shared pride with them. "
Whether you're proud of the Kardashians - or exhilaration or anger or amusement - there's no denying that you feel something. When "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" premiered in 2007, it was just your standard family-centric reality plan, nothing we hadn't seen on The Osbournes before. However, unlike this series, the Kardashians managed to stay in the public eye.
Kim Kardashian celebrates her birthday at Les Deux - Arrivals
The family 2007
That's partly because of Kim's sextape, which was released in March 2007, a few months before KUWTK's debut. Combine it with Kim's Playboy cover, which was also released that year, and Puritan America had a very special take on her. But Kim was able to control her narrative about KUWTK by breaking down people's preconceived notions by letting them see who she really is.
And people answered. In fact, they reacted to the whole family. According to the Even the Rich podcast, 13 million viewers tuned in to KUWTK in the first month of broadcast, and the numbers grew from then on. But where their Hills and Jersey Shore peers relied on reviews to stay relevant, the Kardashians weren't resting on a hit show. They played the long game, hit virtually every red carpet, and endorsed everything from TrimSpa to Carl's Jr.
At the same time, they tweeted and posted snapshots of their lives that only fueled interest in Keeping Up With the Kardashians. "I just signed up for Twitter," Kim said enthusiastically in an interview in 2009 - three years after the platform was launched and long before stars like Katy Perry or even Kanye made it their domain.
The sisters did the same on Instagram. "The Kardashian-Jenners were the first to pursue a linear and social strategy at the same time, targeting both audiences when the" Keeping Up With the Kardashians "franchise premiered," said Claudine Cazian, public figure for Instagram. "They have built a huge following through their ability to build intimate, personal relationships with their fans."
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Kevin Mazur / Getty Images
"Kim documented it every day in such a way that people felt like they were driving," says Diamond. “I think everyone does that now. I'm not going to say the Kardashians were the original, but Kim was very aware from the start and always started her satisfaction with "Guys, that." The words she uses really make you feel like you're his girlfriend . ”
The Kardashian-Jenners have made millions of "friends," also known as fans. The five sisters together have 907 million Instagram followers, and those followers hang on every word. They even go under the knife if that means they look a little more like Kylie Jenner. “There's no denying that people love the Kardashians. There's no denying that they're incredibly influential, ”said Jess Cagle, Sirius XM radio host and former People editorial director. "There's a kind of great respect, sometimes a reluctant respect for the empire they've built."
KUWTK's longtime executive producer Farnaz Farjam has watched this empire grow in real time. She says the Kardashians' profile changed significantly after the first season of Kourtney and Kim Take Miami, which aired in 2009.
“We literally stayed right on the strip during the first season of Take Miami,” she recalls. "Me and Kourtney were jogging from one end of the strip to Resort Fontainebleau." But when they “stupidly” booked the same accommodations as they did next year, “we couldn't even go to the beach. We had to find the most secluded beach and sneak away, or we had to get up super early in the morning to do something on the beach before the paparazzi were up. "
From then on it only got wilder. Photographers began to memorize the KUWTK crew's cars and scoured production offices to find out where the performers were shooting. "We had to do these deep fakes and fake the paparazzi," says Farjam. “We had decoy cars that looked like the girls' cars. Every year we have increased the security game from two securities to six securities to one security per person. "
Celebrity Sightings - Farmer Griffin - 2012
Kim 2012 at Los Angeles International Airport.
GVK / Bauer-Griffin
By the time Kim and Kanye tied the knot in May 2014, the Kardashian-Jenners had become full-fledged celebrities, on par with Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts - at least in terms of media. "Interest in the Kardashians on People.com almost outweighed interest in any other celebrity besides Meghan Markle," says Cagle. “If there was any news about Kim Kardashian or Khloé in the magazine, it just had to be a good story. Whether Khloé Kardashian or Kim Kardashian or Charlize Theron didn't matter. We covered them right away. "
That reality stars achieve this fame is unheard of. Yes, the Hills girls graced the cover of Rolling Stone, and sure, Bethenny Frankel has had massive hits after housewives - but the Kardashian-Jenners have permeated culture in ways only the super famous can. It has forced people to take them - and reality TV itself - seriously. "You subconsciously always take in the Kardashians, whether you want to or not," says Celebs co-founder Julie Kramer's comments. "That made it impossible not to accept reality TV as a legitimate medium."
Farjam agrees. "There are reality TV shows that are more competitive and got the respect they used to need than the Kardashians," she says. "But the Kardashians have definitely shown respect for the people who live their lives in front of the camera and make themselves vulnerable."
Vulnerable. It's an interesting word when talking about the Kardashian-Jenners. After all, it's a group whose edited Instagram images are (rightly) criticized for promoting unrealistic body standards. Whose crowd of companies - Skims! Kylie cosmetics! KKW Beauty! - produces billions of dollars (and billions of controversies, many of which are poorly handled). A group whose lavish lifestyle, wardrobe, and pandemic vacation both infuriate and entertain people.
And yet the Kardashian-Jenner woman can be well described in a very specific context. In all fairness, that's how they crossed reality TV and are undeniable A-lists.
Perhaps Kim's multi-million dollar "fairytale" wedding to Humphries wasn't realizable, but the aftermath - the ugly crying, the realization that she'd made a big mistake - it absolutely was. Perhaps her bloodthirsty, screaming match with Kourtney over Christmas card photos was ridiculous, but those family dynamics are familiar to anyone with a family.
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Kim, Khloe, Kendall, Kylie and Kourtney in 2015.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians has worked, endured and changed the lives of its stars because its outrageous sheen is full of true moments of universal emotion. The sisters do not apologize for the parts of their lives that we are unrelated to - but at the same time they have no problem showing us what we can do. That made them the biggest stars in the world.
And it's a precedent for any conversation. Pop stars with the greatest impact (Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift) skillfully alternate between violent theatricality and impending confession. Shows like Bridgerton are escapist one minute and heartbreaking the next. The Kardashians popularized this formula for success in a way by embracing both its opulence and open heart. They showed everyone in public that you have to reveal something in order to make a connection - and that something actually has to be real.
"As soon as your 'assignability' is considered to be forced or not authentic, you are worse off than if you were not assignable from the outset," says Diamond. So she thinks Kim's freaking out about Regé-Jean Page leaving Bridgerton was such a moment: are - it creates a whole different atmosphere. "
Kramer agrees. "You think of the saying, 'Stars, they're just like us. Stars are not like us," she says. “But for a moment you can do something that makes us think, oh, wow, I feel just like you; I know exactly what this untouchable person was doing and feeling at that moment. "
Keeping up with the Kardashians made for many of those moments - and with the family's Hulu deal, we're sure to get more. But even if we don't, even if their new content is less transparent, Keeping Up has proven that it is possible to get personal. This reveal will continue to affect pop culture even if the Kardashians themselves don't attend.
That being said, Farjam doesn't think fans need to worry. "I see them keep archiving their lives," she says. "They get as big as - I don't know, I just have a feeling that they'll be icons even after they're gone."
Christopher Rosa is the entertainment editor at Glamor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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Originally published by Glamor
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