Viral dances, talking dogs, celebrity cameos — no, you’re not dreaming. You’ve just entered the world of TikTok.
While it quickly became everyone’s favorite 2020 distraction, the short-form video-sharing app known as TikTok was originally launched in 2016. Since its inception, the app has cultivated and curated a level of stardom only few can achieve in a 15-second video.
TikTok stars have become modern-day celebrities. And they have the bank accounts to prove it. Early this year, Forbes released its first-ever list of the highest-earning stars on the apps, with some users making up to $5 million. Their earnings were estimated between June 2019 to June 2020.
Read below to learn more about these viral native TikTok stars and how they make their money.
Thanks to his 49.5 million followers, Spencer X has landed sponsorship deals with Sony, Uno, and Oreo that earn him an estimated $1.2 million. As a self-described “mouth music man,” the 28-year-old wows his loyal viewers with his unique beatboxing videos — a skill he aims to ride to the top. He told Forbes that he dreams of hosting SNL, working with big names like Beyoncé, or performing at Coachella and the Superbowl. He wants “to show people that a lot is possible in what we thought was impossible.”
Spencer X has been working on his beatboxing skills since he was again, and only started on the platform in February 2019. Just a few short months later, he moved to L.A., where he’s currently working on his first singles.
Creator Michael Le earns an estimated $1.2 million on the app thanks to his 42.5 million followers and sponsorship deals with major brands like Bang energy drinks. His viral videos often feature his 5-year-old brother, Johnathan, and other members of his TikTok collective, the Shluv House. The 20-year-old has produced two TikToks that remain some of the most-shared videos on the app — both accumulating a total of 478 million views.
Though Le has been a popular creator on the app since 2016 (back when it was known as Music.ly), his rise in fame this year is leading him to dream bigger. “I’m pushing to be the top influencer on TikTok,” he told Forbes, adding that his next venture would be to create multiple series on YouTube.
Formerly known as TikTok’s “bad boy,” 28-year-old Josh Richards has capitalized on his edgy persona — popular with his 23.5 million followers — and used it to land deals with Reebox and HouseParty. But that’s not all that’s led to his $1.5 million earnings. Richards also has his own line of merch, earns money from YouTube ad revenue, co-founded a talent management company (known as TalentX), launched a link of drinks called Ani Energy, and joined TikTok’s small trivial Triller as its chief strategy officer.
He even leveraged his celebrity status into a song deal with Warner Records.
Richards told Forbes that “Influencers need to learn how to properly monetize,” and it sure seems like he’s gotten that part of his coveted job title down.
TikTok’s highest earners are all young women under the age of 20, and the first big name on that list is Loren Gray, who has 49.8 million followers and a multitude of revenue streams that have her banking a solid $2.6 million.
After a string of bad management and misguided sponsorship deals, Gray has carved her own path, which includes working with big names like Skechers, Burger King, Hyundai, and Revlon and landing a deal with Virgin Records. Since 2018, she’s released eight singles.
“The only person who knows how to brand Loren Gray and be Loren Gray is Loren Gray,” she told Forbes, and as her earnings show, striking out on her own was a good career move.
Now we enter the world of the D’Amelio family, starting with 19-year-old Dixie D’Amelio. While the family has capitalized on their major fanbase with individual TikTok accounts and a popular YouTube channel, Dixie is helping to bring home the bacon with an earning of $2.9 million.
After viral videos featuring her and her younger sister, Charlie (another high-earner on this list), Dixie rose to TikTok fame with 45.5 million followers. While she’s signed joint deals with her sister for Hollister and Morphe, Dixie has also turned her social media celebrity into a thriving music career. Her single “Be Happy” was released in June 2020 and became the No. 1 trending video on YouTube — beating out a Kanye West and Travis Scott video that was released the same day.
Beating out her older sister at $4 million earnings and 101. 8 million followers, Charli D’Amelio has earned a lot of bragging rights for a 16-year-old. After joining TikTok in 2019, she had multiple dance videos go viral, which led to none other than Bebe Rexha inviting her to dance on stage during a live concert in Brooklyn. Her fame continued to climb, and she landed deals with EOS cosmetics, appeared in a Sabra hummus Super Bowl commercial, and earned other joint-deals with her IRL and TikTok sister, Dixie. In addition to sponsorships, she also has a line of merch that helps pays the bills.
Addison Rae Easterling
Finally, it’s time to meet the current reigning Queen of TikTok, Addison Rae Easterling. Earning a whopping $5 million posting dance videos for her 70.6 million followers, the 20-year-old rose to fame quickly. So much so that she left school at the end of 2019 to pursue TikTok full-time in L.A. — and for good reason.
The young star has landed a multitude of deals with major brands like American Eagle and Fashion Nova. She launched her own brand of merchandise and a joint-venture makeup line called Item Beauty with startup Madeby. And she co-hosts a Spotify podcast with her mother, Sheri Nicole, called “Mama Knows Best,” where they “get into conversations that most kids would feel uncomfortable asking their parents about.”
With her viral videos and other high-earning ventures, it doesn’t seem like Easterling is giving up her No. 1 spot anytime soon.