The platform’s highest-paid celebrities collectively hauled in $55.5 million in 2021, a 200% increase from a year earlier.
Movies, TV shows, clothing lines—a Madison Square Garden performance.
Over the last year, the biggest TikTok stars’ earnings have surged, driven partly by their efforts to broaden their fame beyond the platform that first turned them into celebrities. This is certainly the case for the sisters atop our list of the highest-earning TikTok-ers, Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. Drawing plenty of comparisons to the Kardashian sisters, they now have their own Hulu series, The D’Amelio Show. It premiered in September and was renewed for another season two months later. Then, in December, Dixie performed at the Garden and nine other venues for the Jingle Ball concert series alongside Ed Sheeran and the Jonas Brothers. And together, the sisters have a lucrative brand, Social Tourist, a joint venture with Hollister sold at roughly 500 of the retailer’s stores. All this has helped push their earnings up to a combined $27.5 million, from less than $7 million a year earlier.
Meanwhile, Addison Rae has starred in one Netflix movie, He’s All That, and signed a new multifilm deal with the streamer. Josh Richards has also appeared in a Netflix movie, Under the Stadium Lights, and started his own production company, CrossCheck Studios, a joint venture with Mark Wahlberg’s production outfit.
Altogether, the highest-paid TikTok stars collectively earned $55.5 million in 2021, up 200% from the last time we counted up their paychecks, in 2020. And while they’ve focused their attention away from TikTok, they still earn much of their money—typically 30% to 50%–from sponsored content, where a corporation pays for a post advertising their goods on a star’s social media account. As TikTok has grown to over a billion users worldwide, businesses like Amazon, Louis Vuitton and McDonald’s have bought such ads. The TikTok stars can charge as much as a half million dollars for a single post, though most generally earn an average of between $100,000 to $250,00 per post, more than double the rates from that previous list in 2020.
The TikTok-ers understand the audience these advertisers want to reach because they themselves are about the same age. All of these top earners are under 25. Another universal truth about TikTok: There, stardom and money can come and go quickly, as evidenced by three newcomers to this list, Bella Poarch, Avani Gregg and Kris Collins.
No one is bigger than Charli, who has the app’s largest following (133 million subscribe to her videos) and a ballooning amount of business interests. She’s got the basics covered—advertising sponsorships from Invisalign, Morphe cosmetics and a newer one with Dunkin’ Donuts —and then considerably more. In early 2021, Hollister launched its joint venture with Charli and her sister Dixie, Social Tourist. (Teens seem to like the stuff. Fran Horowitz, the CEO of Hollister’s parent company, has pointed to Social Tourist as a major contributor to Hollister’s nearly 10% sales increase through September 2021.) Along with the Hulu series, Charli and Dixie debuted a show on Snap, too, in November. Charli vs. Dixie features 10 mini-TV episodes. In those, the pair compete over something—baking in one, board games in another—continuing to live even life’s simpler moments in front of a camera.
Dixie may be the older sister, but much of her fame and earnings, including the Hollister, Hulu and Snap deals, still intertwine with her more popular sister Charli. (Dixie has 57 million followers, Charli 133 million.) For some distance, Dixie has sought to carve out her own career as a pop singer, a deliberate effort to counter the squeaky-clean girls-next-door vibe powering the D’Amelio marketing machine. In 2021, she released two songs, “Psycho,” which featured rapper Rubi Rose and hit No. 25 on Billboard’s U.S. pop chart, and “F—kBoy,” borrowing a Gen Z term for a philandering young man. At Christmastime, Dixie toured as part of the Jingle Ball concert series, hitting the stage in Dallas, Boston and Chicago. From home, she has given her fans access not only to her family life but her love life, too, plastering her Twitter with lovey-dovey exchanges between herself and her boyfriend Noah Beck, another high-profile TikTok star, who seems poised to become another sponsorship partner.
The biggest thing in Rae Land this past year was her time on Netflix. She had a lead role in He’s All That, a part that couldn’t have required much research. In the movie, Rae plays a high schooler with a growing social media profile who makes over a nerdy guy in time for prom. (It is a remake of She’s All That, a Freddie Prinze Jr. flick plotted as complexly as a TikTok video.) When He’s All That debuted in August, it briefly ranked No. 1 on Netflix in 78 countries. A month later, Netflix announced a new deal with Rae for several more movies but didn’t disclose any other details. Away from Hollywood, Rae has a lucrative sponsorship with American Eagle, a top competitor to Hollister, the company backing the D’Amelios. And she has her Item Beauty line—a joint venture with makeup startup Madeby Collective—that sells its Lash Snack mascara and other products at stores like Sephora.
In little more than a year, Poarch’s standing has skyrocketed, making her now the third-most-followed person on the app (87 million people subscribe to her account). Her start came in August 2020 when she posted a silly lip-sync video to “M to B,” a song by a British rapper; it became the most-viewed TikTok in 2020. Born in the Philippines and later raised in Texas, she enjoyed performing and singing as a kid, but her parents didn’t want her to pursue show business. So after high school, Poarch served in the U.S. Navy as a helicopter mechanic. Her folks needn’t have worried. Sponsors love her, and in the past year she’s done ads for Google, Prada and Tinder. In May, Poarch released her first single, “Build a Bitch”—it reached No. 56 on Billboard’s pop chart—signaling what she hopes is her next phase as a musician.
Brands don’t mind the bro antics that fill Richards’ TikTok feed: He’s gotten sponsorship deals from Amazon, CashApp and others. His schtick makes for perfect fodder in his Barstool Sports podcast, BFFs, that he cohosts with an older version of himself, Barstool founder Dave Portnoy. (Past topics: NFTs, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, gambling, Leonardo DeCaprio.) Richards has gladly applied that party animal aura to the rest of his commercial domain. There’s his Ani energy drinks, which are now sold in chains as large as Walmart, and the venture capital firm, Animal Capital, he cofounded. The VC outfit has raised $15 million and put the money into everything from PearPop, an app where influencers can find collaborators, to Colossal, a genetic-engineering lab aiming to resurrect woolly mammoths.
Like Poarch, Collins is another example of how fast someone can accumulate fame and money off TikTok. Before the pandemic, Collins was a hairdresser in Vancouver. When Covid made working impossible for a time, she downloaded TikTok—largely on her brother’s suggestion—and has since put together something akin to an ongoing sketch comedy show. She plays a number of recurring characters, many of them based on family members, including her immigrant mom. It’s won her 41 million followers on TikTok, most of them amassed in the last year, and those funny routines also play well on YouTube, where she has 4.5 million subscribers. (That’s a considerable point. The usual TikTok stuff—lip syncs, dances—doesn’t transfer successfully to YouTube, which rewards longer videos with a little more depth.) Collins’ humor is family-friendly, catnip for brands such as Hershey, Lionsgate and Pantene, which have showered her with sponsorships.
In summer 2019, Gregg became TikTok famous as Clown Girl, posting makeup tutorials, many of which showed her as a brightly colored Harley Quinn—white contact lenses, red and blue stars covering her face. That same year, she quit her job as a lifeguard, then moved from rural Indiana to Los Angeles. In California, she was one of the original members of Hype House, the collective of influencers whose formation in December 2019 marked the beginning of TikTok’s ascension in pop culture. More recently, Gregg has snagged a role in a later season of Chicken Girls, a Web series about in which she stars as a bossy high school cheerleading captain, and starred in her own Snap show. The world cannot seem to get enough of Gregg and these other young TikTok stars: In fact, the venerable publisher Simon & Schuster has already commissioned an autobiography from Gregg. The book, which came out last February, is titled Backstory: My Life So Far.
We look at the top-earning stars whose fame originated first on TikTok. This leaves out other celebrities active on the app, like Will Smith and Jason DeRulo. From there, our numbers estimate what the TikTokers earned from January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021. This is different from our debut list in 2020, which calculated earnings from July 2019 through July 2020. Another difference: That initial ranking was a snapshot of who we thought had earned a million dollars from TikTok during those 12 months. With sponsored content rates up, a million isn’t hard to do anymore, which is why this new Top 5 list requires a minimum of $4.75 million in earnings, a point several times greater than our original roll’s cutoff.