Forbes magazine walked back on their decision to crown Kylie Jenner the “youngest self-made billionaire” and accused the celebrity of inflating her company’s success. Candy Chan writes about the rise and fall of the Kardashian-Jenner family and their role in this critical time.
Forbes magazine dropped Kylie Jenner from the billionaires list, claiming that they have doubts about whether she earned her place on it initially.
Last year, Forbes named Jenner the “youngest self-made billionaire” after having her grace their cover in August 2018. Jenner, only 21 when crowned the title, is the founder of Kylie Cosmetics, a company Forbes valued at nearly $800 million. Now, Forbes suggests that Jenner and her team inflated their success and profits all these years, revealing “just how desperate some of the ultra-rich are to look even richer.” Jenner and her team deny this allegation.
As one of the youngest members in the Kardashian-Jenner clan, Kylie Jenner grew up with the taste of fame and luxury. In 2015, public interest in Jenner grew as more people started speculating on her lips: Are they real? Did she get lip fillers? Jenner, who eventually admitted to getting lip augmentation, used this momentum to launch her lip kits, the bedrock of her Kylie Cosmetics fortune.
The Forbes story debunking Jenner's fame is self-centered; in 2016, as Jenner made a bigger name for herself in the cosmetics industry, her sister Kim Kardashian West scored the July Forbes cover. Thus began a relentless campaign by Jenner's team, including her manager Kris Jenner, to “get a Forbes cover for Kylie.”
Jenner's team invited Forbes over to her mother's estate in Hidden Hills, California, and out came the documents. Forbes viewed tax documents detailing astronomical wealth—$307 million in 2016 revenues and a personal income of more than $110 million for Jenner that year. These numbers would put her in No. 2 on the Celebrity top 100 list, just behind Taylor Swift.
Incredulous about the rapid growth of the company, and with advice from analysts and industry experts, Forbes estimated Jenner's fortune to be $41 million, qualifying her for the No. 59 spot. Jenner’s PR was not happy: “We've done so much.”
As the Forbes story claims, Jenner brought her documents over to WWD, who did publish what Jenner wanted to hear: that her revenue surpassed estimates and speculation and that Kylie Jenner, not even at the legal age to drink alcohol, really did do that.
The WWD story blew up and by mid-2018, there were no doubts about Kylie Cosmetics hold on the industry. The estimates of her revenue climbed, enough to secure Jenner her famous Forbes cover in August, and a $1.2 billion deal with the beauty giant Coty.
Jenner' cover was momentous in pop culture history; here is a 20-year-old mother (Jenner gave birth to her daughter Stormi that February) whose “self-made” wealth grew from her own insecurities about her appearance. Forbes usage of “self-made” too incited widespread backlash from those who claim her family fame and fortune helped her get to where she is. But Jenner lashed back, saying "there's really no other word to use other than self-made because that is the truth" and that her parents ceased providing for her when she was fifteen.
Travis Scott, father to Jenner's daughter, would aptly sum up the public interest in Jenner in his song “Sicko Mode.” “Baby mama cover Forbes, got these other b*tches shook,” Scott raps.
The rise of the Kardashian-Jenner family is a touchstone of modern pop culture. They seem to do everything — fashion campaigns, reality TV, music videos — and they even dabble in politics. The most famous member of the clan, Kim Kardashian, single-handedly (okay, maybe with the help of her husband Kanye West) changed beauty norms and ideals. Kylie Jenner followed suit.
“What her half-sister Kim Kardashian West did for booty, Jenner has done for full lips,” wrote the 2018 Forbes cover story.
When future historians look back at our time, they will be similarly intrigued by the Kardashian-Jenner clan as we are, not for their looks, but for their business acumen and ability to profit from almost anything.
At the helm of the Kardashian-Jenner clan is matriarch Kris Jenner, who is responsible for making her family the cultural phenomenon they are. Though critics can say the family is “famous for being famous,” it takes a mind like Kris Jenner's to capitalize on the family name and turn it into an entertainment empire. The world celebrated or talked about this family-cum-business in reference to a lot, but perhaps the most neglected is the fact that it is run by (mostly) women.
Kim runs a myriad of businesses, including her KKW cosmetics line to her Skims shapewear, and is worth $350 million, according to Forbes. Kendall is the most in-demand and highest-paid model in the fashion industry, earning $22.5 million in 2018. Kourtney and Khloe profit from endorsement deals, promoting items ranging from waist trainers to detox tea. Kylie, of course, runs Kylie Cosmetics and Kylie Skin.
They are women who profit from their looks and the hyper-sexualization of their bodies, and with that comes the assumption that they are frivolous and unintelligent. Last year when Kim announced her intent to become a lawyer, one Twitter user wrote, “why make a mockery of the hard work, diligence, respectability, and INTELLIGENCE it takes to be a lawyer?”
Regardless of whether Kylie Jenner falsified her company's tax document, the response she received reeks of misogyny. The Sun, a British tabloid, published an article with the headline, ”Kylie Jenner ‘ould face jail time's if she was ‘dumb enough to submit ‘false tax filings, lawyer claims.”
Regarding Forbes’s accusation, some people, including Jenner herself, might be wondering ‘who cares?;? Stories about fraud and scams get the public's interest, but there are plenty of those circulating the internet, and many brands often get attention during the news cycle of such scandals.
Perhaps Forbes' take on Jenner resonates at this moment because 2020, a year of pandemic and civil unrest, demands societal reflection, and people question the need for ‘influencers’ and social media celebrities.
The world is in crisis. Millions of people suffer from the consequences of COVID-19, and what they see on social media offers no respite. Early on in the pandemic, celebrities took to Instagram, posting photos and videos of themselves in their luxury estates and condos to remind people to stay home. However, the average Instagram user could not find comfort in the material wealth they saw on their screens.
“ Among the social impacts of the coronavirus is its swift dismantling of the cult of celebrity,” writes Amanda Hess in a New York Times article. The #guillotine2020 hashtag was and still is popular on Twitter. Celebrity culture produced the widely ridiculed “Imagine” cover, a video that in essence, suggested that the title of celebrity can mean something more than what it is, that watching a bunch of celebrities talk about hope can improve the circumstances of the pandemic.
Forbes published their story on Jenner at the end of May, just as protests erupted across the nation after the death of George Floyd. The story in itself has nothing to do with national news, but the Kardashian-Jenners themselves have everything to do with systemic racism and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. As many on Twitter were quick to point out, Kylie Cosmetics was not the only brand estimated to reach $1 billion in 2018; Pat McGrath Labs, the eponymous line founded by the Black celebrity make-up artist, was equally successful. McGrath is also a self-made billionaire, but she was not on the cover.
The Kardashian-Jenners also, according to some, appropriated Black culture, from their personal branding to their hairstyles. Unlike many Black people, however, they profit generously from Black culture.
2020 is a reckoning for many; people and institutions receive scrutiny for how they handle a public health crisis and what they do to dismantle or uphold systemic racism. Kylie Jenner and the Kardashian-Jenner clan will not be exempt from those conversations.
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