Decoding K-Drama Celebrity: Unmasking the Bare Truth of Influencer Culture


Netflix’s “Celebrity” pulls back the curtain on influencer life, revealing it’s not all roses and glitters. 

Trigger warning: The following content contains references to suicide.

Warning: spoilers ahead. Thriller drama lovers, unite! After hits like Squid Game, My Name and The Glory, Netflix offers yet another suspense-packed Korean drama that will put you on the edge of your seat—Celebrity, a drama delving deep into the intricate world of social media influencers. Premiered in June this year, the storyline centers around Seo A-ri, a former salesperson turned Instagram sensation. But when the elitist Gabin Society, comprising Seoul’s crème de la crème of influencers, begins to torment her, her life spirals into tragedy, culminating in an unforeseen twist. 

As you follow her journey, the drama paints a sobering view of the challenges influencers face away from the limelight. In this article, we’ll share three key takeaways from the series, shedding light on the not-so-glamorous side of influencer stardom.

Online reputation is fragile  

Early on, Celebrity lays bare a stark reality: the precarious nature of online fame. The show poignantly notes, “Nothing’s more entertaining than watching the hell someone else is in. This is all anonymous. This is social media. A world you can beat up anyone you want.” 

Biniimom, a well-known Instagram influencer who started her own clothing line and carries a loyal follower base, suddenly finds herself embroiled in a scandal. Her frenemy exposes a bunch of screenshots of their chats, wherein Biniimom is allegedly gossiping and bad-mouthing fellow influencers, notably members of the Gabin Society. 

The authenticity of these chats remains in question, but the backlash is immediate and unforgiving. Without taking a moment to verify the information or hear Binnimom’s perspective, her followers desert her. This scandal swiftly turns Binnimom’s followers against her, sabotaging her online business and eventually wiping her entire social media presence, not leaving a single trace. 

This rapid fall from grace underscores a harsh truth: building a robust online reputation takes months and years of sweat and tears, but tearing it down can happen overnight. Even the most loyal followers can become skeptics in the face of controversy, highlighting that trust in the digital influencer realm is fragile and volatile. 

The pressure to live a double life 

Most of us curate our online presence, emphasizing highlights and omitting low points. For the average social media user, losing a string of their authenticity here and there might not heavily impact their online persona. Yet, the stakes are a lot higher for influencers. 

Celebrity showcases the Gabin Society members’ constant struggle to uphold an impeccable lifestyle on platforms like Instagram. Onscreen, they pretend to be “besties” with each other online and present enviable lives. Yet, behind the scenes, they navigate a web of rivalry and personal struggles. 

For instance, Lunachic Minhye, one of the Gabin Society members, consistently maintains a “big sister” or “best friend” attitude with her followers, even when she actually doesn’t care about any of them. Another member, Angela, found herself compelled to justify her absence from a major fashion event, all the while grappling with saving her marriage from a divorce and dodging looming scandal. 

The strain of balancing both online and offline personas while also maintaining a career can be overwhelming. As Toronto-based influencer Jamie Bloch articulated in an article in The Trauma and Mental Health Report (THMR), “What they (people) fail to understand is that it’s a job and not an excuse to quit school or their day job in pursuit of having fun, traveling or living a glamorous life all of the time, because that often isn’t the reality.” 

The pressure to live a double life 1
Seo A-ri (left) is perplexed and amazed by influencer frenemy Lunachic Minhye (right), disappointed with the shallow relationships among the influencer community members and with her followers.
Image Courtesy by Alamy

Loneliness and isolation can take over you 

“People either know me very well or don’t know me at all, and yet they cheer for me or hate me,” says Seo A-ri towards the end of the series. 

While Seo A-ri enjoys a substantial following and widespread admiration, she constantly confronts a stark emotional void. A public outcry on social media, holding her responsible for overburdening her uncle Gyeong-Bae, an employee of her clothing brand, who tragically took his own life, exacerbates her feelings of solitude. This intense isolation nudges her towards a fragile emotional state, with her becoming suicidal at some point.

Her emotional struggles are compounded when her best friend, motivated by jealousy, turns her back on her and becomes an anonymous online bully. Despite her burgeoning fan base and their effusive support, Seo A-ri can’t shake the feeling that no one really knows her and that her internet relationships are fleeting and lack depth. This emotional chasm highlights the paradox of digital influence: surrounded by millions, yet feeling utterly alone.

These emotional struggles cast a shadow over her personal relationships as well. Seo A-ri realizes that her rise to social media stardom and the demands of numerous brand collaborations have caused her to neglect her relationships with friends and family. This unintended negligence fuels perceptions of her as egocentric and fame-driven, but in reality, she is simply just really busy earning her bread. 

This experience isn’t unique to Seo A-ri or even to the world of fiction. Pop icon Lady Gaga, for instance, revealed in 2016 how her fame had bred loneliness. She noted the existential toll of being a public figure, “The moment I step out into the world, I, in some ways, belong to everyone else. It’s legal for people to follow me, to stalk me at the beach, and I can’t even ask them to leave.”

Final thoughts 

The hunger games of fame, success and wealth can often overshadow the profound challenges faced by influencers. While social media has undoubtedly become a lucrative platform for potential stars and gifted content creators, it also introduces an unprecedented range of pressures and setbacks. 

As the industry continues to grow, it’s imperative to say that influencers and those looking to join the ranks prioritize their mental health. The drama, Celebrity, rightly illustrates how it’s not worth sacrificing one’s well-being for the allure of digital stardom. Influencers should make sure that their inner well-being matches their outward successes, much like how one would scrutinize the purity of gold. After all, genuineness and overall well-being are the foundations of true, enduring influence.

Also read: 

Header Image Courtesy by Netflix


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