He Became the Most Famous Person Online – Without Uttering a Single Word
| LAST UPDATE 01/01/2023
Growing up as an immigrant kid in northern Italy, Lame had a big dream. After being laid off from his job during the pandemic, he joined TikTok. And just a few years later, he became the most followed person in the entire world.
Meet Khaby Lame
Born Khabane Lame, most of us already know him as the most famous content creator in the world. He's an overnight sensation that millions of people can't get enough of. But his road to stardom has been anything but simple.
The content creator kicked off his social media career at just 19 years old during the COVID pandemic, with something about his mysteriousness captivating the world. And ever since then, Lame has seen immeasurable heights of success. But where did all begin? Let's take a look back...
Lame was born in Senegal in 2000 and moved to Italy with his parents when he was one year old. He grew up with three siblings in a public housing complex in Chivasso, Italy, which is a tiny town in the city of Turin. Chivasso has a population of only 27,000 people - talk about small-town living.
The content creator spent most of his life in the public housing system with his family, to which he later credits his worldly understanding. "There we were people from every ethnicity, so we would protect each other a lot," he recalled. However, he knew he was destined for success.
Growing Up Overseas
Since he moved to Italy with his family at such a young age, the future TikTok star began his education in Italian. Lame and his siblings studied in Italian schools in their earlier years - until one day, things took a bit of a turn, and the young boy continued his education elsewhere.
Lame's parents decided to send their boy to a Quranic school near Dakar when he was just fourteen years old. Little did he know that in just a few years, his TikTok stardom would kick off, and his life would completely change forever. But we're not there just yet.
The Senegalese native eventually moved back to his hometown, and it was time for him to find a job! Unfortunately, things were more difficult for Lame as he was not an Italian citizen. Although he speaks fluent Italian and considers the country his home, at the time, he was struggling to gain citizenship.
When looking for work, the immigrant teenager ended up working as a factory worker in the same northern industrial Italian town where he grew up in. There was not so much opportunity out there, but he knew he wanted more. He was going to find a way to get there sooner rather than later.
Khaby was working hard as a factory worker in Chivasso, but little did he (or anyone else) know, a worldwide pandemic was just around the corner. As a result of the pandemic and the lockdown, the 20-year-old Lame was laid-off and officially unemployed.
As a result of his unemployment, the soon-to-be TikTok star moved back into his family's apartment that he grew up with. He had to start from square one. However, he was just one of the millions who had lost their job to the pandemic. And reality was about to hit him, hard.
What To Do?
Like many other people who lost their jobs during the pandemic, Lame moved back home with his parents and three siblings in Chivasso, the town he grew up in. This definitely hits home for a lot of folks who also moved back in with their families during the pandemic.
The young Khaby was endlessly looking for jobs just like his father wanted, but nothing really called out to him. What was he going to do? The young influencer-to-be had to get a little creative in order to get a job and be happy at the same time. But where would he start?
Going Into Lockdown
However, as he continued looking for a new job, the pandemic grew worse and worse. There were more and more unanswered questions about what he was going to do next in his career, with fewer job opportunities available - especially being in Italy at the time.
The first outbreak of the virus hit in the second half of February 2020. After that, it spiraled throughout the country as no other European country had ever seen before. Due to its high contagious rate, Italy quickly became the country with the greatest number of people infected worldwide. Things weren't looking good for young Khaby.
1 in 114 Million...
Lame was just one of the 114 million people who lost their jobs in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Economic Forum, with over 100 million people losing their jobs which equalized to 255 million full-time jobs being lost, a total of $3.7 trillion dollars were lost in labor income.
The ongoing crisis just continued when people were put in and out of lockdown over the first few months and slowly improved when people began to work from home full time. However, working from home was simply impossible for people who were employed in manual labor jobs.
But with all these millions of people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, there was also plenty of opportunity for people to get real creative with their careers. Besides the incredible health professionals who all of a sudden had to become superheroes, people like Khaby needed to think outside of the box.
We saw people completely pivot their careers during this time and pursue passions of theirs they never had time to explore. We saw it first-hand all over Instagram with endless banana bread and people who decided to get their yoga teaching certification. However, the biggest thing to come out of the pandemic? TikTok.
Although TikTok was founded a decade ago, it hit new levels of success with the pandemic. At first, it was most popularly used by teenagers. But then people of all ages, backgrounds, careers, and cultures hopped onto the platform and were intrigued by all the trends that were born during this time.
Quite literally, everyone turned to TikTok within the first few months of the pandemic as either content creators or users, but those lucky ones who chose to become creators really saw heights of success that were completely unpredictable. And Khaby Lame was one of those lucky ones...
Like a lot of people during the pandemic, Lame decided to download the app and see what exactly all the hype was about. At first, he just started playing around with the app's duet and stitch features before really getting into the good stuff and finding his niche.
From there, he decided to start posting videos under the name @KhabyLame, and well, the rest is history. For something that started out of pure fun at the time, Lame managed to build an entire empire out of simply... being himself. As for what that looked like?
Power in Silence
Like many content creators who joined the app during the spring of 2020, he began by creating short clips of himself following the dancing trends, participating in comedy stunts, or watching video games. However, the "traditional" TikTok moves just didn't feel like him either.
So, he decided to go 100% percent himself and, in response, went 100% quiet. That's right. The TikToker made his way all the way to the top by being completely silent in all his videos. Instead, he used facial expressions to connect with people. And, well, it struck a chord.
An Idea Is Born
The young influencer differentiated himself from everyone else by not uttering a single word in his videos and instead relying on his mannerisms and expressions to do all the talking. "I came up with the idea because I was seeing these videos circulating, and I liked the idea of bringing some simplicity to it," Lame told CNN.
"The type of gesture came by chance, but the silence didn't. I thought of a way to reach as many people as possible. And the best way was not to speak," he explained. And boy, was he right. The young 20-year-old Senegalese native was on the verge of making it big in the online world...
His TikTok Style
Khaby caught everyone's attention, and with good reason. The young influencer is a tall and slender guy with an incredibly expressive face - and he had a million-dollar idea of what to do with it. The standard TikTok trends weren't right for him, so instead, he capitalized on a different market.
He decided to capture an audience by taking these viral and often ridiculously complicated life hack videos and responding with a wordless and easy-to-understand reaction clip. Instead of imitating the difficult life hack, Khaby would do the same task, just in a much more straightforward fashion. And it caught everyone's attention.
Lame responded to these wildly complicated DIY tasks in the most simple yet expressive way. For example, Lame got a toothbrush and toothpaste and simply brushed his teeth after watching an extremely complicated DIY trick of cutting a toothbrush in half and drilling in a syringe full of toothpaste to squeeze on the bristles.
After viewing the video, the content creator typically gave a sort of "SMH" reaction and then proceeded to show us the much easier way out with a sort of "duh" facial expression. He'd sometimes add an eye roll or shake of the head followed by the #learnfromkhaby. We're learning!
Through his silent but expressive reaction videos, he became one of social media's most recognizable and relatable digital content creators. "Maybe because my facial expressions are funny and they make people laugh; this simplicity makes people laugh, and I love it," Lame said about his approach to his videos.
His deadpan humor began attracting people all over the world, and eventually, he hit a level of success he could have never guessed coming. After just a year on the platform, Lame surpassed Gianluca Vacchi as the most-followed Italian on TikTok. And a few months later passed, Addison Rae as he became the second most-followed personality.
How did the 22-year-old content creator surpass Addison Rae within his first year on TikTok? Well, according to a fellow content creator, Adam Meskouri, "he's just a normal dude," which makes it "a lot easier to relate to him than most influencers."
Lame often posts from his bedroom, decorated with a Senegal flag and a Juventus soccer scarf, using an outdated iPhone and not the best of lighting -but that's what captured the crowd. We see how most other influencers' production value "has gone through the roof" recently, while Khaby just keeps it real.
A Hidden Meaning
Khaby's content is organic, simple, and not overproduced, making it relatable for anyone watching. His magic powers lay in his ability to connect with people using humor, and "his exasperation is relatable, and feelings are universal," according to Christina Ferraz, founder of the marketing agency, Thirty6five.
Lame came onto the platform while people were looking for "both escapism and connection," according to Ferraz. So when we scroll through Khaby's TikTok, his "lack of verbal communication allows the audience to focus only on his actions," which limits the audience to focus on anything else - and it just works.
The Internet’s Problem Solver
Lame's fame continued to skyrocket. People from all over the world were fascinated by how he would go about certain mundane activities. "They know I'm the one who solves problems, so they tag me or mention me, and they're like, 'Khaby it's your turn, solve this problem because we need you,'" he said.
One of Khaby's most viral videos featured the creator simply using a vegetable peeler to peel a cucumber after seeing a short video of a woman using her teeth to peel the veggie. Something so simple just goes a long way! Eventually, his stoic facial expressions became a viral meme, and his face was reposted in reaction clips everywhere.
Naturally, with all this hype from his TikToks, Lame's facial expressions turned into viral memes that took over the internet. His content is perfect "meme page bait," which means meme pages download his videos and repost them to Instagram for more effortless engagement... or simply just use his face for reactions.
According to Lame, who often posts videos with his friends, girlfriend, and other content creators, the secret to his success "is endurance above all." Khaby always believed his simple content, stoic yet hilarious facial expressions, and his frequent posting were what really skyrocketed his career.
By producing such relatable content, Lame was able to draw in an enormously international crowd. His Senglanese heritage, along with his Italian background, was a true inspiration for people worldwide. "I'm more followed abroad than in Italy," Khaby noted.
With all this international popularity, started to come enormous amounts of partnerships with global companies. The TikTok sensation began working with Netflix, the Indian fantasy sports platform Dream11, the soccer club PSG, Italian food company Barilla and a few other deals that are still being kept on the DL.
Height of Success
Fast forward to nearly three years later, and Khaby Lame has completely changed the way digital content is being created. The young superstar has shed a light onto content creating in a way no other influencer has done - and in response, made it to the 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list.
He recently signed a multi-year partnership with Hugo Boss and was featured in the 2022 #BeYourOwnBoss campaign. With all these successes in the bank, the 22-year-old Sengalese-born creator is worth a whopping $15 million dollars, per Celebrity Networth.
King of TikTok
So now that he is a complete and total social media superstar, the TikTok guru saw levels of success that quite literally no other TikTok influencer had ever seen before. In fact, he was crowned as the most followed person on TikTok earlier this year - with 144.9 million followers at the time.
Lame managed to surpass the TikTok queen, Chari D'Amelio, with his number of followers, making her the second most loved person on the platform. Khaby now has 153.2+ million followers, while Charli closely follows behind him with 149.2+ million.
A Whole Lotta Love
Hitting these numbers was a true testament to Khaby and his ability to connect with his followers using his deadpan humor. Lame's popularity transcended through different continents, ages, backgrounds, genders, and everything in between-and; people just wanted more.
From a factory worker to a TikTok legend, Khaby's life changed the moment he downloaded the app not even three years ago during the pandemic. And with his enormously outrageous success, he began collaborating with some of the industry's most famous celebrities.
NBA x TikTok
One of his most iconic collabs has been with soccer player Sergio Agüero when they re-made a hilarious DIY video together. We first see a video of a girl failing to pour coffee from a mug into a cup, to which the athlete then shows us how easy it is to pour coffee from a mug into a wine glass without spilling absolutely everywhere.
Another hilarious #learnfromkhaby moment featured none other than the Antetokounmpo brothers. The superstar NBA trio joined Khaby for a hilarious basketball-inspired video, but instead of imitating a nearly impossible video of complicated tricks, the group decided to "skip this one!" and instead "go back to NBA."
Not only was he hanging out with some of the NBA's finest, but Khaby also began meeting and creating videos with some of the music industry's top artists as well. The TikTok star partnered with Future for a hilarious short video and the duo was later pictured together in Milan!
It definitely didn't stop there, either! The TikTok star even linked up with the one and only Snoop Dogg and just hung out for the day. "A day with my uncle," Khaby wrote alongside the short clip of the two of them hanging out in the studio, taking photos, playing ball, and just goofing around.
Adjusting to Fame
In a short few years, Lame went from being unemployed during the pandemic and moving back in with his parents to being the most famous TikTok star in the entire world. And we already know mom and dad are beyond proud of their son's success, no matter how unexpected it was!
According to Lame, "they got into the perspective (of me being famous) quite late. And me too. You don't realize what's happening to you," he said. "They didn't have any set idea of what they wanted me to become when I was a child – the important thing is that I was happy, and had a good job."
One Last Barrier
Although Khaby had been living in Italy since he was a baby, he still was not considered "fully Italian" under the law, as he was never granted Italian citizenship. Unfortunately, Italian law made it quite difficult for Khaby to obtain citizenship. Nonetheless, he was determined to find a way to get it.
Thanks to the country's strict immigration laws, citizenship felt so out of reach for the young Khaby Lame. However, being considered Italian TikTok royalty had its perks - and eventually, his case was brought to the attention of government authorities.
Just two days after he was crowned as the biggest TikTok star in the world, Lame was finally granted Italian citizenship! Although "very proud" to take the oath, he explained, "It is not that before, before signing, I didn't feel Italian, so very little has changed. But now I am officially Italian, on paper."
Lame hoped his newly granted citizenship would help other young immigrants who were finding themselves in similar circumstances. "I believe it's a very normal thing that people who've always behaved well and who live according to the law should get Italian citizenship," he said.
Now that he has captivated nearly the entire world, Lame is ready for his next adventure. With over 150 million TikTok followers, Khaby has his eyes set on moving onto the big screen. The young creator is moving to Los Angeles in early 2023 to dive into the world of Hollywood.
His recent videos have long evolved from where they first began, but they still keep his fresh authenticity that everyone loves and adores. Safe to say, we can only imagine the success he is destined for, as Khabane Lame has officially found his voice...