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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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How Does Kylie Jenner's use of Instagram Drive Trend and Culture in Society?

Instagram is an app or website on which users can share photos and short videos. It is one of the most popular applications in the app stores for iOS and android users alike, leading the field in photo sharing, with 800 million active monthly users as of September 2017. Kylie Jenner ranks the 8th most followed person on Instagram, with 98.4 million followers (as of 4th October 2017). The youngest Kardashian-Jenner, Kylie arguably has the most influence over the millennial generation, with a fan-base of teenagers and young adults. McKee states ‘audiences do make multiple interpretations of the texts,' (2003:67) by this logic I shall look at how followers interpret the output of Kylie's feed to gain an understanding of how she affects societal trends of fashion and beauty. By investigating Jenner using her Instagram specifically, I shall avoid analyzing another media text in relation to her which may be extraneous to the question (McKee, 2003).

For many people Instagram is a way of editing and curating other people's view of one's life, as the owner of the account wants to portray it, therefore narrative forms the very basis of Instagram as a primarily creative outlet. The users produce a group of images that work together to tell a story throughout their feed to their followers. Using colour themes or minimalism to users draw others to their feed. For example, accounts such as ‘thingsorganisedneatly' creates a theme using others' photos, curating an aesthetic for their own feed. (see fig.1-4) Jenner's feed is unusual in that that it doesn't follow the more creative arc of many other popular Instagram accounts; although it could be understood that Jenner's theme is ‘selfies' and uses photos of herself to continue to emulate the basis of her brand – Kylie herself.

 The use of the term followers in contemporary society supports the fact that the consumers of Jenner's Instagram feed are, as Clay Shirky suggested; ‘The People Formerly Known as the Audience,' (2010). ‘Followers,' has become the new term for audience when relating to consumers of social media feeds. This is seen across the board in social media outlets such as Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, with the term turning to ‘subscribers,' in YouTube vernacular.


Kylie uses Instagram to document her life. Her feed is full of selfies– with many people dubbing her a ‘Selfie Queen,' (Rullo 2013) Jenner's personal account has 451 selfies on her feed taken since June 2012 (Rullo 2013), these posed photos are a key theme running throughout the world of Instagram, with many users trying to emulate Kylie's style. This is seen through world-wide trends such as the ‘Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge,' that had Instagram and Facebook users attempting to recreate Jenner's luscious pout using the suction of a shot glass, or similar, with many bruising their lips and permanently scarring their faces.

For many smaller accounts, an excessive use of selfie's, like the one's taken by Jenner, could imply that the person is self-absorbed and shallow. However, when it comes to celebrities that's not the case. This is consistent with Levi-Strauss' theory of binary oppositions. He believed that humans see the world in opposites, and so that is how we project a narrative. This can be seen in the fundamental difference of fame and culture; when one is famous for looks, and is comfortable with one's body, you are allowed to be narcissistic, but, when you are all of the above and not in the public eye, it is taboo and frowned upon. However, even Jenner could appear narcissistic to the public as her account contains many photos of her face and body, possibly implying a self-centered tone. As stated earlier smaller accounts of non-famous persons are, on occasion, defamed by images such as the ones Kylie posts regularly.

Furthermore, many of Kylie's photos are provocatively posed or taken (see fig.5) however, in contrast to her other photos, they remain uncaptioned. This is maybe to keep a degree of humility, so as not to draw attention to the fact that the photo is provoking a reaction. Kylie could be seen as self-obsessed, due to the fact that posting a provocative photo, leads to praise from her fans, thus bolstering her ego. Although, non-captioned photos such as these may in fact boost her image in the public eye as Jenner appears less narcissistic for not captioning it, so it seems that she isn't trying to draw attention to it.

Public Appearances & Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Ideology is “a set of ideas, values, tastes, and/or beliefs expounded by a particular social group, organization, religion, or culture.” Laughey, D. (2009: 201). This is particularly poignant when looking at Kylie Jenner's Instagram feed as there is a clear notion of

Thompson's (1990: 60) idea of Reification. This theory states that the upper levels of society (i.e. celebrities) hold power and control, and that power is presented as ‘natural and inevitable' – a natural evolution of history, rather than the root of fame and power being based in economics, politics and money. This is demonstrated in Jenner's feed as fans are led to believe that she has become famous through good circumstance and luck. Kylie's supposed ‘good circumstances' are her upbringing in L.A. – the epicenter of A-list celebrity lifestyles – and having a famous Olympian as a father (Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner) as a famous father would make her a celebrity when she was born.

 The (possibly unwitting) application of reification by her family, and other powerful members of society, leads the general public to believe that celebrities including Kylie, were ‘born into fame'. Perhaps more specifically, that Jenner had fame forced upon her at a young age when filming for the first season of Keeping up with the Kardashians started when she was 9 years-old. Kylie is using her social media status to her advantage. For example, the popular and unconfirmed public theory surrounding Kylie that she is pregnant at 20 years-old with current boyfriend Travis Scott (Daily Mail 2017). The uncertainty surrounding her raised Jenner's public profile as many articles where written about the theory, and, the more people that read the articles, the more publicity Kylie gains.

Furthermore, Marx's theory of economic determinism states that those who control the economy also control the culture. This is supported by trends occurring after Kylie (and other members of her family) have worn them or posed for photos that are used in their Instagram feeds. SugarBearHair vitamins gained huge popularity after the Kardashian family plugged the brand on their socials. Additionally, Kim Kardashian further supports Marx's theory as she piloted the ‘wet look' trend of makeup and hair, with magazines and online blogs posting about how to copy her look (Hollywood Life 2016)

Kylie Cosmetics & Promotion

Nobody has utilized the power of Instagram as a social media outlet quite like Kylie Jenner, ranking 8th most followed person on the site. Her 5314 posts (as of October 2017) are used as a platform to plug her own brand, Kylie Cosmetics, and other paid endorsements such as SugarBearHair vitamins (fig.6) and collaborations such as Quay Australia (fig.7). Broges (2009) found that buyers in contemporary society like to be engaged in a different way than in previous marketing schemes. Kylie exploits this new technique and this has helped her build a formidable brand on track to earn a billion dollars by 2022. Her ingenuity within her marketing of herself and her brand, shows that Kylie is imaginative in creating trends.

Kylie was major part of the uprising of the matte liquid lipstick trend; she used her own brand; Kylie Cosmetics, to reignite the appeal of long lasting lipstick, with YouTubers also following the trend with videos such as ‘KYLIE JENNER makeup tutorial,' posted by Nikki Tutorials (August 2015) within which she mentions that she is ‘doing a tutorial inspired by a Kylie Jenner look I saw floating around Instagram,' and also states that ‘her makeup artist actually was kind enough to share a list of products used on her Instagram page' showing that there is a high public demand for the looks that the Jenner creates being recreated on a budget or with the same products. The global interest in what Kylie's life is supportive of the idea of Transnationalism (Brah 1996), a connecting idea linking many people under one unified identity. In this case the notion that Kylie is the purveyor of culture and fashion, leading to her trendsetting status within western idealized culture. Moreover, Jenner's followers hold a collective idea of what a “trend” is and replicate it in their own lives, such as the growing trend for women to wear wigs, not as a traditional cultural idea but as a contemporary ‘trend'. This reinforces what Tomlinson (1999) called cultural globalization, which is the amalgamative nature of contemporary culture in the western world, obvious in Kylie's pioneering of the matte liquid lipstick trend. Ulf Hannerz states ‘it must now be more difficult than ever, or at least more unreasonable, to see the world…as a cultural mosaic, of separate pieces with hard well-defined edges. Cultural interconnections increasingly reach across the world' (1992: 218). Further attesting to the idea of an amalgamation of contemporary culture.

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