‘Celebrity’ review: a scathing Instagram story about the vapidity of influencer culture
In our digital age, perhaps nothing is more valuable to the masses than social currency. These days, popular figures on social media can oftentimes wield more cultural capital than the movie stars and pop idols of yore. Netflix’s new K-drama, Celebrity, immerses you into the world of these postmodern luminaries, showing off not just the glitz and glamour of these self-marketing gurus, but vanity and vapidity of influencer culture as well.
The series follows Seo A-ri (Park Gyu-young), a former rich girl who is now a door-to-door saleswoman selling cheap cosmetics. She’s perfectly content with her humble offline life until a chance reunion with high school friend Oh Min-hye (Jun Hyo-seong), now a famous influencer, changes the trajectory of her life. Through Min-hye, A-ri is given a brief glimpse into the wealth and status of internet celebrities – swanky parties, luxury goods, extravagant homes and the adoration of strangers.
Besides the money and reputation, A-ri is instantly caught up in the ugly side of fame as well when she sees her former classmate and her cabal of mean girl influencers embroiled in a petty online civil war. Although chummy on the outside, these disloyal friends are willing to turn on each other on a dime for the sake of their image. Despite being put-off by the artificiality she witnesses, A-ri is drawn into the world at the behest of her mom, who bemoans their working class station ever since her late husband’s business went bankrupt. Reluctantly, she signs up for her first Instagram account, and begins her meteoric rise as one of South Korea’s top influencers.
Most of the series is told through flashbacks, chronicling A-ri’s riches to rags and back to riches story as she utilises the connections she’s made through Min-hye to boost her profile. But Celebrity takes a turn through the use of a clever framing device – a tell-all confessional livestream in the present day where she lays bare the narcissism of her peers, and promises her viewers a “cheat code” to becoming just like them. Interestingly, it’s revealed early on that A-ri in the present day is presumed dead! Seeing A-ri alive in real-time shocks her followers and other influencers, who are further stunned when she teases revealing the identity of the person who “murdered” her.
Flashing back and forth between the murder mystery, and A-ri’s journey through the ruthless jungle of online prestige, presents the series with a wonderful hook that will keep audiences largely invested. There’s intrigue in A-ri’s resurrection and her behind-the-scenes, Gossip Girl-esque disclosure of a lifestyle many covet and envy. Celebrity pulls no punches when it comes to critiquing the entitlement of these phoney fashionistas and the craven commerciality of their industry. The show is slick with how it dispenses information about the ins-and-outs of the influencer business, with A-ri serving as the “for dummies” narrator popularised in films like The Big Short.
However, Celebrity is often dragged down by just how long it takes to make a fairly obvious point. While the commentary on classism and capitalism is valid, very little of the criticism it levies will come as a surprise. Furthermore, the characters here are flimsy and one-dimensional even when the story takes us through some of the influencers’ insecurities. While the meat of the show is solid, there are far too many superfluous subplots padding out its 12-episode run. Nevertheless this series is still a bingeable exposé of contemporary fame, held together by an excellent cast of young actors and a compelling whodunnit element.
Celebrity is available to stream now on Netflix