Kris Jenner issues a solemn warning in the pilot of new reality show “The Kardashians”: “Never go against the family.”
It’s a motto that has stuck with the six stars of Hulu’s new reality show (now streaming weekly) – matriarch Kris Jenner, 66, and daughters Kim Kardashian, 41, Kourtney Kardashian, 42, Khloé Kardashian, 37, Kendall Jenner, 26, and Kylie Jenner, 24 — dominant forces in the celebrity world for years. The women of the Kardashian Empire have risen to fame since their first series, E!’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” premiered 15 years ago.
“The term ‘famous for being famous’ was really coined for the Kardashians and specifically for Kim Kardashian,” says longtime culture affairs reporter Christina Binkley. “It’s vaguely insulting: ‘Famous for being famous’ means you haven’t really done anything to earn your fame… But I think it went beyond that. They are certainly famous for much more. than ‘being famous’ now.”
Now, as they move on to a new show a decade and a half after they first met, the Kardashians remain more relevant than many detractors would like to admit.
“Their reach is unstoppable,” says crisis management and branding expert Holly Baird. “You can’t open a magazine, go online or watch TV without hearing a Kardashian reference.”
Sure, they became famous for being famous, but they’ve turned that fame into a myriad of business ventures and a celebrity empire that has already lasted longer than many in the spotlight.
Ultimately, “The Kardashians” is a vessel to promote their varied and lucrative businesses and their signature storyline: no matter the drama, controversy or criticism, the family is an unshakable unit. And that Kardashian kinship reigns supreme in the new series, providing an ongoing inside look at their lives during a time when they’ve cut back on some of the public antics that made them household names.
USA TODAY INTERVIEW:Kim Kardashian Says Ye “Isn’t Really On” Hulu Show; Kourtney plans a drunken wedding in Vegas
How the Definition of “Keeping the Pace” Evolved
The way we’ve followed the Kardashians over the years has changed — namely how the digital age has shaped volume and the rhythm of our celebrity news — but that doesn’t make their new reality show outdated or overdue. It makes it more interesting.
When “KUWTK” debuted in 2007, it made sense as a way to ignite their stardom. Twitter was in its infancy, Instagram was still three years away, and TikTok wasn’t even a Ke$ha song yet, much less a social media platform.
Now, the Kardashians hold some of the highest numbers of social media followers in the world. As the series evolved, the way fans kept track of their lives also increased. Rather than waiting for the final episode, fans knew what Kim and co. were in real time through messages and stories.
That changed in 2016, when Kim was robbed at gunpoint in a Paris hotel room. She has since said the traumatic incident upended her entire social media strategy: safety trumped constant fan connections.
After:Kim Kardashian West tells Alec Baldwin she feels ‘grateful’ for the flight
Others have also adopted a more selective social process. Kendall rarely makes public appearances or comments about her personal life and Kylie has been through two pregnancies – the first quietly, when she suddenly revealed the birth of her daughter Stormi.
But even when the Kardashians aren’t posting, there’s a lot to be said for them. Tabloids, gossip purveyors and must-have celebrity accounts such as celebrity gossip Instagram account @twome – a New York-based woman who remained anonymous while amassing more than 1.4 million Instagram followers – and parodies from fans such as @norisblackbook – a tongue-in-cheek cheeky tale impersonating Kim and Ye’s daughter, North West – keep the conversations going.
It seems like a week can’t pass without a headline about Kim and Pete Davidson, Kourtney and Travis Barker or Kylie, Travis Scott and their new baby.
After:Pete Davidson, Machine Gun Kelly, Travis Barker and the obsession with their relationships
Those connections helped keep the family relevant, says Natalie Franklin, the mastermind behind @norisblackbook. Franklin’s account, which has 1.5 million subscribers, is so well known to fans that the Kardashians dedicated an episode to “investigating” who ran it, and even welcomed Franklin on the show.
“The Kardashians have done a good job of… getting into these high profile relationships, so there’s visibility,” Franklin, 35, says. “And then whatever they do will be picked up by the tabloids. It’s the surface, the show’s premieres. It’s the formula they’ve captured throughout these years that seems to keep them in the cycle of news and in the brain.
So does the show, which offers the family “more money, more overall growth and brand exposure,” notes Baird. Between Skims, Kylie Cosmetics, Good American, 818 Tequila, Poosh, Safely and other Kardashian brands, the new show offers a behind-the-scenes look at “the empire that an influencer can build,” as Binkley describes it.
INTERVIEW WITH THE KARDASHIANS:Kim and Khloé Kardashian reveal the toughest moment to film for their new Hulu show
Kardashian Controversies: Cultural Appropriation, Ye’s Social Media, More
Beyond the appearance of privacy claimed by the family, there are other controversial reasons for their more strategic sharing. The Kardashians are no strangers to backlash, whether it’s to tone-deaf comments (remember Kim’s viral “nobody wants to work these days” quote?), excessive Photoshopping, and cultural appropriation.
Their power in the fashion world is undeniable, although the Kardashians’ influence on beauty standards is complicated. “Most women of color don’t tend to jump on the Kardashian bandwagon and (tend to) dodge their attempts to sell their ‘curves’ to those born with them,” Baird said.
Kim’s wider behind and Kylie’s oversized lips — which fans swear have shrunk lately — are beauty ideals often associated with and defined by black women, though the Kardashians are widely credited (and criticized) for their to appropriate these characteristics and have made it an American beauty standard.
“There’s a bigger problem with black women not being recognized,” Franklin says. “Should the Kardashians give that (recognition)? Probably. When Kim is called out for (wearing) braids, maybe don’t call them Bo Derek braids — call them Fulani braids.”
After:Kendall Jenner’s tequila brand is facing cultural appropriation claims. Experts say it’s complicated
This appropriation goes beyond beauty standards in family business practices. Kim has apologized for originally naming her shapewear brand “Kimono,” and Kendall has faced backlash over her 818 Tequila brand.
The Kardashians are adept at being just open enough about issues that they can discuss in their own way when the reviews are high enough. See: When Khloé addressed fans calling her plastic surgery and photo editing.
Kim also opened up about her ex-husband Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and his public outbursts on social media about disregard for their divorce, Kim’s new boyfriend Davidson, and how whose children use social networks. (As beneficial as their romantic relationships can be for fueling publicity, they can also cause major public relations headaches.)
“I’d rather my family not comment on someone who isn’t really on the show. It’s kind of hard going through personal things, and I love my family’s support, always,” Kim told USA TODAY. “But Kanye and I are still family too, and there’s a lot of love there. Regardless, we’re all supporting him and all have a lot of love for him.”
Follow up on their relationships:Why Kim Kardashian and Ye’s Divorce Drama Is So Uncomfortable to Watch
After:Chris Rock Makes First TV Appearance Since Oscar Slap, Talks Kim Kardashian’s ‘SNL’ Concert
Follow the legacy
The Kardashians’ stamina in Hollywood is unmatched. This new show helps them solidify their reign, staying in tune with the times while giving fans the chance to feel like they’re getting the scoop as the ever-busy family plots their next moves.
Will we still follow them in 20 years? Probably to some degree, Binkley predicts. They are experts at finding new ways to entice fans to watch. Even when the main six get tired (Kendall in particular is already leaning out of the spotlight), there will be a new generation to follow (looking at you, North West).
“Given how many years the world has been mesmerized by the Kardashians, I feel like we’ll see them turn gray and walk with walkers,” Binkley said. “It’s kind of weird if you think about this incredible longevity they’ve had. We used to talk about how stars were getting too much attention, that they shouldn’t be in the consciousness of the public every day or we’d be sick of it. But somehow that rule doesn’t apply. The Kardashians can’t be overexposed.”
No matter what the Kardashians’ future of fame looks like, they’ve been able to endure in the realm of pop culture through scandals old and new, including the current lawsuit they’re facing from ex Blac. Chyna from their brother Rob Kardashian, because of their united family. .
Khloé told USA TODAY the secret to their lasting legacy is “forever together.”
“We are more powerful in numbers,” she said. “We’re stronger together and don’t let anything divide who we are, and that’s family, at the end of the day. It can get really watered down and murky easily if you allow outside voices or outside players to want to try to break us but you can’t break this monarchy.”
Contributor: Charles Trepany
After:How to Stream “The Kardashians” on Hulu