Rickey Thompson Grew Up (and Blew Up) Online. What’s Next?


Magnus Unnar

Rickey Thompson and I are within the girls’s part of the Van Nuys Goodwill, taking part in a recreation we name “Is This ’90s Fashion?”—and I’m shedding. I fish out a sweater from the thrift-store racks, maintain it up, and ask the social- media star: Is that this ’90s trend? The problem of this recreation is humbling, which is not sensible as a result of Thompson was alive for less than three years, ten months, and twenty-three days of the 1990s and I lived by the entire rattling decade. However, he says, “recently, I fell in love with the ’90s/2000s era,” so I assume he’s the knowledgeable. After I present him a block-colored Dope polo shirt, he says, “That could work. It’s getting there,” however his eyebrows say in any other case. His nostril is barely crinkled. His higher lip is snarled. He has given me nothing however constructive suggestions, but he’s additionally a horrible liar. I’ve failed within the eyes of Rickey Thompson—social-media persona, fashion aficionado, and toddler of the ’90s—whether or not he’ll admit it or not.


Following highschool, Thompson moved out to Los Angeles. Forgoing highschool, the social media star set his sights on appearing and increasing his on-line model.

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We got here right here as a result of that is the thrift store he frequents most, however paradoxically, we spend a good chunk of time scrolling by the Web’s vintage- clothes choices on his telephone. He claims ’90s classic is less complicated to seek out on a web site known as Depop, the place “creatives” purchase and promote garments. That’s the place he acquired the sweater he’s sporting, which he has accessorized with a Black Prada bucket hat and twelve sterling-silver ear piercings. With 5 million Instagram followers, greater than one million YouTube subscribers, and tens of hundreds of thousands of video views, Thompson is an Web phenom. Dyed within the wool of the World Vast Net, he’s finest recognized for his comedy movies and eccentric fashion. Within the fall of 2018, he went mega-viral for a extremely quotable video that his followers know as his “you can’t defeat a bad bitch” monologue. It’s a Rickey traditional: filmed on his telephone, that includes low manufacturing values and the identical comedian be aware hit a number of instances with rising depth, till the viewer can’t assist however really feel in on the joke.

His posts buck all storytelling conventions. As a substitute of getting the anticipated starting, center, and finish, Thompson’s movies are a set of climaxes. The set is sort of at all times his sparsely embellished L. A. condo, with pop princesses of the late ’90s protecting his bed room partitions. He could shantay towards the digital camera or sashay away, however all of his power combusts on this restricted area. He ends the video with out warning. There isn’t a coda or goodbye; he exits the stage. We’re not carried out with him; he’s carried out with us.

Simply as I’m beginning to really feel he’s, in reality, carried out with me and my fruitless seek for one thing that doesn’t make me appear like an outdated, he pipes up: “I think the thing I get most nervous about is my age. I get very nervous. I’m twenty-three right now”­—he turned twenty-four in February—“but I talk like I’m twenty- seven. What if someone thinks I’m too old or something? That’s my biggest fear. How long will this hotness last?”


With Instagram, the web star says that his follower rely grows by about a million followers each 4 months.

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Nothing’s older than the concern of getting outdated, but when Hollywood is an ageist trade, social media is much more brutal. Time simply strikes extra rapidly there: The ’90s are classic, Dynasty has been rebooted, and youngsters are coming to grab your social-media authority. (Of TikTok, for instance, Thompson says, “I haven’t really got on it because I’m like, Oh my gosh, the young kids are on there. But, you know, TikTok is cute, though.”) Legacy careers are almost not possible to achieve. Veterans like Tyler Oakley (a whopping thirty years outdated) and Jenna Marbles (thirty-three) are thought to be corridor of famers, elder statesmen who pioneered the trade for many who would come afterward. Thompson is a part of the second and even third era of logged-on icons straining to retain relevance in a world the place going viral and being well-known will not be the identical. Social-media fame would be the Subsequent Large Factor, however in some ways, the profession trajectories of social-media stars nonetheless have a traditionalism to them: Consider the Bo Burnhams or Casey Neistats of the world, who began on-line and moved into producing work for big-name manufacturers and studios. It’s a stress Thompson is conscious of. “Do I want to be thirty years old and still, like, you know, making videos in my room or whatever?” Ouch.

Two teenage women seem from throughout the shop, filled with chaotic power. They bombard him: “Can I take a picture with you? Damn, where’s my phone? I forgot your name.”

Thompson started his profession posting Vines from his North Carolina, bed room as a excessive schooler, in 2013, at a second when changing into a star on Vine was an actual risk for a humorous, handsome child with a knack for writing six-second bits for a typically pleasant viewers. In school, Thompson was bullied, and Vine and Instagram grew to become retailers. I joke that if two homosexual males participating in dialog like we’re don’t share coming-out tales, it’s as if we didn’t converse in any respect, however Thompson’s popping out in North Carolina strikes me as comparatively tame and performs a smaller position in his origin story than I’d anticipated. The quick model: After his mom took him to a Miami delight parade when he was about seven years outdated, he remembers considering, This may very well be me. His dad had a tricky time to start with, however Thompson says, “When I grew up and he saw that I was so successful and that I was out there being me, my dad [became] like my best friend.” The true downside, in response to Thompson, had rather more to do along with his race and his persona—individuals who didn’t assume {that a} putting black man is also a buoyant, pop-culture-obsessed diva have been merciless to him. Being older than Thompson, I had assumed that he was bullied for being homosexual, conflating sexuality with persona. However in reality, the identical qualities that landed him in a trash can in highschool are what make him well-known now.

Bullies, a minimum of the thought of them, have impressed a few of his most beloved outburst movies on Vine. Earlier than the platform was shut down, he had accrued 2.5 million followers. He moved to YouTube, the place he began producing trend movies, however “people weren’t enjoying them,” he recollects. “They were like, ‘I want funny Rickey back.’ ” Taking that penchant for the fabulously defensive and turning it into a personality is difficult: It does put you right into a field.

Since transferring to L. A., he’s achieved the purpose of notoriety, however he admits that it doesn’t really feel like he’s notably made it but. “I was talking to my manager one day, and she was like, ‘You’re a celebrity,’ and I was like, Whoa. It kind of scared me, because I—I still to this day think that I’m not a celebrity.” As I rummage the racks, two teenage women seem from throughout the shop, filled with chaotic power. They bombard him: “Can I take a picture with you? Damn, where’s my phone? I forgot your name.” Thompson responds in a fan-ready tone of voice I haven’t heard all day. Whereas one of many women preps her iPhone, she and Thompson praise one another’s outfits. She says, “I Want To Put this on IG. This will be in my top nine this year.” He and the fan flash an identical peace indicators, then the teenagers disappear out into the daylight of Victory Boulevard.

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Concerning his web success, Thompson says, “I literally am just so obsessed with, like, all my success. . . . There are days when I’m, like, going to a movie with my mom, and then a bunch of people are like, ‘Rickey, can I get a picture?’ Sometimes I’m like, Oh my God, not right now, but I would never say, like, Ugh, I’m done with this life.

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“I see it now wherever I go,” Thompson says afterward. “There’s a phone like, you know . . . it’s Rickey. I do get very nervous. I don’t want to mess around and one day, I’m living my life, get caught doing whatever.” He means getting “canceled.” Snort, however the Web is fickle about viral sensations turned celebrities; for somebody like Thompson, that might imply a complete profession derailed.

He’s managed to avoid that destiny by giving his hundreds of thousands of followers precisely what makes the Web tick: seemingly unbridled tangents. However the photographs he fires by no means truly hit anybody specifically. His monologues don’t explicitly identify the villain—that’s your job. (In a latest video, he says that in 2020, he won’t know of “that bitch sadness.”) Such an strategy scratches the itch of Web ire with out leaving any blood on Thompson’s arms.

This method has labored fairly effectively, too. He good points one million or so Instagram followers each 4 months. His supervisor updates him on his metrics, particularly for each million-follower marker he crosses, however he insists that it doesn’t excite him anymore. He is aware of his progress isn’t one thing to scoff at, although. “I literally am just so obsessed with, like, all my success. . . . There are days when I’m, like, going to a movie with my mom, and then a bunch of people are like, ‘Rickey, can I get a picture?’ Sometimes I’m like, Oh my God, not right now, but I would never say, like, Ugh, I’m done with this life.

His monologues don’t explicitly identify the villain—that’s your job.

Thompson’s logged-off persona is rather more subdued than that of the flamboyant determine most know him as on Instagram, even when elements of it are baffling to me. For instance, he considers Twitter a spot to, sure, chill out. “You need a little vacation from the Internet, and you just have to find the right platform for that,” he explains.

Up to now yr, he has booked a trend shoot with Teen Vogue, in addition to partnerships with American Eagle, The Baggage Firm, and Coach. Certainly one of his most up-to-date stints was with Calvin Klein, which employed him for a spot within the #MyCalvinsIRL lineup, a marketing campaign that includes fashions in each extremely posed photographs and on a regular basis moments. His demeanor may be very completely different in these than in his video postsfor one factor, he is silent in them. He comes throughout as extra somber and masculine, bordering on susceptible, and it did not come straightforward. “With modeling I used to be very discouraged. I used to be like, oh my gosh, can I solely be the humorous man? Is that each one I will ever be?” He believes in manifestation, however he additionally believes in persistence, notably when considering past modeling. “An Emmy and an Oscar will likely be mine,” he says matter-of-factly. These days, Thompson has been making an attempt to land an audition for Dynasty, and he is starred in 4 seasons of the YouTube Premium sequence Foursome.

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In 2019, Thompson gained a Streamy Award for Way of life content material. The web persona usually posts comedy movies and sponsored content material to five.three million Instagram followers.

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After an hour, I’ve discovered just one Rickey-approved garment: a burgundy mock-turtleneck sweater with an embroidered snowman. Beneath it, the phrases “Star gentle, star brilliant, please do not let me soften tonight” are written in script. As we go away the Goodwill, Thompson mentions my boyfriend and needs to know the way lengthy we’ve been collectively. I inform him we simply handed the four-year mark, and he gushes, “Oh, I love that! It can happen.” He claims he’s carried out with relationship for now, explaining that by twenty-three, he had already sworn off all of the apps. As a substitute, he’s going to deal with this machine he’s created. He has to plot that path to his Emmy. And his Oscar. This Vine-star-cum- Instagram-star-cum-model-actor is satisfied he’s working out of time.

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