“There’s No Rule Book”: Addison Rae Considers IRL Fame

“There’s No Rule Book”: Addison Rae Considers IRL Fame thumbnail

When Addison Rae says she loves roller coasters, she’s not talking about the wild ride she’s been on the last few years. “My dad used to force me on the craziest coasters when I was little, to get me to face my fears,” Rae says, as we sit midmorning over tea at a sidewalk table outside an unassuming coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley. Rae has convinced me to try her favorite iced matcha drink, a blend of powdered tea, oat milk, and lavender that sounds suspiciously like a spa bath.

Dizzying heights, unexpected twists and turns, and speed, especially speed, accurately describe the 20-year-old influencer’s rise on TikTok, Gen Z’s preferred social media platform. Not even a global pandemic could slow Rae, who’s gone from college freshman to social media phenomenon to multi-hyphenate creator-artist in the time it takes many of her peers just to declare a major. Her dancing, loose and effortless in her videos but the product of an entire childhood spent training, matched with a kind of offhand hotness that doesn’t take itself too seriously—reminiscent of her fellow Louisianan Britney Spears—has garnered Rae more than 100 million social followers. Now she has a debut album in the works, and Rae’s acting bona fides will be tested in August, when her first movie, He’s All That, a reboot of the ’90s teen rom-com, debuts on Netflix. Art imitates life in the story of Padgett Sawyer (Rae), a teen influencer who loses her online mojo, then schemes to get it back, a conceit that’s almost certain to resonate with her fans.

None of the patrons stopping in for their morning caffeine fix, however, seem to notice the social media crossover star hiding in plain sight. “Make sure you stir it,” Rae commands, gesturing toward my tea. “Just because there’s powder at the bottom. I don’t want you to have a bad experience.” She says this genuinely, like a close friend guiding me through an important rite of passage, a reminder that Rae is just as she describes—a “regular girl from Louisiana,” who doesn’t feel famous. When she picked me up for our interview in her own car, her blond-streaked hair twisted in a casual top knot, she looked every inch the college coed she was only a year and a half ago. That was when—early in her freshman year at LSU—the dancing videos she’d been posting for a couple of months started to go viral, racking up tens of thousands of likes at first, then hundreds of thousands, then, unimaginably, tens and hundreds of millions. By the time her fellow students were returning from their first winter break in January 2020, Rae had already moved herself and her entire family out to Los Angeles to devote everything she had to a career in entertainment. To say the move paid off is an understatement. Rae reportedly cleared $5 million last year from endorsements, modeling gigs, and her own beauty line, Item Beauty, to name just a few of her income streams.

Life’s a Beach 

“I talk to my mom a lot. Because there’s no rule book for what I’m doing.”
Miu Miu dress, miumiu.com.

But as the world slouches out of the pandemic, Rae’s days as a regular girl are numbered. And with that comes a new set of challenges. In the last two months, she released her first pop single, “Obsessed,” to mixed reviews. (The New York Times praised it faintly as “pleasant Pelotoncore.”) Next she gamely performed a sequence of famous TikTok dances—other people’s famous TikTok dances—on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, only to become the poster child for cultural appropriation. The late-night talk show rightly issued a mea culpa and invited the dances’ original creators, who are mostly Black, to perform themselves, but not before Rae took considerable heat for the show’s offense. Then in April, following Triller Fight Club’s boxing match between YouTube personality Jake Paul and MMA fighter Ben Askren in Atlanta, Rae found herself trending more than the fight itself (which ended anticlimactically in two minutes). That weekend, she was reportedly spotted with her ex-boyfriend, TikTok enfant terrible Bryce Hall, and rapper Jack Harlow on separate occasions, which led Hall to subtweet Rae, suggesting he was the wronged party this go-round. Though she generally prefers to keep such matters offline, the self-professed “hopeless romantic” felt compelled to quiet the noise. “I’m single,” she wrote to her 4.8 million Twitter followers.

When life gets messy the way it did after Atlanta, Rae looks to her oldest confidante, mom Sheri Nicole Easterling. “I talk to my mom a lot. Because there’s no rule book for what I’m doing,” Rae explains. Her parents split when she was a baby, and for a time she was raised solely by her mother in a borrowed trailer, before Sheri and Rae’s father, Monty Lopez, got back together and had Rae’s two younger brothers, Lucas and Enzo. Their family struggles—moving from place to place in Louisiana and Texas, penny-pinching to get by—are well-documented on the Spotify podcast Rae cohosts with her mom, newly rechristened That Was Fun? Sheri and Monty, meanwhile, have become social media stars in their own right, with millions of followers apiece.

Fan Favorite 

“I love being able to, like, have a free meet and greet with people.”
Valentino dress, valentino.com.

What to withhold from public view has no doubt been Rae’s toughest question so far. Take, for example, her car. Rae drives a Tesla X because “it’s good for the environment,” but, wanting to put her own spin on the SUV—a ubiquitous presence in the drop-off and pickup lines of L.A.’s toniest private schools—she had it wrapped in bubblegum-pink vinyl. Google “Addison Rae car” and you’ll find a trove of photographs of Rae running errands around town in her Malibu dream machine. Earlier today, however, when Rae pulled up on time to my house, I couldn’t help but notice that the car had been rewrapped in a matte navy blue. “It was drawing a lot of attention,” she explains. “Which I love, ’cause I love being able to, like, have a free meet and greet with people. But then there are those moments when you want to be alone. One time I went to Chick-fil-A, and these paparazzi got out of their cars in the drive-through and came right up to me, videoing me, and I’m just like, ‘I’m sorry, I just want to grab food really quick.’” It’s a scene right out of Framing Britney Spears. “I always loved having a bright car, but now it’s kind of, like, I’m asking for it. To be confronted or to be followed.”

“Asking for it” is, of course, a phrase commonly associated with victim blaming, which suggests that not a whole lot has changed for young women in the spotlight since Spears had her first brush with fame some two decades ago. But in one key way, Rae points out, it has: “Britney came up during a time when there wasn’t social media, so she couldn’t defend herself. Which is why social media is good in a way, because you can have your own narrative. You control your narrative.”

Live by the likes, die by the likes—it’s the unwritten rule of social media. A year ago, Rae found a mentor to help her navigate these ups and downs in Kourtney Kardashian. Kourtney’s eldest son, Mason, is a fan of Rae’s videos, and the two women were introduced by a mutual pal. They became such fast friends—every move they made working out, lounging in the pool, and exiting Nobu Malibu seemed to be broadcast on Instagram and TikTok last summer—that even Kardashian’s sisters wondered aloud if a romance was stirring between them, immortalized in a recently aired episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians on which Rae appeared. “I think they meant it lightheartedly!” Rae contends, with a good-humored laugh. Of course, the experience of being on the reality show she grew up watching was, in and of itself, a shock. Rae credits Kourtney, whom she describes as “motherly,” with introducing her to everything from the latter’s famous avocado smoothie to surfing in Santa Barbara to taking public scrutiny in stride: “She knows firsthand how to really handle all of this.”

As we’re winding down our matcha date (the spa bath is surprisingly delicious!), a metallic purple muscle car roars down the street. Rae stops mid-sentence to admire it. “Oh, I love that color,” she says, dreamy-eyed, and it’s hard not to view the moment as a metaphor. Her days of being able to normally go about her business in an attention-seeking car may have come and gone, but wherever Rae intends to go next, you can bet she’s going to get there fast.

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