Four years ago, Lemi Tamang was just another fine arts student in Kathmandu when she started posting her makeup photos and videos on Instagram, just for fun.
Her fresh, dewy looks got more attention than she had ever expected. Before she knew it, she had become a professional makeup artist with studios in Kathmandu and Mumbai. “I decided to change my passion into my career,” says Tamang who now has 277,000 followers on Instagram.
Tamang has worked with her dream brand Faces, teaches makeup in Nepal, and travels all over the globe on work assignments, and credits her success to social media. “No question about it, my work got noticed and I got assignments because of social media and it is my work portfolio,” she says.
A new brand of celebrities called ‘influencers’ now propel themselves to fame through social media, and the phenomenon is also turning the traditional advertising industry on its head. And the trend has arrived in Nepal.
Consumers no longer need television or newspapers to listen to songs, watch videos, laugh at comedy, learn fashion, makeup, or cooking tips, or even get the news. They are fed what they like online through algorithms or friends, and have no need to go beyond this circle of aquaintances or interests.
All this has created a new brand of celebrities whom people trust and follow. These influencers typically get people to click on their content because of their talent, and they no longer need to be profiled in mainstream tv and the press to become famous.
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Social media musical sensations like Bipul Chhetri, Bartika Eam Rai, Sushant KC, Sajjan Raj Vaidya, Neetesh Jung Kunwar, Swoopna Suman have all burst in Nepal’s cyberspace like supernovae. Comedians like Rupshi Basnet and Binayak Kuinkel, and dancers like Cartoonz Crew have gone on to great fame. Nepal has several world-famous makeup artists like Promise Tamang, also known as the ‘human chameleon’.
Reshma Ghimire, who goes by the moniker tigerreshma on social media, used to enjoy the app Tiktok, where you can act and lip-sync to all kinds of background music, from songs to Bollywood dialogues. Her antics got her 98,000 followers, and offers for music videos (she accepted 2).
“I love appearing on screen, and am considering movies as well. But I hope I can still continue my nursing profession,” she says.
Khusbu Gauchan started a fashion blog eight years ago as a hobby, but then was flooded with offers of collaboration from international brands. She started receiving packages of clothes and was asked to model them in her blog. “And I got to keep the clothes, I didn’t have to shop after that,” Gauchan says, laughing.
If you admire Sisan Baniya’s leather jacket or want to grab a bottle of Pepsi like Reshma Ghimire, it may not be pure accident. Companies approach influencers who have 30,000+ followers with placement offers. Elena Don, known for her funny vines, recently endorsed Somersby, Livon and Tuborg in her social media feed.
“It is good pocket money, and I might turn audio-visual production into a profession,” says the liberal arts and science student.
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But influencers agree that success is not easy, and it is hard to convince parents that there is a future in it. Aneel Neupane decided to plunge full time into photography after he dropped out of accounting school. “My parents were aghast that I was leaving a dependable career and putting all my eggs in an unreliable basket,” recalls Neupane, who now has a film production company.
One of the earliest Nepali social media celebrities was Lex Limbu, who attained fame through his news blog site. He says there are pros and cons: “Ten years ago, there were fewer Nepalis who made vlogs or YouTube skits and when they did, people would often wonder why. Today, a majority feel that their stories, voice and views deserve a space online and everyone has the ability to generate an instant mass following. It has really helped some but also shown how difficult it can be to stand out among many.”
Influencers agree that while starting out is easy, standing out is the difficult part, and consistency is key. “There may be so many others out there who are better than me, but they are not as famous,” admits Sisan Baniya, one of the most popular Nepali vloggers. “The key is to work hard and keep producing quality content.”
All over the world the relationship between traditional and social media is being remolded every day, and Nepal is no different. But the death of the mainstream media may be greatly exaggerated.
“At some point, social and mainstream media complement each other,” says Information Technology expert Aakar Anil. “For many virtual celebrities, social media is a stepping stone into mainstream media. And mainstream media increasingly uses social media for everything from scouting for talent to promoting products. In future the two will likely go hand in hand.”
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