Kim Kardashian attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City.
Kim Photo: Cindy Ord/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Kim Kardashian Isn't Over Yet

Rumours of her cultural demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In the run-up to this year’s Met Gala, a scandalous rumour appeared in the media: that Kim Kardashian and the rest of her family were not invited. It seemed unthinkable – Kim and the Kardashian-Jenner clan have become as central to the Met Gala as the stairs that everyone thinks Jason Derulo fell down in 2015. (He actually didn't, FYI).


It’s easy to forget that, as a reality star, Kim had to hustle pretty hard to be invited to Anna Wintour’s elite soirée. She attended for the first time with former husband Kanye West in 2013, where she wore a much-memed Mrs Doubtfire-style floral dress, before bagging her first official invite the following year. 

Of course, the reports about 2023’s Met Gala turned out to be nonsense: Kim did attend alongside several of her sisters, including Kendall and Kylie Jenner. But the initial rumours did prompt speculation about whether the Kardashians were losing relevance. The news that Kim would be appearing on the upcoming season of American Horror Story – a once-great show which should have been cancelled years ago (don’t shoot the messenger) – is also enough to make you wonder if Kim’s star is beginning to fade. 

But maybe that’s a narrow-minded way of thinking about Kim’s shapeshifting, era-defining fame. Cast your mind back to where it all began: We first saw her clutching the arm of Paris Hilton in paparazzi shots in the mid-2000s. Hilton was the first person to become globally famous off the back of a reality TV show: The Simple Life. The BBC docu-series Celebrity: A 21st-Century Story claims that, in her role as Hilton’s assistant, Kim would coordinate with the paparazzi to ensure her bestie-turned-boss was never far from their lens.


In hindsight, Kim working for Hilton was one of culture’s most consequential internships. After Keeping Up With the Kardashians premiered on E! in 2007, Kim and her sisters would soon usurp Hilton. Like her, they would be endlessly described as “famous for being famous”. Taylor Lorenz, tech columnist at The Washington Post and author of the upcoming book Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet, tells me this has always been a “ridiculous” label. 

Kim Kardashian, Caroline D'Amore and Paris Hilton at a 2006 party

Kim Kardashian, Caroline D'Amore and Paris Hilton at a 2006 party. Photo: John Sciulli/WireImage via Getty Images

“It was a deeply dismissive way to speak about these women,” she says. “You have to remember that the influencer industry was pioneered by women. The online creator world was pioneered by women who were called narcissistic attention seekers and were dismissed as vapid and self involved.” 

“Famous for being famous” is a phrase we now rarely hear used to describe the Kardashians, perhaps because the reality-TV-to-influencer fame they pioneered is so normalised in wider culture. But it also feels like an acknowledgement that they are famous for a reason – as savvy marketers and brand-builders.

Part of the reason why Hilton’s cultural relevance nosedived sharply in the 2010s is because the media interest in her began to wane. But the Kardashians are no longer as dependent on legacy media and tabloid headlines to keep them famous. They were helped by the timing of their fame, which coincided with the creation of a new, image-based social media app: Instagram.  


It’s impossible to separate the Kardashians’ rise to A-list celebrity from IG: The family have over 1.2bn combined followers and Kylie Jenner had its most-liked post before a bizarre campaign successfully replaced her with a photo of an egg. Lorenz believes Instagram became the Kardashian playground because it is the most visual platform: “Instagram really rose to prominence alongside this extremely luxe, hyper-curated, visually stunning aesthetic that the Kardashians have mastered, especially Kim.”

Thanks to Instagram and its social media successors, press headlines aren’t necessarily the central driving force behind fame anymore. But the Kardashians have always understood that it’s best to have every base covered – and although they aren’t beholden to the media to make money, the relevance that headlines provide does help them. This might be one reason why the upcoming season of The Kardashians seems to focus on a feud between Kim and Kourtney. It’s more reminiscent of their earlier reality TV, which would centre on family arguments – and sometimes physical altercations – that were red meat to platforms like MailOnline and PageSix. “You definitely don’t need the traditional media to make you famous anymore,” Lorenz says. “But they can keep you famous if they continually put you in the headlines.”


Although Kim’s fame steers the ship, the rest of the family has provided no shortage of stories that have generated media interest over the years. The Kardashians, as a group, are more powerful together than any one individual – a key theme of their 2012 interview with Oprah Winfrey. When Kim and Ye divorced, Kravis (Kourney and Travis Barker) became the next power couple. Noticeably more aloof Kendall Jenner helped bring the family into elite fashion spaces, whereas Kylie is a Gen Z icon and business mogul. Each family member adds something to the collective Kardashian brand.

Against the backdrop of the Kardashians returning to the reality TV formula of sisterly tabloid-fodder conflict, I first saw Kim branching out into acting in American Horror Story as a defensive move. She’s never depended on traditional markers of fame such as acting, so why bother now? 

MJ Corey, known as Kardashian Kolloquium on Instagram and TikTok, is a writer who applies media theory and postmodern philosophy to the Kardashian family. She thinks that Kim branching out into runway modelling and hosting Saturday Night Live are signs that she is in “conquering mode”. 


“Kim is inserting herself into these older markers of fame that, as a ‘reality star’, she was once shut out from,” she says. “That’s what you can do when you’re at the top: You can go backwards in the pursuit of power.”

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04: A SKIMS giant poster with Kim Kardashian West is displayed at the 'Galeries Lafayette' department store on October 04, 2021 in Paris, France.

Kim Kardashian on a Skims bilboard in Paris. Photo: Marc Piasecki/Getty Images)

Corey thinks there’s something similar about Kim’s recent propensity for buying old cultural artefacts, like a crucifix necklace owned by Princess Diana, or the hat from Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” video – and, of course, her controversial decision to wear Marilyn Monroe’s dress to the 2022 Met Gala. Last season on The Kardshians, we saw Kim hire the help of supermodel icons from her youth - Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Candice Swanepoel and Alessandra Ambrosio - for a Skims campaign. Kim - who once dressed as a Victoria’s Secret angel for Halloween - eventually joined the women in the campaign shots. 

“She’s putting herself at the centre of these eras she wasn’t even a part of,” Corey says. “She's trying to become a multi-genre icon, so she needs to go for fashion, TV and everything all at once. Kim makes herself the mediator of all these different areas and eras too, which is such a powerful position to play.”


Others have argued that you can spot Kim’s declining influence in the number of people getting fillers and implants removed – procedures they presumably got to look like a Kardashian. (Though that may just be a sign that Kim’s own aesthetic is changing, too.) Some have predicted the “death of the influencer” more widely, with usership on Instagram – Kim’s main follower base – ageing and becoming less engaged.  

Lorenz says that these forecasts are over-hyped. “That's like declaring the death of the startup, or the death of business. Media is not getting less digital,” she says. “Goldman Sachs has projected the influencer industry to approach half a trillion dollars by 2027. It’s not going anywhere.”

What’s next for Kim Kardashian? Like icons such as Madonna and daytime TV host-turned-mogul Oprah Winfrey, she seems to understand that the best way to stay relevant is to constantly evolve. Corey thinks Kim is preparing to “step into more of a Kris Jenner-like role” of matriarch, monarch and presumed mastermind in the style of HBO’s Succession. When Kim stepped out at this year's Met Gala, she arrived with her eldest daughter North West. It felt like the debut of the next generation of the Kardashian dynasty – like in the old days of KUWTK when Kendall and Kylie first started to get their own storylines.

Corey believes Kim’s influence is going to be felt for “generations” because of SKYY Partners, a private equity fund she launched in 2022. This is another sign, she says, that Kim is “laying the groundwork” to transition to a more managerial role in the Kardashian empire. Perhaps Kim’s biggest talent is being able to weave all these areas together – whenever Kim and her family have been out of the spotlight, they return with something new and unexpected which, for now, people are still interested in.

“That actually speaks to the power of the Kardashians,” Corey says. “People are saying their stars are fading because they've been a little less visible. But they can take time away from the public eye and then still return at the Met Gala, or when they’ve got a new show, and everyone is talking about them again.” 

After 15 years in the spotlight, it doesn’t seem like Kim Kardashian is going anywhere just yet. “Will Kim Kardashian be famous forever? Probably,” says Lorenz. She is still the most famous woman in the world and, when people do start to get tired of her, you better believe she’ll try to morph into something new. “Kim’s fundamental power is being a shape-shifter,” Corey says. “She’s part of the fabric of society now.”