The woman in front of me is deeply familiar, but something is off. We are sitting in a greenroom in a space in Manhattan, perched on an L-shaped couch. She is wearing a white gauzy top with some sort of white lace bra underlay, tucked into a ruched white mini-skirt, with clear Perspex heels. The woman to her left is wearing a shiny metallic pink mini-dress and thigh-high snakeskin patterned boots. Both have other-worldly eyelashes—in the sense that their eyelashes were likely not designed by their DNA makeup—and bright crystal blue eyes. Their lips are carefully traced to maximum fullness, and their skin is the color a teen magazine in the late 90s would have told me, a possessor of a near-translucent epidermis, was the only color worth having: whatever shade is unattainable for you without chemical intervention or inevitable cancer.
The woman in front of me is apologizing for being on her phone. "The pictures are already up on Getty. It's revealed!" she says in a joke panicky tone, removing her gaze from her task of tweaking an image. There is, I assume, some actual stress in her outburst. The reveal is what's tripping me, and apparently her, up: her hair—typically a lighter shade of brown than her companion's, spilling past her shoulder in thick waves—is now an arresting short, platinum, Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface bob (sans the bangs). She must post a photo of her new locks to Instagram now. It is, literally, her job.
The women I'm meeting are Natalie Halcro (a still-brunette, age 31) and Olivia Pierson (the newly blonde, age 29). Cousins from Vancouver, they are known for being beauty and fashion influencers, models, and cast members of the now-cancelled E! reality show WAGS LA. We are here because they are expanding that empire on their new show, Relatively Nat & Liv. Described by E! in a press release as a program about Nat & Liv and "their close-knit families," the eight, 45-minute episodes follow the pair "as they juggle their lives between the beauty and fame of Los Angeles and their humble and hilarious roots in Vancouver."
Why should you care about Nat & Liv? Well, because, as these things go, they want you to. And because myself and over 6 million others (and counting) have come to care too.
WAGS premiered in 2015 and was a relatively old-fashioned conceit for such a recent show, purporting to follow the lives of people the term's origins suggest it would: the wives, girlfriends, and wannabe girlfriends of America's biggest sports stars. What it actually did was follow the lives of models-slash-influencers, all of whom were tangentially connected to pro-sports players. Though the women spent much of the time arguing about their status vis-à-vis the success and talent of their partners, heavily fixated on whether they had "locked them down" yet (gotten married or engaged or even, god help them, tattooed), the funny thing about the show was that the women themselves were arguably more impressive than their husbands/boyfriends/whatevers. They often had more Instagram followers, better bodies, and more captivating personalities. They were the stars of their own TV show, their men contractually and apathetically appearing in scenes to make the "S" in the show's title mean something, while a quick search would indicate that they'd barely played in the NFL, or were a free agent, or had been moved from team to team for years.
WAGS, which was renamed WAGS LA when it got the spin-offs WAGS Miami and WAGS Atlanta, aired for three seasons. It was not a very good reality show; the drama was canned, and the plot lines verged on depressing (watching a woman desperately wish the father of her child would propose to her so she can feel confident about her life is my idea of extremely bleak content). But there was something about it that fascinated me. The artifice was obvious, but also difficult to parse at times; the scenes were staged, but the values of the world they depicted always shined through. I came to believe that these women were beautiful and successful on some level, but perhaps not on the one they were presenting.
Nat & Liv were a key part of the drama of WAGS, the show's accidental antagonists, in part because of how clear it was that they did not particularly prescribe to the archaic rules of the universe they'd been plopped into. "This whole, like, WAG thing and there being a hierarchy to the whole system thing, it just...I’m not a big fan of it,” Halcro said in one confessional interview on the show. “Maybe for some people the end all and be all is to be married and have kids,” she added. “But for me, I don’t think that’s by any means a benchmark to success.”
When we meet, Nat & Liv explain that they got hooked up with WAGS via their friend Nicole—@justtnic on Instagram, or Nicole Williams-English, whose desire to become engaged, subsequent engagement, and wedding, to former NFL player Larry English, was a plot line for the show's entire run. "At the time, her then-boyfriend and Natalie's then-boyfriend were on the same football team," Pierson says. "So Nicole asked Natalie—because they want you obviously to be friends, so it's organic—and Natalie's like, well Olivia's coming with me! C'mon! But I was single at the time, which ended up being a good twist, because you have at least one single person."
But Pierson's singleness and Halcro's seeming lack of interest in whether she was dating an athlete or how serious they were ruffled the feathers of their fellow cast members; for one thing, Nat & Liv would often laugh off drama that the other women would fixate on. Things would get nastier as a result, and in one episode, it was even suggested that the cousins must be escorts, because how else would they pay for their lifestyles? In hindsight, there was something else at play: They weren't really committed to this world, and their fellow cast mates caught on to that fact, like horses can smell fear. When I ask the pair about the set up of the show and their dynamic on it, Halcro rolls her eyes and, with a slight mocking tone, says, "Don't get me started," through a clenched jaw.
"It was awful, it was really difficult,” she explains. “We struggled with it every day that we filmed. I mean just the whole notion, obviously to us, is so… I can't even, it's so ancient to us. We're much more progressive than that. Even just the way we were raised, with two really strong moms. We always were raised to be individuals and strong and our moms worked."
"That's why on the show we were just like, ‘We're just going to have fun,’" Pierson adds. "I mean, we are clowns, but I think that's how we were the funny ones or the ones who were quote-unquote wild, or whatever. We're not really dramatic that way, so we just turned it into our playground."
Halcro chimes back in: "Because there was always this tone of like, okay, if you weren't married to somebody you were—"before she and Pierson say at the same time: "Less than!"
"And that was just so foreign to us," Halcro concludes.
The women say they were taken by surprise by the tenor of the show, but also joined it knowing what they wanted to get out of it: a launchpad to the kind of career that has historically only been attainable in the United States. "We were like, ‘Okay, this is our chance. Let's do it! Let's go for it! And we did," says Pierson, laughing.
"We've known this for 10 years," she adds. Halcro goes on: "That we'd have a show with our family. We put that on a vision board like 10 years ago."
"So when we were approached with a show that we weren't really in love with the concept but it got out foot in the door, we're like, 'This might be the moment we slightly sell our souls, just a little bit? A little bit?'"
"A little. A slice!" Pierson kids. "And then kill that show, and then get your own show. And we're like, yes! We did it!"
It was in mid-2018 that I realized my fascination with Nat & Liv might be one held by a number of others, or at least would be held by many more in the near future. Following the airing of Season 3 of WAGS, they started appearing on Kim Kardashian's Instagram, which is about as close to a rock-solid endorsement of your worth in American popular culture as you can get. After their first feature in March, the women, along with Nicole, showed up to Kanye West's ye listening party in Wyoming a few months later, a hang that was also heavily documented on social media. I then read an article on Bossip that quoted a few of the other women in the franchise. “I think they just have a look they are going for,” Ashley, of WAGS Miami, told the site, referring to the E! network. “It’s the Kardashian look, so if it’s anything other than that, they not having it.” She and her friend Darnell explained that they thought Halcro and Pierson had gotten their own spin-off show: “And they’re all buddy buddy with the Kardashians now,” Ashley said. “They go along with that look.”
They certainly do: the aesthetic metamorphosed from women of color (which Ashley and Darnell are) and propagated by the Kardashians has run rampant through our society like a contagion spread via contour stick. Though the cousins'—who have said their ancestry is a mix of Métis, First Nations and a variety of European countries—look has shifted more to this style over the years—they favor a Fashion Nova, form-fitting, shiny, lacey neutrals vibe with a dash of doctor-assisted upkeep—Nat & Liv have always been into makeup. They say their path to become influencers started in Vancouver in 2010, when Halcro was working as a make-up artist and Pierson was assisting her, the pair also waiting tables. This was a time, not that long ago, when, the cousins explain, they didn't even have iPhones. They are vague about this time when I ask them about it, and the space before it; is it possible there was ever a time before what they are doing now? And why look back that far, when the future is so near?
Anyway: "Everyone was like, ‘Oh are you on Instagram?,’" Halcro explains, of the genesis of their life as influencers, circa 2013. "And we're like, ‘No, I don't want to do that, it sounds stupid, posting pictures about your life. Like, it just seemed so narcissistic. We're like, ‘Nah, I'm good.’"
It was at this point that a boyfriend Halcro was dating long distance got her an iPhone. "I wanted to get Instagram to see what he was up to, because he would post stuff every day," she says, laughing relatably. "So I got it, and then soon realized that it could kind of be an artistic platform. So we just started taking pictures, and soon figured out that no one was really making their feed look aesthetically beautiful, or paying attention to what their feed looked like. Everyone was just kind of posting on the fly. And early on [we] just kind of became OCD about that. And I feel like people took notice to that, and everyone kind of started doing that. And we would post what makeup we were wearing, did breakdowns of stuff—kind of before anyone was really doing that on Instagram. I feel like we did that from the beginning."
Though documentation of these early years is sparse (one can assume their posts were less frequent, or since deleted), Pierson says, "I feel like we were one of the OGs, for sure." She explains everything that comes next as if it were an inevitability: that the cousins would make the decision to work together, that they would start a (sometimes sporadically updated) blog and a (sporadically updated) YouTube channel, and that, more importantly, they would discover paid posting. According to the cousins, this is where the real money was to be made, on their carefully curated Instagram accounts: they claimed during the escorts fight that they could make $15-20,000 a post. In the past few years, they've done sponsored content for companies that have included SugarBear Hair, Orogold Cosmetics, Guess, Marciano, Lilly Lashes, and SkinnyMint detox tea. Whereas they once handled everything themselves, they have a team of people now, and when I followed up to ask for their current base rate, was told they, unsurprisingly, don't comment on that but that it varies.
"Then we're like, ‘Okay, I think we can make some money here,” Pierson continues. “And then slowly kind of quit doing the makeup and quit serving and that did become our full time job." That eventually evolved into collaborations with brands, picking products to promote and wear that they themselves loved, and now the show.
"So it seems like it happened kind of organically," I posit. "100 percent," Halcro replies.
Depending on your perspective, people want to be famous because they were born that way, or they want to be famous because the world has told them it is something of value. This suggests that wanting to be famous is either entirely organic, or not at all. That philosophical, nature vs. nurture debate acknowledged, Nat & Liv seem to have always wanted to be famous.
In 2012, they shot "a little thing," in Pierson's words, in Vancouver, what sounds like a test for a show about them and their family. But they weren't on Instagram yet, and according to her, "it kind of fell flat." I ask the cousins when they found out about their new show, which was announced in April. Was it when WAGS was being cancelled? "It was like, talked or bounced around," Pierson says. "We knew. We would just speak it. We would just say, ‘Oh yeah, we have our own show, we have our own show.’ We said that before it was even around." She laughs. "Because we believe in speaking things into existence."
Nat & Liv have also always known, it seems, that they would work together; on Instagram, their association arguably lends them double the interest and reach, one person you stumble across in your feed leading to the other. Since then, their families have joined in on the action as well, forming an even larger web and amplifying their reach still further. Though their brand (3.7 and 2.7 million followers on Instagram each, though many of their posts and most of their work involves them together as one entity) is about them and their specific brand (read: hot, cool, funny), they say they always saw the show including their families.
"It was like, you guys are great, but what is it?" Pierson continues. "Now that we can bank off our social following and being on another show, I guess obviously there's more of a concept now with our show." Their life exists in the kind of capitalist conundrum that governs many lives in 2019: They needed followers to get the show, but they need the show to get more followers.
The concept is also that now they, whether organically or not, have relationships that shove them a tier higher than any former pro-sports player could. Since their first appearances on Kim Kardashian's Instagram, they have appeared on her actual show. During the episode, which aired in November 2018 (their scenes were much less dramatic than the main plot line, about Khloe Kardashian's cheating scandal and birth of her daughter), Kim described them as "friends that I have kind of recently become friends with." We see her get her armpit hair lasered as they watch. Then the three go to lunch.
"It’s kind of different now that I’m a mom," Kim explains. "Sometimes it’s fun to have friends that aren’t my mom friends, that I can just have a good time with." Since then, as documented on Instagram, Nat & Liv have gone to her baby shower, and shown up in the music video for Paris Hilton's song "Best Friend's Ass."
Halcro says she and Pierson met Kim and the rest of her family through a "really, really talented" makeup artist friend who lived with them when they first moved to LA, and who "caught the eye of Kim and Kylie and everybody." She says of Kim: "It was just kind of like a natural meeting, and she's just like the sweetest and nicest person ever, and we've become really good friends." Halcro says, that, as you might expect, Kim has been "so supportive" of them and the show. "If you need anything or have any questions, she's been through this rodeo a million times."
"It's cool because Kardashians are our lead in," Pierson says, of Relatively Nat & Liv, which will air on Sundays at 10 pm following the KUWTK slot. "And I think Kim filmed on our show, so I wonder if that will line up." A tension between being natural and being famous seems to undercut all their work: In a preview for this season, Pierson says, "Like, have we really gone Hollywood?" shown after a clip of the pair greeting Kim.
Last year, a writer for The Daily Mail remarked on how similar the trio appeared to be. "She has look-alike friends!” the headline read. “Kim Kardashian proves she loves her pals to be mirror images of herself as she poses with Natalie Halcro and Olivia Pierson." There are indeed many parallels between Kim, one of the most famous people on earth, and Nat & Liv, who maybe would like to be in that category: their relaxed, kind nature with strangers; their style; the way they make money; their families; their shows; even when and how their shows air. In this way, the organic nature of their relationship seems like it would be obvious, but still, somehow, has an air of being produced. But maybe that's the way the world works for some people: Things line up, especially when you're in a small club of people who all look similar and who all believe, deep in their guts, that if you dream it, you can achieve it. Together.
It is clear from the first two episodes of Relatively Nat & Liv that Nat & Liv's family is remarkably close and remarkably comfortable in front of the camera. Their respective older (and as is mentioned several times, gay) brothers Joel and Owen often take the photos that the pair post on social media; each has several thousands of followers of his own. Pierson has another brother named Brock and a sister named Sophia (both with significant follower counts), and the latter’s semi-combative and competitive, seemingly now softened, relationship with Pierson was a minor subplot on Season 2 of WAGS. (Pierson has a third brother who has chosen not to be filmed.)
Halcro has another sister named Stephanie who is also an influencer, but a "hippie" mother one, who describes herself on the show as the "black sheep" of the family because she had a home water birth and makes her own deodorant. (Her self-perception might speak partially to the minute branding differences that pervade the influencer sphere; aesthetically, she has the same perfect hair and makeup, shares the cousins’ embrace of modern dermatological practices, and tends to favor clothes that flatter a tiny waist, large breasts, and full butt.) Rounding out the cast are their mothers, sisters Rhonda Halcro and Julia Pierson, plus Rhonda's current husband Jim and Julia's ex-husband Brian, Pierson's father.
The premise of Relatively Nat & Liv is that they're two beautiful, stylish women who spend a lot of time with their family back in Vancouver, whenever they're not working on their brands in LA. Like many reality shows, this one seems to be predicated on a slightly false conceit: that they split their time roughly equally between the two places. But in our conversation, Nat & Liv suggest that they really only go back for holidays and that filming the show was the first time they'd spent any substantial time there since moving to LA, when they became big on the 'gram.
The show favors the format increasingly used by other E! Properties KUWTK and the cancelled Busy Tonight (even in its name, which fits with the sometimes inscrutable copycat naming techniques the channel has gone for, such as Very Cavallari): emulating Instagram. Transitions present photos and videos of the family members in the grid format, a sunkissed glow washed over them. It’s a seeming attempt to close the gap between the television format and the platforms their stars are more famous on, to make you feel like you are as close to them as social media makes you feel.
The plot lines themselves are fairly basic: in the two screener episodes I watched, Nat & Liv plan a 40th anniversary party for Halcro's parents and they take a family trip to Whistler, Canada. Both episodes plant the seeds of what looks to be the season's most compelling story: whether the kids can "Parent Trap" Pierson's long-divorced parents, Julia and Brian, back together. There are other regular family squabbles; as modern families do, Stephanie and Joel get into a heated debate over their feelings about vaccines.
That they are funny is either Nat & Liv's saving grace or what makes them successful. Even among the heavily produced set-ups, they make fun of themselves constantly and seem self-aware about their lives. ("We don't really take anything too seriously, you know what I mean?" Halcro says during out conversation, and this smart philosophy seems to follow them everywhere.) What remains to be seen is whether the show is interesting enough for our modern times, where the mundane is elevated as interesting but there is also so much content that only the most fascinating actually is such. Press coverage of the cousins has so far been mostly surface level; about their fashion, the drama on their shows, a reflection of the kind of fame they have now. The structure of this, and their social media presences, is to see them at 30,000 feet; how will Nat & Liv be received ostensibly up close?
The cousins have an IT-girl quality for sure, but a different one than the effortlessness the term used to imply. Perhaps much of what a modern audience is picking up on is the act of hustling in itself; in our conversation, the cousins repeatedly speak to how much they work but how much they love it. As our time together wraps up, I ask the women what they want their lives to look like five years from now. Both say they want the show to be a hit, to still be on, and to be married and have kids. "Rich," Pierson says, and the two laugh. "I'm not kidding," she adds, before clarifying she wants their businesses to be successful—they are launching a clothing line that will appear on the show—and their families to be healthy and doing well.
During Episode 1 of Relatively Nat & Liv, the vision board the cousins made years ago comes up, the one they reference when we discuss how long they'd been thinking of this reality show. "Has everything on the board come true?" Rhonda asks, rhetorically, before her sister, daughter, and niece confirm that yes, it has.
In a confessional following this moment, sitting beside her sister, Julia is calm but glowing. "I am so proud because, even in the era we—we were born in the 50s—I always remember wanting to have my own career and how important that was," she says, gesturing to underline her points. "And the girls have. A career!"
Relatively Nat & Liv premieres on E! on Sunday, June 2nd at 10pm
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.