In 2022, almost anyone can be considered a content creator. The influencer boom, intensified by the pandemic’s unexpected consequence of keeping us glued to our phones, democratized the internet — specifically, the way in which people can build platforms and amass followings. As a result, we’re not just tweeting hot takes, posting thirst traps, or recapping our favorite shows these days. Like it or not, we’re all making content now.
But there’s an art to being online, a magic to turning your shitposts into a salary that can actually pay your bills. You have to have talent — whether that’s impeccable comedic timing or a nuanced understanding of pop culture. Not everyone can monetize their perpetual onlineness. You either have that “it factor” or you don’t.
LaLa Milan. Aliyah Bah. Cleo West (aka Cleotrapa). Elsa Majimbo. Fannita Leggett. They have “it.”
You know their names. You’ve left emojis in their comment sections. You’ve shared their videos in your group chats. You quote them in your daily conversations. These five Black women consistently create content that will leave you in stitches; they’re some of the funniest people on Blue Ivy’s internet. Not one video or post between them is alike, but they all possess a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it impossible not to follow them. Yet, if you were to ask how they did it, none of them would be able to tell you. As it turns out, there’s no one formula to their success. They’re their own secret sauce — and that just can’t be duplicated. Some people were just meant to be famous.
Traditional celebrity worship culture is played out; it’s past time to start showing love to the people who are just like us. There’s no doubt that these comedians, actors, musicians, and fashionistas have been at the forefront of some of the internet’s best and brightest moments, and their work embodies the exact spirit of Black Girl Magic that we at Unbothered have been celebrating since our very inception in 2017. So, on our fifth anniversary, Unbothered is raising a glass and giving much-deserved flowers to the A-list online talents that have made being online totally worth it.
On Elsa: LaPointe coat; Theophilio bralette; Theophilio skirt. On Fannita: Brandon Blackwood coat; Asos dress. On Cleotrapa: Brandon Blackwood dress; Superdown top; Superdown skirt; Sadi Studios shoes. On Aliyah: Brandon Blackwood coat; Ed Lee dress; Jeffrey Campbell shoes.
LaLa Milan wasn’t trying to go viral. As a matter of fact, the thought never even crossed her mind before it actually happened. Before all of *gesticulates wildly* this, she was just a regular degular girl working a regular degular job (that she kind of hated) to fund her lifestyle as a young adult in Atlanta. Each day that the humdrum of her 9 to 5 job at an insurance company was eating away at her and trapping her in a mind numbing cycle, she knew there had to be something else out there for her to do.
“I was just trying to get wherever I could get that could pay me a little bit more money,” LaLa recalls over Zoom, shaking her head at the not-so-distant memory of the corporate rat race. “I wanted more in life, but I just figured the only way to achieve that was to go corporate. I didn't know that pivoting was an option.”
LaLa needed an outlet to release some of that tension, and like so many of us, she turned to the internet in 2015. She took it a step further than just tweeting, though, expressing herself through a number of short videos recorded on her cell phone and posted to her various social media accounts under the username LaLaSizaHands89. Slowly but surely, the posts started gaining traction, with people from all over the internet flocking to her comments and tagging their friends to come look and laugh with them. One video in particular, LaLa’s hilarious remix of Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” was so popular that her version started playing regularly on her local radio station in Atlanta. Initially, she was astonished by the attention she was getting online, but she knew that she had to keep posting if she wanted to keep her momentum going. It wasn’t easy creating content with a full-time job — LaLa admits to shamelessly recording videos while she was on the clock — and fate, in the form of an ultimatum from a manager, forced her to take content creation seriously. It was time to stop playing small and get paid.
“I wasn't creating content with the intention of making money initially,” LaLa reveals. “I was okay with simply having a good time, escaping my miserable job, and getting free stuff. I didn't know for a long time that people were getting paid — I was just happy having fun.”
“To be honest, I would have never taken a risk on my own,” continues LaLa. “Even though I knew that I should probably get out of this job while I had this spotlight on me, I didn't have any intention of quitting my job. So when that happened, it was devastating for a ‘lil minute…until I got a DM from someone who wanted to book me for a gig.”
One deal led to another, then another, and before long, she had to get a whole team to help her manage the overflow of opportunities knocking at her door. It all happened so fast, she remembers, that it was overwhelming at times. But if LaLa had to tell you her secret, she’d tell you that consistency is key. In an industry that is ruled by trends, staying constant is the base ingredient for success, like the roux of any good dish. Getting to the top is easy — staying there is the hard part. Consistency helps.
“I just continuously keep going,” LaLa says. “I feel like if you stay on go mode, you don't have to plan because things are going to come from your work ethic that you didn’t even expect.”
LaLa knows that people see her first as a comedian and a content creator, but those identities are just a sliver of who she is. There’s an empire to be built, and comedy content is just the foundation for that greatness, a springboard for the many other things that she still wants to do. Acting, for example, is something that LaLa had always dreamed about, and it was her viral videos that put her in the same room as Lena Waithe and later on Waithe’s call sheet as an ensemble cast member in BET’s Boomerang reboot. (She’s also appeared on HBO’s Black Lady Sketch Show and will soon star in The First Noelle, a BET+ holiday film premiering later this month.) LaLa is also putting on her entrepreneur hat, going full force with the launch of her brand Vagi-taminz, a healthcare line dedicated to helping people improve their vaginal health born from her personal struggles with her own body. Suppositories and probiotics might seem like a reach — LaLa is nobody’s OBGYN — but the beauty of her career is that she goes wherever her gut takes her, even if it forces her to think outside of the box. The goal is to keep the brand expanding in directions that we (and LaLa herself) might not see coming, as long as they ultimately align with who she is.
“Your audience can see what’s authentic and what isn’t, so I had to decide very early on that having integrity and being true to myself and to my word was more important than anything a bag had to offer me,” LaLa stresses. “And it’s worked out for the best. There are certain things that I would never even fathom for myself that are in the cards for me now, and I want everything that's meant for me — everything. So much of what’s going on today, I would have never, ever thought could happen, and ten years from now, I'm going to be saying the exact same thing.”
Let’s be very clear: Aliyah Bah is a fashion girl. You might have come to her TikTok for jokes and chaos, but her real passion is putting that shit on every single day and making sure that people see every one of her outfits. Fashion is a means of self-expression she’s been utilizing since she was a little girl in Clayton County, Georgia. “I used to get bullied a lot when I was a kid, so fashion was a shield for me,” she shares. “By the time I got to high school, though, I’d stopped wearing the clothes that I knew everyone was wearing and started experimenting with my own personal style. I went thrifting and found pieces that I could cut up and make my own. I used to be dressed down, girl. You can ask anybody in high school: I was the girly girl with the short skirts, the colorful wigs and everything.”
Today, we see those sartorial choices taken to the next level; think Bratz doll meets Y2K fashion and Harajuku street style, and then throw on a colorful pink pixie wig or buss-down 30-inch middle part to finish it off. Aliyah lives to serve looks, whether people like them or not, and she’s grown accustomed to making statements and turning heads. (It’s not every day that you see someone rocking sky-high baby pink moon boots on the beaches of Jamaica.) As fetching as her closet is, however, it is comedy that is the key to Aliyah’s virality. At 19 years old, the TikTok star has perfected her comedic execution to a tee, keeping us highly entertained with her utterly ridiculous, “how does she think of that?” posts. From expletive-driven affirmations, to deep philosophical musings, to chaotic get-ready-with-me videos that will keep you guessing till the very end (there is no such thing as over-accessorizing here), Aliyah just gets it. She is the embodiment of Gen Z’s unique ability to thrive in pandemonium and actually make it look fun.
How does she do it? By keeping the process as grassroots as possible. Other creators have teams to help them brainstorm and shoot content, but Aliyah keeps production in-house — as in, she is the production. Phone in hand, TikTok app open, all of her content is straight off the dome, an amalgamation of the chaos she finds comfort in.
“I have a lot of thoughts, so I treat my content like a diary,” Aliyah explains. “When you have a diary, at the end of day, you just write down all your thoughts, right? That's me, but I like to do it by talking to the camera. Sometimes, I'll have an idea, and if I'm not near a camera, I'll write it down in my notes app. I’ll even tweet my thoughts and then make a note to turn the tweet into a TikTok later on.”
“So much of this is trial and error,” she laughs. “But when people like you, you don't really have to have a certain way that you make content because the audience is there for your personality. You’re free to do whatever and be whoever you are at that very moment, and people just like you for you.”
Of course, there are still expectations. As the app’s resident Fashion Girl, Aliyah is dedicated to always playing and looking the part. “Everybody has off days, but I can't have that,” she says. “People are always noticing me now, so that's my motivation to keep standing out."
Aside from the occasional crack about her outfits (“It’s camp!” she asserts goodnaturedly.), Aliyah’s journey to becoming your favorite TikToker has been relatively smooth. So much good has come from Aliyah being on social media these past few years, including invitations to exclusive shows during New York Fashion Week, collaborations with other popular creators, and even auditions for TV shows — I’m manifesting a role on Euphoria for her — and she’s hoping to leverage her platform even more. Fans can expect to see Aliyah lean into her other passions in the near future. Fun fact: she’s also a rapper, and she plans to open the vault for the world to hear some of her tracks very soon. But all roads lead back to fashion, Aliyah’s first love, and she’s determined to use TikTok to establish herself in the cutthroat industry despite it being notoriously racist and colorist. It doesn’t hurt that she’s already got a moon boot in the door.
“Because of my niche [as a Black fashion and comedy creator], companies see value in me because I can pretty much influence anyone, and I've been fortunate to be able to get a lot more brand deals that so many other talented Black women creators haven’t been given access to.” Aliyah says. ”But more fashion companies need to take more chances on Black women, especially dark skinned Black women. I feel like we're overlooked all the time. It just sucks that the companies won’t invest in Black women. What's really messed up is that white people will get noticed from stealing our ideas.”
Giving and receiving credit is important to most content creators, but for Aliyah, it’s paramount. For example, “Be fucking for real” (“bffr” for short) is a saying that she is almost 95% sure she popularized, and it’s spreading like wildfire through pop culture, but there’s still a debate over who first originated it on TikTok. Aliyah hates to be that person, but she’ll be taking credit for that one, thank you very much. Just like her uniform of micro mini skirts, bleached brows, and black lip liner, it’s her signature. And nobody can take that away.
Theophilio top; Theophilio pants.
If there’s one thing that Elsa Majimbo is gonna do, it’s enjoy her life. We know her as the Executive Enjoyer, the angel on our shoulders perpetually encouraging us to eschew the culture of grinding and hustling in favor of rest and relaxation. The 21-year-old isn’t telling us one thing and doing another, either; when Elsa isn’t jet setting across the world or rubbing shoulders with celebrities (Daniel Kaluuya! Naomi Campbell! Rihanna!), she’s quite literally laying down.
“I don’t put my energy into anything that I know might only make me miserable,” Elsa shrugs, leisurely splayed out on a couch in her Los Angeles home. “I’m just in my own vibe and in my own world. If I know the future I want isn't in the things I'm doing, I’m just not doing it.”
Even before 2020, Elsa’s enjoyment agenda was going strong. And when the pandemic was at its peak, and most of the world was struggling to adjust to the chaos of the new normal, the former chess champion was actually…having a good time? Yes, she was still in school pursuing a degree that she really didn’t care for (“I hated school!” she groans. “I was the person who was always skipping class and partying on Sundays when I knew that I had exams on Monday.”), but Elsa was having fun pretending her responsibilities didn’t exist. That intentional disconnect from reality is something audiences immediately connected to; with the real world as chaotic as it was, why be realistic when we could be delusional instead?
Well, describing Elsa’s relatable internet affirmations as “delusion” isn’t technically correct. They’re more like… manifesting. In reality, everything she’s said she wants to do so far, she’s done. Months after she secretly dropped out of university, she came clean to her parents and let them know that the end goal of this new uncharted path as a creative was to keep being funny online, travel the world, and party incessantly. As you could predict, Elsa’s very African mom and dad “absolutely hated” the idea at first, but they’ve since come around. Why wouldn’t they? Their daughter’s razor sharp wit and irreverence is making her a household name far beyond the constraints of the internet. People loved Elsa’s lighthearted (yet lowkey irresponsible) takes on spending, her anti-social rants, and her questionable “expert” advice.
In 2020, at a time when the rest of the world was on fire and struggling under the weight of the global pandemic, Elsa’s year was playing out like a fairytale. High profile endorsements with Fenty Beauty, a contract with IMG Models and WME, a book, a forthcoming eponymous short documentary, millions of Instagram followers — she became a star almost overnight just by being her naturally funny self. Let Elsa tell it, she’s one of the funniest people alive, and she believes that her true purpose is sharing some of that hilarity with the world. (You’re welcome, by the way.)
“I initially turned to comedy because I was doing it for myself. I used to look at my [Instagram] stories, and I kid you not, I would just laugh and laugh and laugh!” she says. “I thought I was hilarious, and I wasn't going to hold that back from people. The more I posted these videos to the world, the more they started gaining more and more momentum, it started to fuel me.”
As confident as she is in being the internet’s chosen one, Elsa is fully aware that her meteoric rise is the exception, not the rule; she knows how tough this industry can be, especially on Black women. Even as success seems to follow her everywhere she goes, Elsa is still shaken by the reality that so many of her peers haven’t experienced the same level of professional gains. “The industry needs to do better by Black people,” she sighs. “No offense, but I’m tired of seeing mediocre white influencers partnering with extremely, extremely talented Black creators and getting paid higher rates when they shouldn't even be on the same page.”
That's exactly why she has to be her biggest believer — if she didn’t back herself, who would?
“Everything that has happened to me so far has been great and amazing, and I'm very grateful, but the best is yet to come,” Elsa smiles. “I can’t limit my scope to the things I achieved before I turned 21. Clearly, if I can achieve all that at such a young age, it means I can do bigger, better, and greater things.”
Asos dress; Jeffrey Campbell shoes; Swarovski earrings.
“I know that I have people throwing up and sliding down the wall because of my success… and that’s what they fucking get,” Fannita Leggett says confidently, tossing her faux locs over her shoulder. Her self-possession is genuine, the hard-earned mental fortitude of an underdog turned champion. While other people might use fake humility to appear down-to-earth, the TikToker doesn’t mind coming off a little cocky to the public — after all, she’s had to gas herself up to make it this far.
Fannita is well known on TikTok for creating content that is, putting it gently, sort of unhinged. She goes against the grain for sport: sharing controversial hot takes, playing smash or pass with Disney characters (though some may agree with her opinion on Simba), and catcalling men online. One of her most notable TikToks is a reference to the hot boy uniform of summer 2021, the beloved hoochie daddy shorts, chain, and tank top combo, which Fannita so eloquently praised as “thot” wear. It playfully flipped catcalling culture on its head, positioning men under a voracious female gaze, but not everyone loved it as much as women did; many disgruntled men stitched the viral video with complaints and insults about Fannita’s banter.
That TikTok is one of her most popular posts to date, but it still haunts Fannita to this day. It was an unsolicited wakeup call to the sobering role of misogynoir, the very specific intersection of anti-Blackness and sexism, in her own life. “I actually hate that video,” she shudders. “I got so much hate for it. I was physically having a panic attack the night that I posted it, and I didn't sleep at all the entire night because I was up deleting hate comments. Before the video, no one had ever said a hateful thing to me. I was a fan favorite, and it worked for me because I’m a Leo, and I need my ego stroked every three minutes. So I wasn’t used to people talking shit about me.”
“It was a reality check about how dark-skinned Black women and plus size women are perceived on social media,” says Fannita. “I realized then that because I look a certain way, and I sound a certain way, people are going to take things to the extreme with me. But if a white girl had made the same video, it would have gone over in an entirely different way.”
Allowing the onslaught of racism and fatphobia to get to her would’ve been understandable, but Fannita couldn’t let herself be dragged back into a dark place emotionally. She knew how easy it was for her to spiral. Prior to her TikTok fame, she remembers struggling with mental health issues and unaddressed personal trauma, feeling like a “sad little girl who didn’t know what her purpose was.” Fannita took a stab at the whole influencer thing before TikTok, making an attempt to become a “flat tummy tea IG baddie” (if you know, you know), but it didn’t pan out, so she downloaded TikTok at the end of 2019 at the suggestion of her friends, who believed that she’d find some kind of relief in watching other people’s content. Before long, her videos were the ones bringing people joy.
Now, Fannita is shameless when it comes to her TikTok content because it took her a long time to be this comfortable with who she is. She prides herself on being unapologetically herself, a rarity in a space where being able to control how you’re perceived is everything. That’s why you’ll always find her in bed, sporting a bonnet, and saying whatever she wants. (“I feel like I’m one of the big reasons why people feel so comfortable getting on the Internet looking crazy,” she insists.) These days, however, the content is less about flirting with fine men and more about showing the world how much fun she’s having right now. Fannita’s broader approach to TikTok is due to a new resolve, a big picture goal of becoming the next Wendy Williams and being the authority on all things pop culture. She’s pivoting a little in hopes that people will take her seriously. Just slightly, though — thirsting ain’t dead.
“I’m more mindful of the things I do talk about online because I know how society and social media react to people who look different, or to who they think in their head is not the ideal spokesperson to be talking about things,” Fannita says. “Yes, I’m funny and candid and no-holds barred, but it’s time for the world to see me in a different light. I want people to know that I can be serious, I can be powerful, and I can be a professional.”
Norma Kamali robe, $285, available at nordstrom.com; Normal Kamali top; Normal Kamali bottom; Sadi shoes.
Cleo West, colloquially known as Cleotrapa, has always been that girl. It’s hard to explain succinctly how exactly she became that girl, but she believes that she was simply born with star quality. Growing up in Staten Island, Cleo was always popular — it was just a matter of time before the rest of the world understood why.
In 2018, the native New Yorker innocently shared a video to her social media. “Save me a baby father,” young Cleo bemoaned in the throwback clip. “The [fine men] don’t even get a chance to see me before you go and trap them!” It didn’t take long for her dramatic soliloquy to go viral, with a repost from The Shade Room skyrocketing its views within hours. Anyone else might have been taken aback by the sudden rise in their profile, but Cleo took the thousands of new followers and barrage of laughing emojis in her comments in stride. Of course people thought she was funny. She’s Cleotrapa.
“Before that video went viral, I was really more on the music side than comedy,” she tells me. “I was sharing freestyles on my page, but that video was what introduced people to me and made them watch everything else. It brought more eyes to me, so I knew that I had to keep doing what I was doing.”
Cleo continued the shenanigans on her social media, providing everything from cultural commentary on pop culture trending topics (her genuinely troubled reaction to that homemade veneers video lives in my head rent-free) to passionate and helpful grammar lessons (please don’t get “you’re” and “your” mixed up when she’s around). Like everyone else on the internet, Cleo had an opinion to share. Unlike everyone else on the internet, Cleo also had that New York City accent and natural swag that made her opinions ten times funnier. So her star grew, solidifying her place in the Black Internet Hall of Fame.
But becoming a meme doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. (Just ask “eyebrows on fleek” originator Peaches Monroe.) As she worked on her music and kept posting on social media, Cleo was still diligently working as a full-time CNA at a local nursing home. It wasn’t until 2021 that she started making serious money from social media. Last year, Cleo divulges, she raked in $16,000 from Instagram reels alone, but before that, she was making small change doing e-commerce as a side hustle. The progress was slow, but that was all part of her master plan. Blowing up would rely on the support of her audience, and Cleo was willing to take the time and do the work to build the numbers from the ground up.
“My strategy was to build my fanbase first,” says Cleo. “From the moment that I started doing what I'm doing, I knew that my fans fucked with me, and that they’re going to fuck with me whatever I do. They’re not confused because I’m giving them the realness. I’m not doing anything today that I wasn’t doing years ago.”
“There are a lot of people who were lit back when I first started posting,” she continues. “But you don’t see them anymore because they didn’t know how to stay consistent. People go through shit, I get that, but you have to have some level of tunnel vision to keep this thing going.”
When asked about the dream her tunnel vision leads to, her smile gets big. “I’m going to keep releasing music,” Cleo answers matter-of-factly. She’s been hustling with that objective in mind long before we ever heard her school us on grammar. A number of Cleo’s songs have already hit streaming platforms and have made an impression on her fans — her first ever stage performance of “I Don’t Trap” during The Glow Up was nothing short of incredible — and she has no plans of slowing down on that front. Before anything, Cleo is an artist, and a really good one at that. “A lot of people think that I want to do comedy for real,” she says. “They think I would do standup, but I'm so quick to tell everybody that I would literally never get on the stage and try to make people laugh. I'm not a comedian — I'm really just naturally funny.”
“You know how it is for Black girls in the music industry,” Cleo goes on, a shadow crossing her face. “That's another reason why I felt like it was so important for me to build my fanbase, to have a whole lot of eyes on me. Building a fanbase off of just being a Black female rapper would’ve been a lot harder, so I'm glad that I went the route that I did. Now, you have no choice but to watch what I do. You have no choice because it’s back to back, and you're getting it. Seeing everybody eat it up, it’s like…I knew y’all would.”
Being hyper-focused on making it as an artist in this industry has also been instrumental in drowning out bad vibes online. The internet is the wild, wild west for everyone, but it can be especially vicious to Black women, even more so if you just so happen to be dark-skinned. Cleo just so happens to be both, but she’s developed a thick skin that’s helped protect her even as her growing fame opens her up to more digital harassment.
“I’m a Black woman — I’m a target!” says Cleo. “People automatically feel like I should shut the fuck up and play my part in society. But I'm not giving you that. I’m giving, I said what I said. And what about it?”
“They say what they want to say because they’re on social media, but in real life? They could never,” she emphasizes with pride. “I’m not fazed by social media because I have a hard shell. I’m Gucci. The internet cannot bring me down.”
“They say what they want to say because they’re on social media, but in real life? They could never,” she emphasizes with pride. “I’m not fazed by social media because I have a hard shell. I’m Gucci. The internet cannot bring me down.”