I can’t see Addison Rae’s thousand-watt smile over the phone, but I know it’s there — at least it sounds like it’s there. “I enjoyed it a looooot,” she sing-songs as we wrap up our conversation on the ins and outs of internet fame.
Rae, the 21-year-old TikTok-er with a following of 87.3 million, is beloved for her smile, an eye-crinkling grin that encapsulates her special brand of peppy, positivity-soaked content. While scrolling through her feeds — an endless stream of cheesing selfies, polished dance routines, and idyllic vacation footage — I can’t help but wonder what Rae is like off-screen.
We chat about her childhood, largely spent traveling to dance competitions around the country. “That's my main thing: I love to perform. I love to creative-direct,” she reflects. “I started off dancing, but I think a huge part of that was simply storytelling. I always want to be telling stories through everything I do.”
Rae’s passion for performance is so intense that she says it was preordained: “If you ask anyone who was really close to me, they would tell you I always wanted to be on stage. Even if I wasn't on the stage, I wanted to be the one directing it. I think it's my destiny.”
She might chalk her success up to fate, but it’s Rae’s zealous focus that has, in part, propelled her to global stardom, first for her viral TikTok dances and later for adjacent projects; a stint as a member of The Hype House, an earworm-y pop single, a makeup line, a Netflix deal. “I’ve become everything I knew I was meant to be,” she says with preternatural confidence. “I've always lived the [life] that I wanted to live. I think it’s inspiring for people to see that someone like me from a small town in Louisiana was able to make these dreams come to life.”
Pre-fame, Rae’s life was normal — unglamorous, even. Growing up, she and her siblings shuffled between Louisiana and Texas, a result of her parents’ on-and-off relationship. At one point, they lived in a trailer. Eventually, Rae enrolled at Louisiana State University, hoping to join the school’s dance team. Ultimately, she didn’t make it in. Little did Rae know, a bigger opportunity was coming her way.
By October 2019, just three months after she joined TikTok, her profile had amassed one million followers. Classmates were recognizing her on campus. Rae’s cheery lip-synching videos and glossy dance routines, wholesome with just a tinge of sexual suggestion, were having a moment. To see just how long she could extend it, she dropped out of school and moved to Los Angeles to build her brand.
To summarize Rae as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed small town girl turned Hollywood starlet is too simple. Despite her insistence that what you see is what you get, the breadth of her personality – her essence, her identity – seem to be conundrums that Rae herself is in the midst of wrangling. And understandably so, considering her age.
“One thing about me that surprises people is that I am just as happy as I am in the pictures,” she says. “I try to always be positive, and people think that's not real. No matter what situation I've been in my entire life, good or bad, I've always [known] that things pass and get better.”
But when I ask Rae to describe her online self versus her offline self, she admits: “There's a lot more to me than people see.”
“I'm a very complex person,” she continues. “I can show a lot and still not be showing anything at all, in a way. Every part of me that I show or don't show are all parts of me that exist at the same time. I don't know,” she muses.
Suddenly, Rae’s famous grin strikes like a Mona Lisa smile. She’s straightforward yet complex, self-assured yet bashful, wavering between total confidence and uncertainty (“I’m no professional,” she demurs when I ask how she built her fan base).
But behind the dialectics, there’s an underlying savviness that bares itself when she speaks about fame and its thorny side effects. She has, like anyone online, faced her fair share of backlash, all readily Google-able. She handles the noise with astounding even-handedness, a thoughtfulness that takes most far more than 21 years to cultivate. “Out of sight, out of mind,” she affirms. “Don't look at it — it's the hardest thing to do and the easiest thing to say, but that is the key to all of it,” she advises, adding: “You choose how you get to feel in your lifetime, and I think that's the most powerful thing you can do in life.”
She continues: “You're not meant to appeal to every single person. There are going to be people that don't like you. There are going to be people that don't like what you wear, but that's all a part of being unique and different and standing out. People who are memorable don't come from being people pleasers. Growing up, I struggled with that,” she admits. “I wanted to make everyone happy, and sometimes you compromise yourself when you do that. That helped me navigate myself and exactly what I wanted to do and be.”
When dispensing advice on self-preservation in the online age, Rae sounds wise beyond her years. Still, her acumen is balanced by an endearing naivité, an extension of her self-proclaimed positivity that shines in more casual topics of conversation. If she could spend an entire day to herself without being recognized, she would go to the beach and sleep. She recently finished watching Breaking Bad (if you’re wondering what took her so long, don’t forget: the series originally released when she was eight). And she’s discovering old Angelina Jolie movies — “Wanted and Gia were on my list lately.” Earworm-y ‘90s hit “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay is on her Spotify playlist du jour. She knows how to juggle. She can always count on her boyfriend, music producer Omer Fedi, to make her laugh.
Her outlook on 2022 is just as dazzling. “I want to keep doing what I love and being around the people that I love,” she forecasts. “Hopefully a lot more traveling the world. Maybe even go to outer space — who knows?” she says, chuckling in a mischievous manner that makes me wonder: will Addison Rae board a Blue Origin space flight?
“Honestly, anything and everything that I can dream, I want to do.”
Head here to get a copy of the new issue of Highsnobiety Magazine.