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The Weekend Binge: Celebrity

Updated: Mar 25

Seo A-ri (Park Gyu-young), a famous young CEO and influencer, has been dead for some time now. But why is she suddenly on a livestream and speaking to all her followers, claiming that she knows exactly who killed her?

The Plot:

How does one go from ordinary person to being one of the most followed influencers in South Korea? Ask Seo A-ri. If she were alive, that is.

The famous young CEO and influencer has been dead for some time now. But why is she suddenly on a livestream, speaking to all her followers, and claiming that she knows exactly who killed her?

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Seo A-ri's villain origin story right there

Things haven’t always been easy for A-ri. As a young door-to-door makeup salesgirl just trying to make ends meet. Once the daughter of a well-to-do businessman who lost his fortune, she knows how fleeting wealth can be, and so now remains ambivalent to the ostentatious Instagram lifestyle that her peers hawk.

One day, A-ri runs into an old friend who is now a wealthy influencer with her own retail brand. When she briefly gets roped into her friend’s world, she sees how different their lives have become and the power they wield simply by being online celebrities. After a couple of embarrassing incidents, A-ri re-examines her disdain for the e-celebrity lifestyle and wonders what would happen if she threw her hat in the Instagram ring.

With the reluctant help of the famous “Gabin Society” e-celebs, as well as the aid of an anonymous online fan, A-ri and her fresh, no-nonsense image ironically earns her thousands of followers. Suddenly, the once-ambivalent girl is now an influencer herself.

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"Influencer management"

In true Machiavellian fashion, A-ri quickly learns to use the secrets and weaknesses of her rivals to propel her own fame. Along the way, she even attracts the attention of the rare self-aware chaebol businessman who – and you have to see it to believe it – has a maid who takes off his shoes while he is walking. You may be wealthy, but if you don’t have a maid carefully calculating your steps to take your oxfords off while you walk, you may not be all that yet.

Anyway, rumors that A-ri is dating this elusive chaebol just fuel her growing popularity. Eventually, A-ri’s fame turns to retail gold as well. But the faster she climbs to the top, the larger the target on her back grows, and soon, she’s inundated with dirty tactics and even death threats. Eventually, the popular e-celeb disappears mysteriously and is feared dead.

But tonight, the “dead” Seo A-ri is on a livestream, threatening to spill the tea on all the e-celebrities and the dark secrets they harbor. But how is she doing this? And what does she know that’s so dangerous to her fellow influencers? But most importantly, who killed A-ri, and why?

Our Review

Celebrity is seriously fun the way most mean-girl shows are fun: loads of shiny bling and high fashion, tons of catfights, and all the premium kitsch that involve tons of slapping, hair-grabbing, and wine-spilling not seen since the heyday of the Mexican telenovela. It’s an unapologetic camp with a touch of “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars,” and if you can withstand the hideous screeching and the caricature mean girls, then this show will be a fun popcorn watch for you.

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There are abut 3-4 public catfights in the entire show. We counted :D

But this is not to say that Celebrity is just tooth-rotting fluff and fakery. The show does have something to say about the duplicity of these internet celebs, how fame wrecks someone’s head, and most importantly, the real-world consequences of online abuse. The show also takes its time exposing the seedy underbelly of the influencer lifestyle: drug use, paid appearances, fake friendships, sexual favors, and the use of designer knockoffs.

Celebrity also showcases the lengths people will go to catch up with the superficiality, but it also acknowledges the very real power these e-celebs hold in the real world, especially in encouraging conspicuous consumption. The show also shines a light on the backend operations we usually don’t see, like influencer management, the politics of the front-row seats at fashion shows, bot purchasing, as well as the disturbing growth of anti-fan culture.

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"Become a parasite" - Seo A-ri

In a class-obsessed society like South Korea’s, insta-fame is the unsurprising drug of choice. In the show, A-ri discloses her secrets to easy power, and you’d think she took it from a Machiavellian playbook updated for Gen Z: borrow someone else’s power and become a parasite. But what she couldn’t be prepared for was how ridiculously easy it is for the mob to flip the internet script and destroy real lives in real-time. Through Seo A-ri’s journey from indifferent “normie” to a high-power internet star, we also realize our shameless and morbid fascination with the lives of other people, especially when they suffer and fall.

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It's a cat-eat-cat online world.

Everyone else in the show may be vapid caricatures, but Park Gyu-young lends such a heft and credibility to her role as A-ri that’s so transfixing that you forget she’s hard-carried the entire show from start to finish. Her transformation from ordinary young woman to a power influencer and back again is deeply fascinating and believable. It also helps that her Seo A-ri isn’t a pushover nor is blindly naive; she has a wisdom and a groundedness that we don’t often see in “fluffy” k-dramas like Celebrity, and this level-headedness in a female lead is incredibly welcome. Her ability especially to infuse a sense of humanity in a sea of hypocrisy and bald-faced lies gives the show a strong heart.

Kang Min-hyuk of boy group CNBLUE plays the updated chaebol who is strangely self-aware; he lends his power to A-ri when she needs it, but pretty much steps back so she can shine and struggle in her own entrepreneurial path. That’s a fresh take on the usual tsundere male lead, but his love angle with A-ri is quite underdeveloped, which is a shame because there is some serious chemistry between them.

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The fashion of this show makes it a frothy, fun watch.

On the surface, Celebrity seems to just be another shallow revenge drama about the vapidness of the Insta-life. But when given a chance, it does have some good insights and critiques about e-celeb culture that reflect our own disdain and prejudices. A popcorn watch for sure, but one with a bit more depth and some serious heart.

Celebrity is on Netflix with 12 episodes.

Stream're interested in the whole e-celeb culture and its secrets.

Stream're not interested in the Insta-fame game. But then again, A-ri wasn't, too. And look what happened.

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