Raise your hand if you often find yourself endlessly scrolling through your feed. That one about throwing stones, right? But what catches your eye and makes you come back for more? When it comes to musicians, that can be good music, but equally so someone who’s different, charismatic, and doesn’t shy away from pouring out their soul. For artists who match this brief, Instagram can be a stepping stone.
The whole Instagram game seems to come quite natural to Cardi B. Her social media success can be summed up in two lessons:
☑️ Be entertaining, provocative, and unapologetically yourself.
☑️ Identify your selling points, turn them into business, and promote it wisely.
And boy, do the people tune in when Cardi speaks. Let’s start at the beginning, when the Bardibang, her fleet of followers, didn't yet number millions. When she was 19, Cardi B started to work as a stripper after being fired from her job as a cashier. She gained followers in the clubs, but also on Instagram, as she wasn’t afraid to say what’s poppin’ as a proper unfiltered New Yorker. Fast-forward to today, she has a Grammy, seven Billboard Music Awards, and 11 BET Hip Hop Awards – among others. She was also the most streamed female rapper on the US Spotify in 2019.
While we can't see her early-day posts anymore (her account has also been hacked a couple of times), they helped mold her into the superstar she is today. She posted videos talking about sex, family, her life, and keeping your eyes on the prize – meaning dollars. At first, she became known locally, but when the followers grew, she started to explore the possibilities of a music career. This is where we can really start to follow her trajectory.
The first noticeable bump happened at the end of 2015. In November that year, she made her musical debut on Shaggy’s remix of the song “Boom Boom”, and a month later she released her first video “Cheap Ass Weave”. That was also when Season 6 of the show “Love & Hip Hop: New York” started. She joined the cast as a social media personality to pursue her music ambitions, and stayed on the show until 2017.
To put it mildly, she left a mark. During a good amount of hair pulling, she also crafted phrases like: "If a girl have beef with me, she gon' have beef with me forever." That went viral and like a lot of her catchphrases, she put it in a single.
Her mixtapes "Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1" and "Vol. 2" followed in March 2016 and January 2017. Her music seems to mirror her Instagram videos, and people relate. As she once said, not everybody can afford red bottoms (we’ll get back to that), but there's always somebody who’s pushing your buttons in all the wrong ways (we’re paraphrasing).
She then signed her recording contract with Atlantic Records, and the real breakthrough happened with the release of the song “Bodak Yellow”, which has over 800M views on YouTube so far. The song made it to #1 on the Billboard chart in September 2017, making Cardi the first female rapper that has reached this mark with a solo single since Ms. Lauryn Hill in 1998.
Cardi embraces her stripper past but says: "Look, I don't dance now, I make money moves." With lines like: "These expensive, these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes,” she caused Google searches for these luxury red-soled Christian Louboutin shoes to spike. And at a minimum price of around $500, where she comes from, they're a sign you've made it.
Her first studio album “Invasion of Privacy” followed in April 2018. On the very next day, she revealed she was pregnant during her performance of “Be Careful” on SNL – a move that made headlines all over the world.
For this Bronx native born to a Trinidadian mother and a Dominican father, a step towards the Latin market was just a matter of time. The result was a collab with Bad Bunny and J Balvin, “I Like It”, a song that now has over 1B views on YouTube. And her list of collabs is loooong: from Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Post Malone, Ozuna, DJ Snake to Rita Ora and many more.
“I was covered in dollars, now I'm drippin' in jewels,” is how she would put it. Her audience today counts a whopping 58M followers, around a third of which she gained in 2019, and she is also one of the 25 most influential people on the internet according to Time magazine. We scratched the surface of her Instagram power when we analyzed what happened when she praised female rappers.
It seems like everything she touches turns to gold. She has Reebok and Pepsi among her partners, and her line of clothes with Fashion Nova sold out soon after release. She doesn’t miss an opportunity to bring her fashion A game (even if it’s on her way to court), which also got her onto the covers of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. In 2019, she starred in the movie "Hustlers" about, you guessed it, strippers, and her magnetic personality also got her on the Netflix show "Rhythm + Flow" along with Chance the Rapper and T.I.
Cardi's winning on every channel (e.g. combined views on her YouTube channel amount to almost 4B), but her main tool of communication with fans remains Instagram. From music to side hustles, she engages her followers, shares insights, teasers, and is relatable even while having “the biggest house in the street.”
Partly it should come organically. Cardi’s way of communication remains the same – proudly ratchet in a way. She also stands behind her beliefs and doesn’t hesitate to go political, talking about police brutality, taxes, and minimum wage, and endorsing Bernie Sanders for the US presidency – all based on challenges she or people around her have faced. And it resonates. When it comes to her music, however, she admits she follows trends to see what sells and seizes every opportunity to capitalize on something with the potential to go viral.
There are other stories of success that follow the same steps we pointed out at the beginning. King Princess is becoming an LGBT icon who was introduced to many of her current fans through Instagram. She, like Cardi, is honest and open (here's a hint: “collection of pee-pee shots”), and knows how to use the channel to make the fans come back. Lizzo is another great example, and we could go on. So, at the end of the day, a channel that has mastered filters loves artists who have none. And who also make music that connects with fans.
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Cover photo: Jackie Lee Young/Austin City Limits Festival 2019
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