There is one guaranteed way to make money on social media: Befriend a Kardashian. Or a Jenner. Suddenly, you have millions more followers, you can sell more shoes, makeup or TV shows — and if you’re a musician, your streaming numbers and ticket sales bounce to levels you’ve never seen before. So it makes sense, romantic reasons aside, to try to hook up with Kim, Khloe, Kylie, Kourtney or Kendall, right? The latest case study: Travis Barker, the 45-year-old punk-rock drummer and Blink-182 star whose tattooed hand clasped Kourtney Kardashian’s immaculate bright-red fingernails on Instagram on Feb. 16.
The image drew nearly 3.8 million Instagram likes. But did the official beginning of this Kardashian romance boost Barker and Blink in any commercial capacity?
The answer is, yes — depending on how you look at the numbers. In the two weeks after the Hand-Clasp Heard Around the World, Barker’s solo tracks jumped 32.3%, from 232,000 to 307,000 via streaming services, beginning an upward curve that would peak in late March and continue through late April; Blink’s tracks had a similar arc, increasing 11.8% in those first two weeks, from 11.9 million to 13.3 million.
So yes, there probably is a Kardashian Romance Effect (KRE). It’s like advertising on the Super Bowl. “The audience that views the Kardashians is so rabid that anything associated with them is going to receive a heightened level of growth,” says Johnny Cloherty, CEO and founder of Songfluencer.
The five Keeping Up with the Kardashians stars have a combined 895 million Instagram followers, and they use their mega-influencer status to sell products from Givenchy to Kylie Jenner’s own Kylie Cosmetics. They also frequently shine their endorsement light on the musicians they’re involved with, like Kim Kardashian’s Instagram post on husband Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers in March (the two are currently engaged in a divorce). It stands to reason that a Kardashian romance, at the least, puts an artist in the family’s formidable marketing orbit, which could lead to unprecedented riches, or at least a few streaming bumps.
“I have 10 million [followers] on one platform — the Kardashians are 1,000 times that. They’re so massive. Everybody knows them,” says TikTok star Mikaila Murphy, better known as mikailadancer. “All they have to do is share your book or your song one time and everybody’s going to see that. Being involved with the Kardashians is so much extra publicity you’re going to be getting.”
Is the KRE statistically airtight? Not according to MRC Data and other metrics. The post-hand-clasp numbers for Barker and Blink are not unprecedented in the band’s recent history. Blink-182 has sold more than 13 million albums overall, and the band’s numbers periodically spike, like in September 2019, when it released a new album and its streams went up from 15.5 million to 39.4 million in a single week. Barker’s streaming numbers, too, shot up for a week in early August 2020, from 206,000 to 671,000, not long after he’d signed Jxdn to his record label and drummed for Post Malone on a Nirvana cover for a COVID-19 relief fund.
“I feel it’s more coincidental than it is because of the Kardashians,” says Barbara Jones, a former Columbia and Warner marketing executive who now runs Outshine Talent and manages social-media influencers including TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. “[Barker] has got his hands in a lot of different music, so it’s heightening his awareness to a younger audience.”
Still, she adds: “The earned media the family gets is almost priceless. The family’s a magnetic force, and if you get pulled into their force field, you can’t help but benefit from it in some way.”
It’s fair to say the Kardashians have a thing about dating musicians: Khloe went out with French Montana in 2013-2014; Kendall had a night out with A$AP Rocky in July 2016, then April 2017, and has reportedly dated Harry Styles; Kylie went out with Tyga for three years, then was spotted with Drake on various nights out for six months. In 2016, Khloe dated Trey Songz, offering hints of their romance on Instagram, while paparazzi captured them leaving her birthday party together; Songz by that point was already a considerable star, but the connection certainly didn’t hurt, as his spring 2017 album Tremaine debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.
Cause and effect? Well, that’s difficult to prove. When Travis Scott had his first date with Jenner, at Coachella in 2018, he was already a rising star, so it’s hard to say whether the KRE boosted his numbers. The two split in October 2019, but in April 2020, Scott reportedly quarantined with her, and Jenner posted a flattering Instagram birthday photo of the rapper with their daughter, Stormi. That day, Scott’s Spotify monthly listeners grew 2.29%, by 873,687, then another 2.12% the next day, according to Chartmetric; there was a momentary dip the day after that, of 6.62%, then Scott’s listeners surged 11.49% in early May.
Along those lines, did Tyler, the Creator’s much-publicized December 2019 dinner date with Kendall Jenner boost his Spotify followers from 10 million to 11.13 million over the course of that month, as Chartmetric reports, or was it simply due to the strength of his 2019 album Igor? Did West get a career boost after he and Kim went public with their relationship in 2012, or was he already such a major star he didn’t need the extra marketing power?
Amanda McClain, author of Keeping Up the Kardashian Brand: Celebrity, Materialism and Sexuality, says those in and out of the Kardashian sphere, from Kim’s reality-show friend Jonathan Cheban to makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic, have benefited from the notoriety. When he started dating Kardashian, West was expanding his brand beyond music; her November 2012 Instagram post showed off his line of branded high-heeled shoes, and he appeared regularly on KUWTK. “Kanye West was already very popular,” McClain says. “Then he’s in Us Weekly and People magazine all the time. By dating Kim, he’s able to reach her audience.”
Until Barker and Kourtney hooked up, McClain hadn’t thought about the punk drummer or Blink-182 in a long time. But she follows Kourtney on social media, and now she can’t ignore him. “All of a sudden, Travis Barker’s in her field, in her posts. You boost your popularity immediately because people want to know: ‘Who is that? What is he famous for?'” she says. “It’s exposing him to a whole new audience who didn’t know who he was.”