Celebrity remains among most-watched series—what did Netflix do?

Creators turn a trite premise into a whodunit—clever

Celebrity Official Poster

Hyper marketing-driven streaming site Netflix did it again with Celebrity, a 12-episoder that at first glance seems too ubiquitous and has a plot that is nothing new. But, after it ended its first run on the day it was uploaded, it became No. 1 immediately the day after; almost a month later, it is still in the Top Ten of most viewed dramas.

On a stormy weekend when most people are forced to stay indoors, Celebrity is a good one to binge-watch. It has 12 episodes, shorter than an hour each, that stream fast you don’t actually notice the time.

In the end, you are left asking: What deft maneuvering did this American streaming site-turned-global purveyor of K-dramas, among others, execute for its original series Celebrity?

For one, Netflix hewed closely to a formula it successfully used in The Glory, but this time it pushed the drama more aggressively. It streamed The Glory in two parts; eight episodes in one day followed by another eight a month later. This worked.

Mining the same formula, but this time taking a more focused and calculated gamble with Celebrity, Netflix dropped all 12 episodes on June 30. There was a palpable buzz among viewers. The word was out. What initially seemed like just one more K-drama deserves a second look. Hence, it was No. 1 among most viewed dramas the day after and at this writing, it is still on the Top 10 list. Its lead actor Park Gu Young was ranked No. 7 in Good Data Corporation’s list of Most Buzzworthy actors.

Quickly now, Celebrity  (with Park Gu Young and Kang Min Hyuk in the lead roles) gives viewers a close, albeit uncomfortable, look at the dark world of influencers on social media, most pointedly Instagram.

The first episode moves really fast, introduces our main protagonists and other characters, setting the pace and mood for this masterfully handled drama. Then, Celebrity‘s almost trite premise holds viewers in thrall, and turns them into voyeurs as it leads to its unexpected climax.

The back story of Seo Ah Ri (Park Gu Young): Before getting exposed to the world of influencers,  she was a wealthy uber privileged young coed raised in a mansion, clad in designer wear, bound for Ivy League school. However, her father’s business went bankrupt, subsequently he died. This reversal of fortune finds Ari working at various part-time jobs and lugging a suitcase as a door-to-door seller of cheap beauty products. Her mother runs a clothing alteration store but she still hankers for her privileged life.

Seo Ah Ri is not on social media, does not in fact have a SocMed account. But her best friend and constant companion does have one and is avidly following the top influencers on Instagram.

Writer Kim Yi Young and director Kim Cheol Kyu  (Flower of Evil) use the common K-drama tropes, but the difference lies in how they take the cliches, use them in an in-your-face manner so that even before viewers could fast forward, the story moves along in totally unexpected ways.

The drama taps into the glossy but brittle world of the insanely rich and allows viewers (and social media followers across the economic divide) a tantalizing peek at how the other half lives, what they are wearing and eating, the circles they move in. All this heightens aspirations that up the numbers for the influencers but also put them in a precarious situation. There is always just one more psychotic vlogger out there who can dangerously stoke the tempers of bashers.

From not having a SocMed account, Seo Ah Ri comes into the scene as the No. 1 influencer, pitting her against  Min Hye, who has parlayed her celebrity into luxury brand lunachie_minhye that is fetching millions. She has a posse of vicious bitchy hangerson living in the pseudo reality of social media.

Min Hye, not realizing that Seo Ah Ri has had a reversal of fortune, draws the latter into her circle thinking that she can use to her advantage the rich schoolmate she used to envy in the school they attended.

Then, there is the Gabin Ladies Society, the arbiter of high society, the social register to which all wannabes and influencers want to get a footing on. Yoon Si Hyeon leads this group. Although not on social media, she is the real deal— daughter of a high ranking politician, rich and highly influential enough for the doyennes of high society and the old rich to donate their time and money to her causes.

Thrown into the volatile mix  is Jun Kyoung (Kang Min Nyuk of the band CN Blue) playing the dashing chaebol heir, recently back in Korea to head his family’s business empire. The leading influencers have their eyes on him and desire his attention. But, it is Seo Ah Ri who makes him sit back and take notice. Soon enough, he and Si Hyeon see that Ah Ri is different from the pack. They are drawn to her because she speaks her mind, does not shirk from calling out the high flying influencers around them.

Aside from that marketing strategy and a highly calculated gamble, the Celebrity story was told in a non-linear manner, alternating between the present in a livestream of Ah Ri, speaking directly to her followers while revealing the cheat code of the celebrity world that only top influencers are privy too. Then, there is the lingering question of whether Ah Ri is still alive or who killed her.

In a sharp turn of circumstances, the moneyed and chi chi set that is the Gabin Society may have perpetrated a murder or attempted it

The director and writer have turned a trite storyline into a chilling whodunit. At the close of the first episode, the focal point of the series is revealed. In a sharp turn of circumstances, the moneyed and chi chi set that is the Gabin Society could have perpetrated a murder or attempted it.

There are scandals galore and bitchy backstabbing among a supposedly close-knit and mutually supportive coterie of influencers, but a twist in the end sends even viewers reeling from the revelation of who brought the top influencers down. The last three episodes take on a very gritty and dark vibe as the identity of bbfamous, Seo Ah Ri’s erstwhile supporter-turned-hater, throws even viewers for a spin.

The director use tropes so effectively as the identity of bbfamous is unraveled near the end that it also becomes a commentary on the dangers in the influencers’ world—and the class divide. There are the  cockroaches creeping out of her fake designer bags in her apartment that is practically a dumpsite for all the things she has consumed. What she does for a living that allows her to  eavesdrop on and to record the most intimate details is also a warning to all wannabe influencers.

But, as early as episode 2,  Seo Ah Ri herself articulates the point of the drama— connecting. She says: “We all live in a world like this. That is all there is to it. The world allows literally anybody to turn any kind of attention into power, ability, and money.”

Seo Ah Ri does make the connection. Adroitly although dangerously, she navigates this hyper real world of uber influencers and becomes one herself while flirting with danger.

Whether she is  already dead or her live streams on her account is only an AI simulation is another ruse that keeps viewers hooked through 12 episodes—even if the drama could have accomplished what it set out to do in 10 episodes.

But the show is held together by a competent cast. Park Gu Young (The Squid Game 2, Dali and Cocky Prince) plays Seo Ah Ri in a straightforward and sometimes deadpan manner that suits the character to a T. She also has very good chemistry with Kang Min Hyuk (Hospital Ship, The Inheritors), the drummer of popular band CN Blue who has parlayed a K-pop career into acting. Their scenes together are some of the most anticipated.

What reviewers have said about Celebrity:

🔸 The show is slick with how it dispenses information about the ins-and-outs of the influencer business, but it is dragged down by flimsy and one-dimensional characters. The meat of the show is solid but there are far too many superfluous sub plots padding out its 12-episode run.” — Hidzir Junaini, NME

🔸  Celebrity is a silly, fun, and fast-paced show that is strangely binge-watchable. But, be warned there is also an inherent classicism and sexism to the show that has been cleverly masked… If you can tolerate that, it remains a no-brainer watch. Divya Malladi, Digital Mafia Talkies

🔸  Celebrity is a powerful take on the wicked side of influencer culture. The shift from being a series about this to a mystery thriller is intriguing. — Pooja Darade, Leisure Byte


🔺Watch Celebrity for the clever way the series presents the world of so-called influencers, and see how our own influencers have made it a way of life, monetized even the mundane, and raised the aspiration of ordinary people for the unattainable.

🔺 If you keep in mind that Celebrity is a fun show and not an intelligent one, then it will be a good way to pass the time marooned indoors on a stormy day.

🔺It is also an eye-opener on how hardworking influencers have revolutionized marketing in the last few years, so that even A-list actors have seen how profitable it is to step into their shoes.

About author


After saying goodbye to daily deadlines in 2009, WINNIE DOROTHEO VELASQUEZ worked from home editing manuscripts and writing on subjects close to her heart. She discovered the world of K-Drama in the early 2000s. Today, she cooks, does some gardening, and is training Cookie, da mutt-with-the-mostest.

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