Going viral is an art form. It may look easy from the outside, but who and what goes viral changes regularly. Take a look at the early viral videos and compare them to those of today. The biggest videos from a decade ago look like they’re from entirely different worlds.
For many fans, viral videos are frustrating. That "why didn’t I think of that" feeling is multiplied when you hear about how much money these viral stars make or how their careers took off because of something so simple. Yet, not everything you hear about these stars is accurate, and not all of them are still riding that viral wave.
Still, going viral typically means someone’s getting paid. Some cashed in on catchphrases or iconic moves, some utilized unique voices and styles, and others made bank simply because they were mocked. But everyone one of these people capitalized on their short windows of fame.
Here is a rundown of how much these viral stars are worth today.
Danielle Bregoli cashes in
It didn’t take Danielle Bregoli long to capitalize on her viral fame. After appearing on Dr. Phil in 2016, the confrontational 13-year old’s proposition to the audience, "Cash me outside, howbow dah," spread like wildfire online. Bregoli and her team jumped at the opportunity, selling a line of merchandise with the catchphrase on it.
The following year, Bregoli took the logical next step and became a rapper. Under the name Bhad Bhabie, Bregoli released her debut single, "These Heaux," becoming the youngest female to debut on the Billboard Hot 100. According to TMZ, Bregoli then landed a recording deal with Atlantic Records, released another gold-certified song, and began charging $30,000 minimum for appearances. The result is a lot of money.
While Bregoli doesn’t quite know how much she’s worth, she told Hollywood Life in June 2017 it’s "definitely over a million so far." When TMZ asked the young rapper about those seven figures, she said that she only spends her money on "nails and eyelashes," so it makes sense. Now, with a reported $900,000 makeup endorsement deal, Bregoli should be worth close to $2 million at least. Howbow dah?
Backpack Kid aims big
Russell "The Backpack Kid" Horning was already well on his way to social media fame before most of the world caught on. Rihanna had posted one of his dancing videos, so he had a very healthy Instagram following. But it wasn’t until he performed his famous dance, "The Floss," and donned his iconic backpack on Saturday Night Live alongside Katy Perry that people outside of his social media followers knew about Backpack Kid.
After that performance, Horning’s dancing and his presence has generated him countless public appearances and perks. Aside from meeting numerous celebrities, the travel, and the free tickets to events, Horning has landed plenty of paying gigs as well. According to the Gwinnett Daily Post, the early days of Horning’s fame led to merchandising opportunities, but the team is thinking bigger now.
These days, Horning and his team are trying to use his status to branch into other money-making avenues. In late 2018, Backpack Kid dropped the single and music video, "Drip on Boat." He’s also taken on numerous commercials and paid appearances. While his exact net worth is unknown, Horning’s manager mentioned that he earns approximately "10 to 20 [thousand]" on his deals with brands like Xfinity and Holo, as a social/digital influencer.
Who said crime doesn’t pay?
When the Stockton Police Department posted reports of recent gang activity, along with the mugshot of Jeremy Meeks, to its Facebook page, the post had an unintended result. Meeks, the man who would become known as "Hot Felon" or "Hot Convict," became an overnight viral star.
Despite being charged with "felony gun charges" and serving a 27-month sentence in Nevada (per CNN), the attractive man in the viral mugshot got noticed by the right people. After he was released, Meeks took to social media to announce his signing with Jim Jordan and White Cross Management. The former convict received modeling offers from all angles. He appeared in both the New York and Milan Fashion Weeks, and received, what his agent called, "a sea of opportunities."
Meeks also found new love from his viral fame, meeting Chloe Green, the daughter of billionaire Arcadia chairman, Philip Green. While Meeks’ new life has surely led to an incredible increase in income, it’s unclear how much the model makes. According to TMZ, Meeks’ estranged wife Melissa Meeks claims that he makes $1 million per month. He, however, says the number is closer to $6,000 per month. That places his estimated income somewhere in the admittedly not specific range of between $72,000 and $12 million per year.
Tay Zonday makes it rain
In 2007, "Chocolate Rain," a song by Tay Zonday (real name Adam Nyerere Bahner) was memed, mocked, and celebrated around the world. Yet, while the name Tay Zonday is not as recognizable as it once was, going viral paid dividends for its creator.
"I know I did about 30 radio interviews in the course of a week," Bahner told The Independent. "Three of the four major labels wanted to sign me. People contacted me to sing at their corporate parties, their kids’ Bar Mitzvahs, sign me to publishing deals."
But Zonday struggled to navigate the best path forward, and the success of "Chocolate Rain" was impeded by a few missteps along the way. "I didn’t put it on iTunes," Bahner said, "I definitely regret that." He also lamented that, in general, that if he would have "made smarter business choices when [the song] was hot that would have been good."
Perhaps the result of those choices, was that despite having one of the most subscribed to channels in the world in 2009, Bahner only made a fraction of what his peers made (per the Los Angeles Times). The money earned from ad revenues, ringtones, and some music sales gave Bahner between $3,000 and $5,000 per month at his YouTube channel’s peak.
Antoine Dodson moves out the hood
It was impossible to miss Antoine Dodson’s interview from 2010. If it wasn’t the actual interview, it was the auto-tuned song remix created by the Gregory Brothers called "Bed Intruder." According to BET, Dodson wasn’t too happy with the initial remix because he thought it was "making fun of [his] family" and the situation. But his mind changed when the Gregory Brothers approached him about monetizing the song.
"Selling equals coins," Dodson said. "Yeah, we gonna sell this because we trying to get out the hood." Dodson and the Gregory Brothers agreed to split the proceeds 50-50. Then the song went platinum. Now, no one divulged exactly how much Dodson earned from the song, but he’s made a good chunk of change.
According to some estimates, self-made MP3s earn approximately 57% on the dollar on iTunes. That means if "Bed Intruder" really sold more than 1,000,000 units, assuming sales averaged $0.99 (it’s $1.29 in 2019), the song made as much as $570,000 total. At Dodson’s 50% cut, it’s possible that he made as much as $285,000 or more. Shortly after he shot to internet fame, Dodson told US Magazine he was able to buy his family a new house, go back to school, and plan on starting a business. However, by 2014, Dodson unsuccessfully attempted to crowdfund his second act, which was just internet videos about his life, called "The Antoine Dodson Experience." The campaign raised just $766 of its $38,000 goal.
It’s payday for Rebecca Black
Unfortunately, many viral stars reach such heights by way of mockery. That’s how it went for Rebecca Black, the young singer behind the much-maligned "Friday." The heavily autotuned song and cheesy video weren’t meant to be jokes, but they were ridiculed. But then came the talk that Black became a millionaire from the song. Could that be true?
Well, first of all, no. Black never made a million dollars from the song, though she did make out good in the end. Depending on the source, Black and her mother, Georgina Kelly, paid Ark Music Factory between $2,000 and $4,000 to create the song. Rebecca recorded it, posted it, and watched it go viral. According to Billboard in 2011, Black made close to $25,000 over the course of a week. Depending on her agreements with YouTube, she could have made much more than that on that platform.
So, no, "Friday" didn’t make Black extremely wealthy, but it certainly didn’t hurt her bottom line. Rolling Stone estimated that she made more than $50,000 off the song overall. Her follow-up song, "Saturday," hit the Billboard Top 100 charts and peaked at No. 55. Another track, "The Great Divide," hit the dance charts. According to The Richest, her mediocre music career has helped her build an estimated net worth of $1.2 million.
Chewbacca Mom laughs her way to the bank
For most viral stars, their videos help launch careers or generate royalties, ad revenues, or paid gigs. There are some, however, like Candace Payne, who break the mold a little bit. Payne rose to viral fame when she recorded herself putting on a Chewbacca mask. Yep, that was pretty much it.
Dubbed "Chewbacca Mom," the Texas woman with the contagious laugh posted the video of herself wearing the mask to Facebook Live to see if she could generate some chuckles. Instead, she went viral. According to Time, the video became the most-watched Facebook Live video ever and led to Payne receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts.
Payne received presents from Kohl’s because she mentioned the store, vacations to places like Walt Disney World, scholarships, and other travel and accommodations. In total, Time estimates that Payne and her family received more than $400,000 in gifts. Not a bad haul for someone who simply laughed about her $30 Chewbacca mask.
William Hung bangs down the music industry’s door
It didn’t matter that William Hung couldn’t sing well, because his viral appearance on American Idol was enough to pave the way for him to become a star. Like it or hate it, the music industry isn’t led by the most talented people. In fact, few industries are. What people like and why they buy is sometimes unpredictable.
After American Idol, the demand for Hung was clear. He booked countless interviews and talk shows. His debut album, Inspiration, landed in the Top 50 on the Billboard charts and sold more than 200,000 units according to The New York Times. While his two follow-up albums only sold fractions of that first album, Hung’s nearly 250,000 in total album sales made him some good money.
Without knowing the structure of Hung’s recording contract, it’s difficult to say how much he made in total. Still, we know that he received a $25,000 advance for the first record, but that would most likely come out of his royalties in the end. Therefore, using royalty estimates of $0.30 per album at the low end and $1.00 on the high end, Hung likely made between $75,000 and $250,000 in his music career. That’s not even considering the commercials, TV spots, and other paid gigs.
Charlie Bit My Finger and got rich
As YouTube changed over the years, the structure of viral videos and the ad revenue generated from them changed as well. For example, in 2007, the "Charlie Bit My Finger" video apparently brought the family that uploaded it "tens of thousands" of British pounds, according to Business Insider. Howard Davies-Carr, the father of the boys in the famous video, told the outlet he only initially shared the clip with certain friends and family before "it became difficult to maintain a list of who could watch the video." So, he changed the video to "public" and the rest is viral history.
By 2012, the adorable clip reached over 400 million views and raked in "about $160,000" in ad revenues on YouTube, according to Newser. By 2017, the views more than doubled, earning the family an astounding "$1.3 million in royalties" (per The Mirror). In addition to money, the video also led to advertisements, public appearances, and travel for the family.
In a roundabout way, "Charlie Bit My Finger" led to the Davies-Carr family having more children. "Without the clip, we couldn’t have had Rupert," Shelley Davies-Carr, Charlie’s mother, told the tab of her youngest child (the family now has four boys). So now kids with YouTube dreams can tell their parents that they’re filming everything they do because they’re trying to start a family!
Nusret Gökçe gets salty
Nailing down how much the "Salt Bae," or Nusret Gökçe, is worth is about as difficult as finding out really anything about the man himself. Most people first discovered Salt Bae when posts of him eccentrically cutting and salting meats went viral. The chef and restaurateur who owned several restaurants already rode that viral wave into opening up more in the United States.
Despite mixed reviews for the Nusr-Et restaurant chain, the allure of Salt Bae keeps high profile guests paying the high food costs regularly. But the reports about Salt Bae’s worth have been confusing to say the least. Reuters released a report with the headline: "Temasek stake values ‘Salt Bae’ Turkish restaurant owner at $1.2 billion." This might lead us to believe that Gökçe himself is a billionaire. Possible, but very unlikely.
We know that someone allegedly spent $2 million on PR to generate a buzz for his restaurants. We also know that at one time, Gökçe holed up at the Plaza Hotel for weeks, where rooms run from a minimum of about $500 a night all the way up to $30,000 for the famed Royal Plaza Suite. However, the aforementioned billion dollar valuation was actually for Dogus Restaurant Entertainment and Management (D.ream), the owner of Salt Bae’s Nusr-Et and 169 other restaurants "in 12 countries" (per Reuters). While it’s safe to say that Gökçe is probably isn’t hurting for cash, anyone who claims he’s a billionaire isn’t worth their salt.
No riches for the Man with the Golden Voice
His real name is Ted Williams, but most people know him as the Man with the Golden Voice. We first saw him when a video of him speaking to passengers in passing cars went viral. Holding a sign in hand and using his majestic voice, the homeless Williams used his instrument to earn some money. Luckily for him, The Columbus Dispatch took notice and posted his story.
This led the former radio host to a book deal worth more than $375,000, voice-over jobs, and some advertising jobs. But, four years later, things weren’t exactly peachy. "I should have been a millionaire by now," Williams said (via The Columbus Dispatch). "I own nothing." Stunted by drugs and alcohol addiction, Williams career never took off the way he hoped.
He would regroup. Though he told The Columbus Dispatch that he "lost out on millions," Williams would settle in and start a career as a motivational speaker, a voice-over artist, and an author. Not a millionaire and not poor, Williams’ finances are, according to him, "nobody’s business."
Super Bass to super rich?
After Rosie McClelland and Sophia Grace Brownlee went adorably viral for singing Nicki Minaj’s "Super Bass," Ellen DeGeneres basically turned them into superstars. From there, they landed TV roles, published a bestselling book, and starred in their very own movie, Sophia Grace & Rosie’s Royal Adventure, which secured Sophia Grace $50,000 as per TMZ. (Rosie’s compensation wasn’t disclosed.)
As their spotlight dimmed, the two girls started doing their own thing. Sophia Grace, the more vocal of the pair, started a solo singing career. She released several singles, an EP, and a studio album, Hollywood. One of her singles, "Best Friends," hit the Billboard Top 100.
But both girls run popular and successful YouTube channels as well. Rosie’s channel, which posts a little bit of everything, hosts more than 600,000 subscribers, and has racked up over 60 million views, as of this writing. Working off the estimated Adsense rates for YouTube of $1 per 1000 views, the social media star has likely earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000. Her singing mate, Sophia Grace, boasts more than 3.2 million subscribers with lifetime views of more than 732 million. At the average rate, that’s more than $732,000. They may have come into the fame together, but only one became rich from it.