A Kazakhstani hype-house star. A beauty guru mired in scandal. A South African anime cosplayer. In 2022, creators demonstrated just how quickly unknown personalities from any corner of the world can build an international following on social media.
Rest of World surveyed the creator ecosystem in several regions in order to spotlight six of those creators. Some broke into the upper echelon of the most-followed accounts in the world. Others found new audiences through bilingual content or had to rebrand after controversy. Follower counts aside, each — in their own way — made a mark on their respective creator spaces.
Alina Kim: The hype-house standout
2022 was a banner year for Kim, who pushed into the top 25 most-followed accounts on TikTok. At 46 million followers, she is closing ranks with mega celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Billie Eilish. Despite hailing from Almaty, Kim has cultivated an international fandom — her follower count, after all, is more than twice the size of Kazakhstan’s population.
Kim’s profile was originally boosted as part of the popular creator collective YOLO House, which includes several young Kazakhstani TikTokkers, like Baytr White and Adaliatta. Alongside collabs with YOLO House members, Kim is perhaps most known for her viral lip-syncs to trending TikTok sounds. Her signature knitted frog hat makes frequent appearances in videos, and some of her most popular bits see her dressed up as the anime protagonist Naruto and the Disney cartoon alien Stitch.
There is very little dialogue in Kim’s most viral videos, perhaps contributing to her content’s ability to cross international borders. The YOLO House fandom has gained a particular stronghold in Southeast Asia, where followers add Vietnamese and Bahasa Indonesia subtitles to Russian-language videos, and re-upload them to TikTok and YouTube. Supercut compilations “shipping” various YOLO House members, including Kim, are also popular. Kim’s rise to fame shows the hype-house phenomenon is not exclusive to the Hollywood Hills.
Jooj Natu: The bilingual YouTuber
Jooj Natu has been bubbling up in the Brazilian creator scene since he first started making TikTok videos from his home in São Paulo in early 2020. Natu uploads a mix of comedy sketches and original raps to his account, usually showing off his signature look: an Afro frequently dyed in neon colors. While TikTok established Natu, YouTube has been the launching pad for him to break out of the Brazilian social media silo.
Joining a wave of TikTok creators who migrated to YouTube Shorts last year, Natu has quickly carved out a large following on the video-sharing platform. His most-viewed YouTube Short has over 120 million views. Success on YouTube has also boosted the profile of Natu’s original music, which includes releases by his family rap trio with his brothers, who also make regular appearances in his videos.
In January, Natu launched his first stand-alone English-language YouTube channel. In less than a year, it’s already racked up over 6 million subscribers, on top of the 9 million following his Portuguese channel. The move put Natu on YouTube’s end-of-year trending list for English-language content, alongside some of the most popular North American and British YouTubers. He shows few signs of slowing down in the coming year.
Song Ji-a: The beauty guru
Country: South Korea
Song Ji-a first gained notoriety as a contestant on the Netflix dating reality show Single’s Inferno, which premiered in December 2021. She’s since managed to spin her 15 seconds of fame into a full-fledged career as a beauty influencer. Her accounts — dear.zia on Instagram and freezia on YouTube — racked up brand sponsorship deals and millions of followers after the show’s launch.
But that fame quickly turned to notoriety early this year, after Ji-a became a lightning rod for class tensions in South Korea. Followers discovered she had posted photos to Instagram with counterfeit designer clothes, including Chanel and Prada. A media frenzy ensued, labeling her a “fake rich girl.” The controversy forced a public apology from Ji-a, along with a nearly six-month hiatus from social media. Since coming back online in June, however, Ji-a has cemented her place in the South Korean beauty scene.
Her YouTube channel surpassed 2 million subscribers this year, and her Instagram account sits at nearly 4 million followers (her puppy Moongchi’s account trails at around 36,000). It’s unclear whether the bad press will follow Ji-a into the new year, but it’s fair to say she’s made a name for herself as a beauty influencer worth talking about.
Princess Sachiko: The cosplayer
Country: South Africa
South African creator Princess Sachiko has carved out a niche as one of the most-followed cosplay content creators on TikTok. Frequently wearing fangs, a colorful collection of wigs, and elaborate make-up, Sachiko — who does not use her legal name online — is most known for her transition videos, where she changes into anime-inspired costumes, and her character dance videos.
Currently, her TikTok account has over 15 million followers, making her the second most-followed South African creator on the platform. But she also has a growing profile on Twitch where, at the beginning of this year, she started streaming gameplay of Genshin Impact, Halo, and other popular video game titles.
Sachiko calls her growing fandom “Hoomans.” Followers are offered deals on cosplay e-commerce in her account bio, including links to sites selling mini katana swords, colored contact lenses, and Lolita-style wigs. Sachiko is a standout not only for the incredible attention to detail in her cosplay, but also for building a global fandom by tapping into the appetite for anime content.
Abir El Saghir: The fashion-forward chef
Producing videos from her home in a small town in Bekaa, Lebanon, Abir El Saghir has become one of the most-followed food content creators on TikTok this year. After starting her account in early 2021, Saghir first blew up for a viral series, in which she cooked a dish from every country in the Middle East. Her goal has since expanded to every country in the world, turning her account into a tour through over a 100 culinary traditions.
Prior to TikTok fame, Saghir posted fashion-focused content on Instagram. She now often wears traditional clothes from each country that she highlights on her account. The coordinated outfits are accompanied by songs from the country, dramatic slo-mo action shots, and beautifully styled platings. Recently featured dishes include Malaysian nasi lemak, Moroccan couscous, and Cuban ropa vieja.
Saghir has diversified her content in recent months, cooking an iftar feast for Ramadan, and marking the World Cup with a meal that included ingredients from every competing country. Saghir’s cooking has resonated with viewers; this year alone, her TikTok account grew by 12 million followers.
Markelly Oliveira: The short-form novela star
Markelly Oliveira is one of the many creators in Latin America finding an audience on Kwai. The short-form video app, owned by Chinese social media giant Kuaishou, has been pushing hard to grow its user base in Brazil, Argentina, and other Latin American countries over the past couple of years. At times, its growth has rivaled that of its main competitor, TikTok. Oliveira is one runaway success from the app’s Brazilian cohort of creators, having gained nearly 6 million followers since launching her account in December 2021.
Oliveira specializes in short-form novela content: stand-alone, 90-second melodramas that have been key to the platform’s success. A former backup dancer on Brazil’s longest-running daytime talk show, Oliveira had tried her hand at finding social media stardom on Instagram and YouTube, to little success. But on Kwai, it only took her two months to cross the million-follower threshold.
Like many creators on Kwai, Oliveira says her content has found an audience among working-class communities in Brazil (many of whom come from the country’s northeastern states). Kwai creators like Oliveira are bringing fresh perspectives to Brazil’s media landscape, through tried-and-tested formats, including the soap opera.