This app will get you millions of Instagram and TikTok followers. But only for 15 minutes.
Late-stage capitalism is the worst.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the thrill of endless notifications draining your battery to shreds and rendering your phone an unusable, twitching brick, then friends, there is now an app for that.
Hype Simulator, which mimics what it’s like to be a celebrity or influencer by bombarding you with barely comprehensible notifications from strangers, has topped the App Store charts in the United States, propelled by a viral video on TikTok – on which its interface is based – and beating out Zoom, YouTube, Instagram and even TikTok itself.
The app, developed by Canadian Ulkar Akhundzada, bombards you with bots liking and commenting on your videos, as well as sending you direct messages that you can interact with, as if you’re a celebrity.
TikTok and Twitter have been ablaze with comments about the app and the way it recreates the experience of being famous. One video, which mocks the premise of the app using TikTok’s green screen mode, has been seen nearly 850,000 times in less than a day.
“There's so much you can do: post your own videos, receive comments and reply to them, chat with your fans (they're all bots!), and even get notifications from whoever you like!,” the app’s description explains.
Opening the app, you’re confronted with Andy Warhol’s famous quote: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” The next screen prompts users to input a username, and to select from what it’s like to be a celebrity, or going viral. You can input profile details such as your first name, last name and a short bio, and upload a profile picture, then you press the button “Start your fame”.
“Start your fame.”
My account – which looks eerily like the TikTok interface – started off with a handful of followers. Quickly, that ballooned to 15,000, and then to 29,200. At the same time, notifications rolled down from the top of the screen from strangers, asking for shoutouts, money and tips to become successful. Delve into your messages and respond to one that says “Can you respond back to me” and the reply comes: “I cant even”. Reply again and you get another manic response: “okay, deep breaths …”
Press the live button to start a stream and suddenly the number of viewers ticks past 1,000, and users plead to be noticed. Close down the app and the notifications continue: within minutes, iOS notifications clog up your actual phone screen, telling you you’ve passed 100,000 followers and have earned verification on the app.
When your 15 minutes are up, the app ends – though if you’re after another dopamine hit and some validation, you can press “Restart” and experience the whole discombobulating ride over again.
Dani Copeland, 20, from Virginia, decided to download the app after seeing it on TikTok. She’d like to be famous, but is wary of the scrutiny. “All eyes are on you and even if you make a mistake, a ton of people get angry and try to cancel you,” she explains. “The backlash if you make a mistake would be too much for me to handle. I would like to be rich though.” The app proved a useful reminder that she wouldn’t like the sheer weight of responsibility that comes with fame. “I wanted to respond to all of the [comments] but I couldn’t,” she says. “The lives were really extreme because the comments were going so fast. It was really intense because I didn’t know what to do.”
“The backlash if you make a mistake would be too much for me to handle.”
“It is quite bizarre,” says Idil Galip, who’s studying memes, digital culture and online humor at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “It reminds me of these older apps that were meant to imitate and appropriate mundane acts like drinking beer, or using a lighter on a phone screen. The only difference seems like their app seems more cynical, and less naive than those older apps.”
While we knew that the visual representation of a beer glass being drained when you tilted your iPhone in 2007 wasn’t real, the eerie similarity of Hype Simulator’s look and feel to real TikTok could be used to hoodwink, Galip fears. “Someone could easily use the hype simulator to deceive someone into thinking they’re hot shit.”
The app has previously had some success, becoming viral through TikTok in August, at which point it was embroiled in conspiracies that it stole IP addresses of users. Akhundzada, the app’s developer, took to TikTok back then to dispel fears.
“I heard about it a few days ago on TikTok, but I just decided to download it today,” says Chloe Taylor, a 19-year-old from Arkansas. She believes it’s become popular on TikTok “probably because there are so many aspiring creators that want to get to the point where they have over a million followers,” she says. “The app kind of gives them a feeling about what that might be like.”
It’s for that reason she also tried the app. “I think it would be nice to have that many followers, but I’m not really trying to get to that point,” she says. “I just post whatever I want, whenever I want.” (A 2019 survey showed more kids want to be YouTubers than astronauts.)
Mass media has always constructed fame using simulative dimensions, since the dawn of print media and movies, says Dr Bethany Usher, author of Journalism and Celebrity, a recent book about fame. “However, what we see now is the next step through which ordinary people utilize digital production practices to build their own public visibility through strategic processes of persona construction,” she explains. “It’s no surprise that this should become increasingly automated, and that algorithms are created that can take individuals through steps of content production and dissemination that can build their online presence.”
“The popularity of this app shouldn't be surprising,” agrees Brendan Gahan, partner and chief social officer at Mekanism, a New York-based creative agency. “We live in a world where the #1 most desirable job amongst teens is to become an influencer.”
There’s also an element of the Monday morning quarterback going on. “Sports fans have fantasy teams, and in many ways this is analogous to that,” Gahan adds. “While you may not be able to manage an NFL team, you can play pretend. I imagine that's more or less what we're seeing here.”
But Taylor hasn’t spent much time on the app after first trying it. “I honestly didn’t really like it that much,” she explains. “It’s set up like TikTok, which is cool, but all of the ‘comments’ and ‘DMs’ are just the same 10 messages posted by different accounts.”
She’s not alone. “I imagine the novelty of Hype Simulator will wear off quickly and what we're seeing today is their 15 minutes of fame,” says Gahan.