Interview by James Elizabeth Arnett
CREATIVE PRODUCER: James Arnett | @jamesarnett1
PHOTOGRAPHER: Eduardo Figueroa | @_efig
HAIR STYLIST: Bethy Mireles | @bethymireles
MUA: Paloma Alcantar | @palomamua
STYLIST: Leilani Lacson | @leilanilacson
STYLIST ASSISTANT: Rita Sounthonephom | @ritadtla
SPECIAL THANKS: Elite Performance (EPX Woodland Hills, CA) |
It takes only a single click to establish the difference between a hobby and a career. A message takes seconds to upload and it lives eternally with screenshots and reposts. In today’s social media landscape, constant communication and technological advances mean it has never been easier to create, but harder to stand out. New faces come and go in numbers difficult to process and with fame no longer reserved for Hollywood or foreign royalty. Communication often refers to tweeting over speaking, and consumers crave a face they can either love or hate. So, the question is: how does one become an overnight sensation? And more importantly, how do they make it look so damn easy?
Enter Dytto, a 20-year-old animation dancer (and self-proclaimed robot) with optimism, an iPhone and millions of followers. Her days consist of making calls to talent and labels, coordinating and producing her own videos, 8 a.m. rehearsals and phone meetings that span until one in the morning. Sounds easy enough? Try paying for it all out-of-pocket. Her signature finger-tutting performances can be seen on everything from Android commercials to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. We sat down with Dytto to discuss her rise to modern-day fame and the nonstop world of social influence.
Arriving several minutes early, prepared with snacks in hand, the 5-foot 4-inch Miami-born dancer proves that not every influencer fits the myth of young and entitled. She flashes a toothy smile as she enters the production space to greet the team before eyeing the wardrobe racks of 90s-inspired denim. “I feel like this is already so my style,” she says. “I love it.” In an unexpected move for an iGeneration celeb, she plugs her phone in to charge and flips it to silent. “This is the excuse I can use for getting off of it for a while. My phone is dying, and I’m in a shoot!” She jokingly remarks. She doesn’t have an interest in the outside world. She is here to work.
It’s a muggy day when we arrive at a local gym to capture the images for her feature. Politely thanking the owner as she breezes into the space, Dytto eyes the equipment and discusses our concept while a hip-hop soundtrack kicks in over the sound system. It becomes exceedingly clear that this girl was born to move. She seems unable to control her body as she slightly, yet effortlessly moves between the click of the camera. She later comments on being turned down by an acting manager that had no interest in someone with dancing skills. “And as much as I can respect that because if you know what works for you, then fine. I can’t get mad at you, but it’s my prerogative to know that everyone has their own path and to not let you force me into thinking that my dancing is not ever gonna take me anywhere.”
We move back to the production space and delve into her unconventional path to success. She jokes of what life would be like before social media made fame a one-click opportunity for so many young and eager artists. “I feel like I would end up on one of those dope dance shows or maybe in the movie Breakin’. Was that the 90s? I think that was maybe a little further back.” She imagines the 90s would have meant head spins and breakdancing instead of today’s uploading frenzy. “I live for that.” For a young artist born in the late 90s, Dytto missed the days of cable sitcoms and R&B dance videos and fell headfirst into the world of tech and social fame. “Yeah, I might of like glided right on into it. It wasn’t even on purpose. It wasn’t even like nowadays how people can plot how they’re gonna make a video to get to the top game. I actually came out to LA for acting, and people have no idea about that.”
The world had other plans when a homemade dance video became a viral extreme in a matter of hours. “My mom filmed it, and it was very out of focus. It was really dark and in a parking garage of our apartment. I edited it in iMovies, so there are some pretty good cross dissolves in there,” she laughs. The blurred video in question is a modern-day take on a Cinderella story—a Barbie doll is found on the ground, animates into the artist known as Dytto, and secretly dances before re-entering the body of the doll to avoid discovery. Though dimly lit and of modest quality, the 2014 upload has garnered over 27 million views on her personal YouTube alone. “I was able to build this great fan base. And without social media, I would have never been able to have that, to build up almost my own little family all around the world.” The following years would be a blur of rapid social growth with a fanbase that pushed to get her seen by some of the biggest dance companies in the country.
“I caught some eyes from a company that was putting on these huge dance events. They took photos of me and a few months down the line, they posted one of the photos. The small fanbase that I had built up, which was at the time maybe 30 to 40K on Instagram, started commenting [on the post]. “You know about Dytto? You’ve gotta have her on the show! You’ve gotta let her perform.” She describes paying for her own plane ticket and hotel room to ensure she wasn’t considered an expense. “[My mom and I] said, ‘Hey we’ll get out there. We’ll get our hotel. You don’t have to worry about anything. Will you let me on stage? Can I perform, please?’ Low and behold, less than four minutes of stage time at World of Dance and a freestyle rendition of her Barbie concept ensured she would avoid the black hole of unknown influencers and artists. She told herself before the performance, “Like look, you can either half-ass this and play it safe or you can just really commit to the concept. And I said screw it and got on stage. And it’s allowed me to start my craft off in such a beautiful way.”
But not every day in the life of Dytto is a rose-filtered lens. Joining social media at an early age, she describes the pros and cons of instant accessibility as “a lot all at once.” Many platforms today have an age requirement of only 13-years-old, and she’s clued into the effect that it has on one’s self-identity and perception. “I had to teach myself to think through when I’m scrolling,” she says. “It’s great to be happy for people, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not doing anything incredible. Sometimes you get lost in seeing everyone putting out in social media the best part of them. Someone’s beauty and someone’s excellence isn’t the absence of your own. People have to remember that. And when I start to think about that, I always have to remember to just kind of put the phone away sometimes, and think I’ve got my whole own thing going on, and I’m so happy with it! It can get corrupting sometimes because I’ve even gone through moments.”
With all of the pressure that comes with the territory, it would seem the easier path to take is logging off of the platforms altogether. But Dytto has other ideas. “I loved dance before all of that [social recognition]. I loved taking fun photos with my friends before I was trying to take cool photos for my Instagram. I think that’s where the balance comes in for me and keeps me sane. I loved all this before [ joining] social media.” She smiles as she describes her fans and the positivity that comes from what social media was intended to be: connection. “Everything has its yin and yang. So I’m okay with that, and as long as I can be on the positive side of it, then I’m cool. And for me, it’s kind of given me the start to all of this. I mean, and that’s what it’s doing to a lot of people in this world.”
Dytto has every intention of changing world viewpoints, particularly regarding femininity, both online and on the dance floor. Using her robot Barbie alter ego, she enjoys dancing with power, but “ten times girlier” than her male counterparts. “People think of Barbie and they think perfect, and I don’t think they really ever think of Barbie getting her hands dirty. But I wanted to be the Barbie that did. I wanted to set the example of yeah, I may perceive [sic] as perfect and like a little Barbie doll, but I love to sweat. I love to work. I love to train. I love to be a business woman. I love to be smart. That kind of became my whole mission as Dytto—to create that persona beyond the perception of a Barbie.”
And when it comes down to what it takes to have an effortless-looking dance video? “I think [social media] can become a misconception in a way because you don’t realize how many late nights and early mornings it took and how much thought and creativity went into it. And you’re looking at the video and you’re seeing dance, but there’s lights, and there’s a set and there’s many people behind the camera that had to do this, that and the other to make this happen. Like, there’s just so many layers that get covered up, and I want people to enjoy it for what it really is, but I also want people to know it’s hard work and it’s a beautiful thing to work hard.”
The social landscape is constantly changing, giving way to innovation and reinvention. Many artists and influencers don’t have staying power, but with a list of television series and movies in the works, Dytto is determined to stay on our radar. “Ultimately, I’ve just gotta be game-changing all the time. And as long as I am, I’m happy,” she says. “So, my next five years are gonna be happy as ever. I can tell you that much.” She plays coy about revealing too many secrets, but is happy to reflect on where she is at the tender age of 20. “At one moment, I was sitting at home in my room thinking that everything I’m doing right now wasn’t possible. It’s just crazy to think about.”