Grandchildren become brokers as “Grandma Netflix” emerges

In a video platform full of young faces, older grandmothers have become an eye-catching category of Internet celebrities. When grandmothers become TikTok Internet celebrities, their grandchildren become their agents. While grandmothers learn popular dances, make videos, and become recognizable celebrities, their grandchildren manage her career, negotiate with advertisers, edit videos, and respond to fan comments. Dolores Paolino, who has 2.4 million TikTok followers, dances, tells sarcastic jokes and does a Marilyn Monroe impression for her followers. She is 89 years old.
She only has a landline phone, which means she can’t do her own filming or post videos on TikTok. That’s all the work of her 20-year-old grandson, Julian Giacobbo – who also writes the scripts and edits the short 30-second videos. “He does everything.” Dolores Paolino lives in South Philadelphia, and her grandson videotaped her drinking spiked iced tea three years ago – while she was attending a Halloween party as her grandson’s older female companion.
And while the grandchildren have accidentally made their grandparents TikTok Internet celebrities, they’ve also found themselves in an unexpected role: brokers for their elders. While grandmothers are recognized by passersby on dining out and at doctor’s appointments, the youngsters are working hard behind the scenes, negotiating business with advertisers, responding to fan comments, and figuring out how to teach octogenarians the latest TikTok dance.
This can be quite rewarding. Businesses will pay elder-type netizens to advertise products such as toys and laundry detergent. Several grandparents and younger offspring interviewed said they would split the money equally. Grandson Giacobbo, who lives near his grandmother’s house, shoots videos for her when he’s not taking college classes or doing internships. Grandma Paolino likes to stay energized on TikTok, which brings back memories of her younger days dancing at social clubs. In one video, she leans on an oxygen tank and twirls around, announcing that she’s able to go home from the hospital. In another video, she dances with a patio umbrella as if it were a stripper pole.
Typically, it can take up to two hours to shoot a TikTok video. When it comes to her grandmother, Giacobbo says, “She forgets lines.” “I didn’t forget!” Paolino argues that he often records and stops recording to make sure his lines are correct. “I think that he just said that to piss me off.” After becoming an Internet sensation, Paolino’s life hasn’t completely changed. She still has a job selling Avon beauty products. But the extra income from TikTok is nice. She says she uses the money to treat her five grandchildren, like taking them out to lunch and picking up the tab. “I simply enjoy spending money,” she says. “If I don’t spend money now, what else can I do?”
In 2020, Kevin Droniak moved to Los Angeles, and has since grown farther away from his grandmother, Lillian Droniak, who lives in Connecticut. She’s 92 years old and used to work at a factory that assembled parts for an airplane manufacturer. Now she’s also a TikTok sensation, thanks to her grandson, who, at age 25, has devised a plan to make sure she can keep making videos without her. Grandma uses a flip phone and mourns the loss of the phone book. He bought her an iPhone, which she can only use with a Wi-Fi connection and no mobile service. When Grandma finishes taking a selfie, the video is automatically synchronized to the cloud so he can download it from everywhere, edit it and post it to TikTok.
Grandson Droniak says he flies to Connecticut once a month to shoot commercials, for which the company pays about five figures. So how would his grandmother use that payment? Grandma says, “If I need a coat or new shoes, I go to the store.” She also pays $20 to family members who drive her around. She adds, “They’re pretty grateful.”
Except for commercials, she decides on her own what she wants to photograph. She’ll take selfie videos of herself dancing on her porch or telling fans she wants to adopt them as grandchildren. In a recent video, she listed New Year’s goals. One of them included “stay alive.”
Droniak says TikTok keeps her life full and maintains a strong bond with her grandchildren. She plans to keep doing it as long as she can. Maybe that’s why I’ve lived so long,” she says. Because God said: she had a happy life and people liked her.”
This group of seniors is getting tons of views on TikTok because they can stand out in an app full of young people. “You see a lot of young faces,” says Mae Karwowski, founder of the Netflix marketing agency Obviously. “But when people see a grandparent, they really stop.” After Thomas Cheung’s online grandmother gained more than 5 million TikTok followers, he tried to give her a break because her back wasn’t doing so well. Then, he posted a separate video of himself and his daughter. As a result, the number of views plummeted.
Cheung, 35, who lives in Sydney, Australia, said, “They want to see their grandmothers.” His grandmother, Hui Jun Wang, doesn’t want her TikTok career to end, either. She says making videos of her dancing and rapping brings back memories of her singing as a child. “It’s quite a challenging and yet to be solved puzzle,” her grandson says. “How did you make a viral video with your 96-year-old grandmother, and when she could barely move anymore?” Cheung mentioned one method. He would film her sitting and then give her something she would respond to. In one video, he showed her pictures of rappers and asked her which one she wanted to date. She picked the only one without facial tattoos-Indonesian rapper Rich Brian,-and at the sight of him said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” The video has gotten 1.6 million views.

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