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Mechanization of popularity: Deciphering Nancy Tyagi’s virality on the internet | Twinkle Siwach & Mehak Dua

Saturday 22 June 2024


This essay looks at the phenomenon of virality on the internet by mapping Nancy Tyagi’s recent journey to fame. It takes a concentrated look at her social media presence and her journey as an influencer over a short time span to analyse whether such stories reflect a case of organic virality or that of a mechanised production of popularity that makes influencers like her achieve a level of stardom akin to that of a celebrity.

The phenomenon of virality, that is, large scale diffusion and sharing of some online content has become commonplace in the day and age of ubiquitous social media use and engagement. It has received considerable scrutiny in recent times owing to its intriguing nature. Virality is often looked at either from the perspective of the content or the creator. However, in certain cases, the ‘content-creator mix’ produces a more viable and tenable prospect. For instance, the case of Nancy Tyagi’s rise to fame. 

For those unacquainted with the world of social media, Tyagi (23) is a self-trained fashion influencer who recently attended the 2024 Cannes Film Festival in France. Her stint becomes remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, because Cannes being a festival that celebrates cinema primarily has been criticised for inviting influencers and allocating space to them and yet Tyagi has been generously applauded. Secondly, it appears a personal win for Tyagi who hails from a humble socio-economic background with a rather scratchy start to her influencer career. This article takes a concentrated look at Tyagi’s social media journey to explore the ever-evolving concept of virality, which may also provide clues to unravel some of the other success stories on the internet.

On the face of it, Tyagi’s Instagram page reveals a tale of an underdog who has made it big with sheer grit, determination and hardwork. In a world of aesthetically pleasing content, she stands out through her talent and craft with audiences largely admiring her work. In many of her posts, she has openly embraced her resourcefulness and has never shied away from displaying her modest roots. She buys raw material for the dresses from wholesale markets and spends hours alone on tailoring the outfits using a manual sewing machine. On the Cannes red carpet this year, she seems to have lived her moment after all, turning out to be the first person to be wearing self-stitched costumes for three days in a row. Her attire was accompanied with minimal makeup and jewellery allowing her artistry to shine. She was also lauded for being unpresuming yet confident in choosing to converse in her mother tongue amidst others trying to achieve the sophisticated foreign accent. However, it makes one ponder upon the factors that make her case unique despite virality being almost mundane in the present day and age. 

At the outset, it appears to be a case of organic virality, a natural outcome of her story travelling far and wide, but could it be a premeditated production of an image that appears non-threatening and yet very much praiseworthy? Or is it the platform that makes her rags to riches story, albeit in terms of popularity and admiration, plausible? The design mechanism of the platform does encourage people to acknowledge and appreciate her talent. Even so, she has been subjected to trolling and criticism in the past for being skinny, for not being conventionally model-like and also for experimenting with social media trends to gain traction. Could it then be the validation of the upper class elites (with names like Sonam Kapoor amongst many others extolling her) that makes her worthy of appreciation? Or could it be a combination of all these factors working in conjunction to make Tyagi a brand that she never imagined to become.

While her social media success is open to contemplation and deliberation, it can also be studied as a case of perfunctory tokenism on the part of media and audiences alike. The adulation that Tyagi has been receiving is mostly owing to her modest beginnings. Audiences have thus far easily gulped down the concoction that Tyagi serves, increasing her prospects for going viral. She is a hard-working girl from a semi-urban background who has made it big on her own. She checks all the boxes of virality which include relatability, emotional connect and content that just sits right. 

By tapping into the emotional sensibilities of her target audience, she has been able to maximise her reach and potential. If some social media posts and news portals are to be believed, her visit to Cannes was not a result of her exceptional talent but because she paid her way to it, as did many of the other influencers. However, she is the one who has been able to leverage the attention to her advantage drawing praises from all corners. As mentioned earlier in the article, her story is not devoid of setbacks. She was at the receiving end of social media trolling, which one may argue also added to her popularity in some way. Her response to the criticism had been mild if not completely insubstantial. Slowly but steadily, she worked her way up by recreating some famous looks and outfits previously worn by celebrities which grabbed attention for her. 

 Here the creator’s personality and her social media presence together present a message that is laden with meaning. This is not to suggest that Tyagi has cunningly utilised social media to her advantage but it is something that has come to be due to the sentiment with which audiences have been engaging with her content. If we focus on the sentiment as a factor that affects the message it becomes apparent why Tyagi has garnered the maximum attention amongst a pool of other influencers who also attended Cannes this year. 

Users of social media are likely to be influenced by psychological and emotional elements, therefore their actions are not always objective and genuine. What we may deduce from this is that there is a definite relation between message sentiment and virality. When one comes to think of it, Tyagi has thus far tried to emulate clothes made by top designers, which have very little wearability to them. Furthermore, buying fabric from the wholesale market may present an idea of affordability but the fabric that she uses is more often than not synthetic which then makes its quality questionable adding to the problem of durability. As it is, these clothes are for personal use, made to her size and may never be worn again. While this does open an argument against sustainable fashion that is environmentally conscious, for her audience this may not even be a concern. 

The possibility of her being called out for plagiarism also looms large. Her representing the country on a global level might add to her popularity, or one may argue, has already made her a household name. However, if one looks beyond the superficiality of it all neither did she promote Indian heritage, artisanal handicraft or indigenous textiles in any shape or form nor did she wear an authentic design unique to Indian culture. Perhaps, her appeal then lies in how the audience is perceiving her life story. 

Now whether this fame is transitory or with lasting impact is a tale that will unfold with time. Nevertheless, her achievements sanction the dreams for many such young women who may now look at her journey for inspiration. For now, she stands tall as a living example of perseverance, flair and substance. 

(Authors: Twinkle Siwach is Assistant Professor at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. Mehak Dua is Assistant Professor at Bharati College, University of Delhi)

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