When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Abbotsford's Kris Collins found herself among the many Metro Vancouver residents who saw their lives flipped upside down.
She was working as a hairstylist and certified lash technician, operating out of her home.
"I had just been doing that, like, six, seven days a week for the longest time and then when COVID happened I had to close my doors," she recalls.
Like a lot of people who found themselves out of work in the pandemic's earliest days, with nowhere to go and no one to see, Collins "got really bored."
So, her 17-year-old brother convinced her download TikTok. Rather than the endless stream of dance videos that she had expected to find on the video-sharing social network, the 24-year-old swiftly realized "that there are a lot of different corners of TikTok—there's comedy DIY, anything," she explains.
"I watched it for like three days straight, no sleep, and then said 'I'm going to start making some videos—might as well, I have nothing else to do.'"
That was in April. Today, Collins is the second-most followed Canadian TikToker, according to SocialTracker, with a staggering 14 million-plus followers. She's uploaded over 860 videos under her @kallmekris handle that have collectively amassed 509.4 million likes, and counting. She's designed and released her own line of merchandise, and has begun partnering with brands.
Her success on TikTok has spilled over to Instagram and YouTube, where she now has over 650,000 followers and 162,000 subscribers, respectively.
Now several months into her meteoric rise to content creator stardom, Collins says she still can't fully wrap her head around the magnitude of those numbers. "It's bizarre," she says.
"I think I was at, like, 1000 [followers] when I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm a famous TikToker now, I guess," Collins jokes.
"Even when I hit like 100,000, or even 10,000, it's still like the same feeling, like 'How is this happening?' Same with 11 million—every time I hit a new milestone, I still don't understand, but I appreciate it."
'I never joined TikTok to become TikTok famous'
From the beginning, Collins has easily won over followers with her hilariously relatable posts, but the style of content she produces has shifted alongside her follower count.
Her earlier videos mainly consist of lip-synching along with a comedy clip, paired with a clever caption and some seriously exaggerated facial expressions. (In her very first TikTok video, Collins lip-synchs to one of John C. Reilly's lines in Step Brothers: "I like to have a lot of fresh fruit around and chocolate chips in my pancakes, 'K? Write it down so you don't forget." Text Collins added over the video reads: "When mom makes a Costco run...")
But around the same time her followers reached the mid-six figures, Collins "built up the courage" to start creating her own original content, something she acknowledges was "really nerve wracking."
She started off by posting a skit in which she pretended her mom, "and people liked it," Collins recalls.
Now, the vast majority of Collins' TikToks are the original skits she conceptualises. "I'll (write) like, the first line and then I'll just improv the rest of it," she explains.
They tend to centre around a rolling cast of characters, ranging from a tiny-handed toddler and a fed-up mom with a thick Boston accent to a bro-dude named Chad, a speedy, vampire-obsessed version of her 12-year-old self and even her own dog—a rescue mutt she adopted from northern Manitoba, named Kevin—to name just a few.
To Collins' surprise, it's the frustratingly-mischievous toddler character that seems to resonate with people most, she says. While Collins doesn't have children of her own, she draws on her experiences as the second-oldest of six siblings while creating the skits that have since led to her newest title: "I'm like the unofficial Mother of TikTok," she says with a laugh.
While comedy and content creation have long been ideas that Collins says have occupied space in the back of her mind, those ideas were filed away in the "I could never do it" drawer.
"I never joined TikTok to become TikTok famous," she says."I literally did it to pass the time and all this kind of happened. But I've always been super into comedy—when I was little I always wanted to be a stand up comedian, all that kind of stuff. So now that all this is kind of happening, it is kind of cool that I can start to have platforms where I can be creative."
'I need to realize that I can't please every single person who follows me'
Though Collins may have already been interested in the comedic side of her latest endeavour, the same can't be said for social media.
Before joining TikTok, "I was posting once or twice a year," she says. "I was one of those people on the edge of just deleting everything because I just don't care. So when all of this happened, it was pretty funny to all the people I know."
Over the course of the past several months, Collins has been forced to find a happy medium between that and what she seemingly perceives as her obligation to engage with those who are supporting her.
As a self-described people-pleaser, Collins says she would answer every comment to the point where TikTok would assume she was a bot, automatically banning her from replying to any more. But as her follower count grew to astronomic levels, "it got to a certain point where I was literally spending hours answering back to everybody and I'm like, 'This is not healthy for me,'" she says. Collins often uses her newfound platform to speak out about mental health issues and share her struggles with mental illness.
While she still strives to read through her thousands of comments and like as many as possible, "I just need to realize that I can't please every single person that follows me," she says.
To that end, going from complete anonymity to having millions of eyes on you in a span of just weeks isn't without consequences. "You're going to see 1000 really awesome comments and you see one bad one and ... it always weighs more," she admits.
Some TikTok users take to the comments to debate everything from Collins' age (she's 24) to whether or not Collins—or women in general, for that matter—are funny.
"It used to hurt my feelings so bad. They'd say 'She's probably like, 30' and then some people are like, 'She's 16,'" tells Collins. "I'll take the 16, that's great ... but I don't care anymore, I am 24, take it or leave it."
A new normal
Aside from the comments and increased scrutiny, gaining 14 million new Internet friends has undoubtedly had an impact on Collins' day-to-day life.
Her weekly routine now includes several hours spent creating the TikToks themselves and interacting with her followers in the comments section, alongside editing YouTube videos and working with a company to design and sell her own merch. When she heads out to collect her mail, she films it. The prize at the end of those trips are no longer flyers and bills, but thoughtful gifts, art and letters sent to her by fans around the world—"I cry every time I read a letter from somebody," she says.
After she drank a Red Bull during one of those aforementioned trips to her P.O. Box (she had to get one when people kept asking for her mailing address), her followers took it upon themselves to spam the company in her comments, all in an effort to convince the energy drink maker to sponsor Collins.
Eventually, a rep reached out. Now, Collins is equipped with "a lifetime supply of Red Bull," and the company flew her and her boyfriend up to the top of a mountain in B.C.'s backcountry to help her celebrate after hitting the 10-million follower milestone.
Now, she'll be recognized nearly "every time" she goes out—even through a mask and a hoodie, her platinum blonde hair is "a dead giveaway," says Collins.
"It's pretty fun but I'm so awkward ... I just make videos in my basement; I don't feel remotely famous at all. It's so bizarre," she says.
"Some people want to take pictures and things like that, but I never want to ask if somebody wants a picture. So I just stand there [and say] 'You have a great day,' or I'll follow them [on Instagram or TikTok] or something like that. I'm still getting used to it—I don't think I'll ever get used to it."
Riding the TikTok wave
Despite the life-changing level of success Collins has experienced in just a few months, many parts of her life remain unchanged.
She still lives in her parents' basement suite and keeps her mental health in check by taking her dog, Kevin, for tech-free walks when she needs to get away from the Internet. Her family, friends and boyfriend are all supportive of her TikTok journey, she says—although her mom now stays up-to-date on her TikTok stats and is on her way to "becoming Kris Jenner," Collins jokes.
And if you're wondering, yes, Collins still does hair and lashes two days a week, and no, she isn't taking on any new clients.
"Me being the cynic that I am, I always think this is just going to go away tomorrow," she says of her success. "I'm at a point now where I should stop, but I just keep pushing it off—like I feel so bad. That's the people pleaser me; I don't want to just drop my clients."
While Collins says she still enjoys doing hair, "and lashes are alright, too," she plans to finally step back from that career in January. "We'll put this on the record, so I do it," she adds with a laugh.
But for now, Collins says she's just trying to "ride the wave."
"It's crazy. I still don't understand how I'm growing so fast," she says. "I just take it down to [the fact that] the algorithm likes me right now, and it might not tomorrow. I might just come to a halt or lose followers at any point, but for right now it's great."
She adds, "I'm just taking every day as it comes, basically. I'm so elated and blessed and humbled by this whole experience. If it ends tomorrow, like, this was amazing but for right now, it's very cool.
"I'm just very thankful."