Jun 30, 2017
With the omnipresence of fame driving today’s 24-hour news cycle, who can we turn to as the world’s leading celebrity expert? Jeetendr Sehdev has quickly emerged as a top candidate. A trailblazer in pop-culture insights, he’s best known for shaking up Hollywood by predicting the power of YouTube stars over traditional celebrities and has created some of the world’s biggest headlines in celebrity news. In doing so, Sehdev’s amassed a rabid following on social media and has become a bona fide media darling.
Sehdev was born and raised in Bristol, England. He went to a traditional British private school where he learned the little book of English etiquette, paid attention during his Latin lessons and developed a love for public speaking in drama classes. He graduated with a degree in history from Oxford University before heading to the United States to study for his MBA at Harvard Business School. He later accepted an offer from the chief executive of WPP, Martin Sorrell, to join advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather.
After helping build some of the world’s biggest brands at Ogilvy, he headed to Hollywood and started talking about celebrities as brands. Sehdev has been cited in hundreds of media outlets and is a familiar face on shows such as Today, Access Hollywood and networks such as CNN. Published in March, his first book, The Kim Kardashian Principle, has reached 13 best-seller lists, including The New York Times. It is already one of the buzziest titles of the year.
Sehdev spoke to #legend after he had been invited to Lambeth Palace in London to speak on ending slavery.
You must be thrilled by the success of your book.
I don’t think it’s hit me yet. It was a labour of love, so I’m just pleased people are reading it.
Tell us a bit about it.
The Kim Kardashian Principle is about breaking through by becoming your own champion. It’s about focusing on what you believe and what you want to create, regardless of the blowback.
Would you say that’s what you do?
Well, I’m not blonde, I’m not 23 and I’m the world’s authority on celebrity, so, yes.
How did you manufacture the idea?
I went through a personal transformation by moving from the buttoned-up British culture of England to Los Angeles. Hollywood showed me a way of life that I had never seen before, a world in which you didn’t need to graduate from Oxford or have the right accent to be respected. I felt liberated by the culture and I wanted others to feel free to live their lives without judgment.
You talk a lot about the power of authenticity and expressing yourself.
Yes. I’m a big believer in freedom of expression and equal rights for all. It’s the underpinnings of a lot of my work. I wrote the book for anyone who’s ever felt afraid of being who they’ve really wanted to be.
So what’s an Oxford and Harvard graduate doing in Hollywood?
Breaking stereotypes and trying to change the world, of course.
You’ve shaken up the entertainment world by revealing that YouTube stars are more powerful than traditional celebrities. Did you expect to create a media frenzy?
Not at all. It was crazy. I saw Hollywood and the entire entertainment industry shift before my eyes and suddenly people realised that a new breed of celebrity had arrived. What was even more frightening for the Hollywood old guard was that none of these people looked, sounded or behaved like Brad Pitt or Jennifer Aniston. I struck a nerve.
You seem to have a knack for that. Speaking of, do you actually think celebrity feminists make people care less about feminism?
Some of them do, absolutely.
Would you describe yourself as controversial?
I don’t wake up every morning and think, “How I can be controversial today?” I’m interested in pushing people’s buttons and making people think differently. I guess I’m just drawn towards ideas and insights that do that.
Let’s talk about your muse, Kim Kardashian. How much of an asset was Juergen Teller’s photograph? The famous derriere shot on the sandy hillock?
I’m a big fan of Juergen’s work. He’s brave, takes risks and has a wonderfully humanising aesthetic, but I think we can safely say that Kim had already made her mark on the world of fashion by then.
What are the top three reasons for her success?
There are actually six. I use the acronym SELFIE for the rules and you’ll have to read the book to find out.
You wrote that talent was a term reserved for theatre-trained-types. If authenticity is the new talent, that makes everybody famous or talented, right?
No, because not everyone is authentic. That’s the challenge. There are millions of people around the world who pretend to be somebody they’re not because they don’t feel they can be themselves. You see it all the time in fashion, with people changing themselves to be accepted by others, fitting a certain mould that supposedly sells or makes you sexier. Only that formula isn’t working anymore. Today, younger generations are super-savvy and have finely tuned authenticity detectors. They’re turned on by reality and those brave enough to march to their own drumbeat. Hence the excitement that Kim created at the Balmain show in Paris, while the 10 to 12 look-a-like models just disappeared into a sea of sameness. Perfection is passé. It’s your flaws that make you fascinating.
What do you see as new buzzwords for this ecosystem? Are we moving into a Youtopia, a Youniverse or…
I love those both. Although the Youniverse has already arrived.
How will Generation Z’s digital approach or aspirations differ from their millennial peers?
Fashion has always been social but Generation Z is going to make it more about social media than ever before. I think it’s going to be critical for models to bring their own social fan followings to designers. Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid are good examples. I also see fashion becoming more inclusive, diverse and gender-fluid than before. We’re already seeing signs of it, with more black faces on the runway, with Jaden Smith being the first male ambassador for Louis Vuitton’s womenswear campaign. Brands are going to have to continue to change in order to stay relevant to this new generation that thinks, feels and acts very differently than previous generations.
Given there are more less-aesthetically-pleasing people on the planet, is oddity, ugly and non-muse the new fame?
Conventional media ideals of beauty, including anorexic girls and steroided guys, have had their heyday and are causing the backlash. Today, beauty is where you find it. People who feel beautiful and make others feel good about themselves often come out on top. That sort of beauty is so contagious, isn’t it? We’re seeing more realistic images bombard the world of fashion. Vulnerability is the new definition of sexy and that’s a beauty trend that’s unstoppable.
We’re still in the Kim moment but who’s the new Kim and in what ways is her strategy any different from Kim’s?
I think it’s too soon to call the next Kim. She’s still paving the path towards a new world for us all. Having said that, I think Kylie Jenner is doing really well. Top designers should be keeping a close eye on that one.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be in a monastery somewhere in Tibet searching for enlightenment.
What’s post-Instagram and Snapchat? How do you see the technology developing that changes this ecosystem. How do you see those involved changing with it?
Just a moment while I look into my crystal ball…
Of all the digital and social phenoms gaining global attraction now, whose “brand” is currently impressing you the most?
I think PewDiePie, KSI and Zoella are all doing amazing jobs. Some are facing criticism but they’re sticking to their guns and putting their fans first and that’s what it’s all about.
How much would you say digital and social media accounts for the success of someone like Kiko Mizuhara?
I love Kiko and I don’t think she’d be where she is today without her Instagram following. It’s been critical to her success, but she’s not just a social media star, per se. Her brand lives across other mediums like live events, television and film. Working across a variety of different platforms is exactly the way to do it.
How about Alexa Chung’s own-label fashion debut?
I think Alexa missed the point with her Instagram fashion debut. Her lack of diverse models was shocking and the price point for her brand seemed out of reach for her audience. Alexa just isn’t a big enough global brand like Kylie Jenner or even Kendall or Gigi to have a serious shot at making the leap from being anything but a niche fashion brand at best.
How do you rate Donald Trump’s digital strategy?
Donald Trump heavily relies on Twitter to bypass the mainstream media and speak directly to his audience. It’s a brave and pioneering tactic for a president. I think Instagram and Snapchat remain under-leveraged for Trump at the moment even though he’s on them both. He could certainly use these platforms in more innovative ways and potentially redefine the platforms for us all.
Can so-called luxury brands can ever make the digital crossover or must they change and thus dilute their luxe to enable that?
Luxury brands won’t have to dilute their luxe in order to cross over to the digital side. I think the definition of luxury is changing and it’s going to increasingly include the world of digital in a very organic way. There’s no avoiding it, even for the most exclusive brands and experiences. There’s no luxury without relevance and if brands want to include themselves in this journey, they’ll have to go with the flow.
In between bouts of taking over the world, what’s going on in your personal life?
I’m single at the moment, so I’m accepting applications.
What’s your personal style?
It depends on my mood. Hollywood can be a tough place. I feel like a Dior Homme or Prada suit feels like amour. On my days off, I’ve been known to let my guard down.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Between the book tour and my travel schedule at the moment, there isn’t a lot of spare time but I love catching up with friends and I’m passionate about ending modern-day slavery. I’m actually heading to Malta tomorrow to discuss efforts with the prime minister. I’m excited about that.
What’s on your playlist right now?
I’m going through my cardio junkie phase so I have an official man crush on Jay Dabhi at the moment.
Which luxury/glossy/fashion magazine’s digital and social platform impresses you most right now?
Oh, that’s easy. #legend, of course.
This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of #legend.