“Come fly with the angels,” the TikTok house known as @the7angels captioned a video on Friday, a montage of the seven influencers lounging on leather couches and tables on a private jet while lip-syncing to a song by viral rapper ppcocaine. But the TikTok “house,” a group of users including twin influencers Azra and Aisha Mian and TikTok-er Mali.Nalli who make videos together, weren’t flying anywhere; the drab, carpeted “private jet” was not a jet at all but a set designed as a rental backdrop for influencers’ photos and videos. According to the rental site Peerspace, the set can be rented for $64 an hour. For a bargain, you too can be a glamorous TikTok celebrity en route via airplane, straight to the exotic locale that is social media cancelation.
“Lmaoooooo the fact that this is a SET and y’all are getting ROASTED on Twitter,” a commenter wrote on the video, which now has over two million views and has likely solidified the Angels TikTok house as “the fake private plane girls” for eternity.
But on social media—where living and documenting a life of luxurious travel can become a lucrative way to make a living—fake private jets, apartments, and mesmerizing photoshoot locations are almost as common as the real deal. In Moscow, people can book an actual Gulfstream G650 jet that serves as a photo studio for about $244 an hour and in 2018 L.A.-based “artist” Matty Mo created a private jet art installation that was an immediate Instagram hit. Beyond the fake planes, there are also fake living accommodations: a plush, millennial-pink New York City penthouse designed to be photographed in goes for $15,000 a month, and companies like Splacer and Home Studio List offer well-lit and artfully decorated apartments across the country for photo and video shoots by the hour for brands, but also “content creators.” Alongside the more purposefully misleading, “authentic” homes and backdrops influencers can use to photograph a more aesthetically pleasing life, there are numerous pop-up “museums” and brand activations designed specifically to produce Instagrammable content for attendees.
The influencer backdrop economy doesn’t supply an experience for the perfect Instagram so much as it supplies the illusion of an experience. For a moment, an influencer can pretend that a perfectly decorated living room is theirs for a following who isn’t savvy enough to tell the difference. It’s an economy that’s a reflection of how influencer culture has changed in the past decade, as social media personalities can no longer simply endorse designer clothes and beauty products in front of their laptop screens. Where you go, not simply what you own, is the bread and butter of the successful influencer in 2020, as young people pine for “experiences” rather than stuff. Influencers talk of quitting their day jobs to travel the world, or move across the country in quaint RVs. A globe-trotting Instagram account can either evoke an unrealistic, bohemian escape from the boring reality of corporate life, or the fake life of luxury of someone rolling in enough dough to book a private jet daily.
Social media is theater, and it’s theater to such a degree that dissecting how unrealistic social media can be is its own cottage industry, as influencers and Instagram accounts go viral for pointing out photo editing and posing in “Instagram vs. reality” posts; one influencer earlier this year faked an entire trip to Bali in a series of photos she took in Ikea. The members of the Angels TikTok house were swept up in that criticism for posting a video staged in a fake private jet, held up as yet another example for the inauthenticity of influencers. And while it’s confusing as to how someone could mistake the shabby room for the interior of an actual airplane, I’m not sure the hate is totally warranted. A handful of TikTok girls casually filming a mini music-video in one doesn’t strike me as the world-ending treatise on toxic influencer culture.
But influencers do have to think about how their lives now are consumed by the public with a depressingly 360-degree view: not just how clear their skin and how recent their gel nail job is, but the totality of how aspirational, uncluttered, and arguably unsettled (read: boring) their lifestyle appears. That there is a small, burgeoning economy of sets designed to look like luxurious private jets and immaculately curated apartments to help these people fake it until they make it tells us how far people will go to perfect that view. It no longer just requires smoothing filters, Photoshopped clouds, and perfect angles: it’s a carefully constructed facade that requires literal set pieces, and rented out life-size dollhouses to play-act wealth.