The 2-year-old Grumpy Cat, née Tardar Sauce, was born with a feline dwarfism that gives her, among other things, a severe underbite. As a result of this, Tardar sports a permanent scowl. In September of 2012, the brother of Tardar's owner, Tabatha Bundesen, posted a photo of the frowning feline on Reddit. Redditors added cranky captions to it. The images spread. The word spread. The demand spread. In May of 2013, Tardar, as Grumpy, was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. In October of the same year, she graced the cover of New York magazine.
A year after those appearances, Grumpy Cat remains a celebrity—and not just in the microfamed way of most Internet memes. This morning has brought reports that the frowny-faced feline has brought Bundesen, formerly a server at Red Lobster, nearly $100 million in earnings from endorsements, branded products, and media appearances. Those reports, Bundesen tells The Huffington Post, are "completely inaccurate"—though she declines to give, at the moment, a correct earnings number.
What is clear, though, is that in an environment where a cat can become famous just as easily as a human can, having a perma-scowl can be extremely lucrative. It can transform you from a meme to an IRL celebrity. Tardar's 15 minutes of fame have broken through from Reddit and Tumblr to venues like Good Morning America and The Today Show. The cat has a line of licensed merchandise—T-shirts, mugs, etc.—on sale at Hot Topic. She has a line of (grumpy) stuffed animals. She has been a "spokescat" for Friskies. She has a line of iced coffee beverages sold under the brand name "Grumpuccino."
She also has half a million followers on Instagram.
And a TV movie, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, voiced by Aubrey Plaza.
Even if that doesn't get you $100 million, it does get you a lot. Bundesen, now 28, told the U.K.'s Express that being the owner of Grumpy has made her anything but. "I was able to quit my job as a waitress within days of her first appearance on social media," Bendesen says, "and the phone simply hasn’t stopped ringing since."