The app uploads the celebrity’s content as soon as it’s made—no matter if there are mistakes, or the celebrity looks awful, or the camera is facing the wrong way, or the video was recorded on a Motorola Razr—and any performer’s six most recent Cameos are by default public, unless the requester marks them private. The only thing that demarcates the level of celebrity is the price said celebrity sets for his or her messages. YouTubers, Twitch streamers who joined Cameo strictly as a bit, and Snoop Dogg are all equal on the site, which, like many other businesses before it, appears happy to take anyone’s money for any reason. On Cameo, a “celebrity” is anyone you would potentially pay money to receive a shout-out from, and in the 21st century, that list grows ever longer.
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The results are digressive, low-touch, strangely intimate, and utterly demented: a parade of distracted, famous strangers offering warmed-over aphorisms about life’s great milestones from parked cars and darkened bedrooms and, weirdly, lots of malls. Cameo is an almost painfully contemporary-feeling invention. It’s fan service taken to its most literal extreme, celebrity mania mediated by a front-facing camera and monetized with gig-economy efficiency, its product accessible to nearly anyone and clearly designed to be shared on social media. The company reported profits in the 8 figures for 2019, and its co-founder was recently named to the Forbes Top 30 Under 30.
Of course, it was also only a matter of time before online ne’er-do-wells figured out how to best exploit the service for the purposes of content—as they did with Twitter, and Facebook before that, and email before that, and, well, you get it. So long as celebrity culture thrives, and so long as things like Cameo exist to capitalize on it, Cameo will be twisted and manipulated by people into whatever they want it to be. Last year, the comedians Nick Ciarelli and Brad Evans used it to trick a series of bodybuilders into ordering a nonexistent child to stop stealing fudge, and if there's only one Cameo you’ve ever seen or heard of, it's probably the one where Sugar Ray lead singer Mark McGrath “break[s] up” with someone’s boyfriend for them. Hell, we managed to make the beloved comedy icon Pauly Shore record a rambling anti-circumcision PSA for our comedy podcast. (Cameo did not respond to a request for comment.)
But as delightful as all these joke Cameos are, they will never be as insane as the sincere ones. It is surely impossible, for instance, to request a Cameo as mind-bendingly awful as the one in which the NFL legend Terry Bradshaw spends the entire video mistakenly filming his unknowing wife with the wrong phone camera. Or the one in which Tommy Lee both offers his heartfelt condolences on the recent death of someone’s father and wishes them a happy birthday. (Look, Lee’s $300 a pop. You expected this guy to order two?) Or this brief glimpse into the life of the progenitor of the floss dance, Backpack Kid, in which BK feebly attempts the aforementioned floss from bed, barely lifting his fists out from under the covers while wishing someone a happy bat mitzvah. (The video is eight seconds long, and cost only $35 and the dignity of everyone involved.) Or this four-second Cameo that Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi ($300) clearly uploaded by mistake, in which a horrified look passes over her face as she realizes she’s botched basically the only thing she’s been asked to do—say the buyer’s name correctly—and then stops the video immediately.