In the 15 years since KUWTK first aired, America’s First Family (according to their Cosmopolitan cover of 2015) have changed the way we speak, the way we dress and the way we contour. They also invented influencer culture, gave America a new language to talk about transitioning and opened up difficult conversations around body image and mental health.
When the first episode went out on E! in 2007, not even momager Kris Jenner could possibly have predicted quite how talked-about or successful the show would be. The premise was hardly new: a reality TV show featuring a “regular rich” Californian family living out carefully storyboarded versions of their daily lives.
But, like everything in the Kardashian universe, their stories were extreme, and the commitment they put into being THE BEST REALITY TV STARS THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN was evident from the get-go. Their personal dramas were more personal and more dramatic than anything else on TV: crazy enough to capture your attention, remote enough to feel like escapism, relatable enough to keep you coming back for more while simultaneously thanking God that however challenging your life was, at least you didn’t have a boyfriend like Lamar Odom.
Here are just some of the ways in which KUWTK has changed the world.
They helped… counter transphobia
Bruce Jenner, as he was in 2007, transitioned in 2015, announcing herself as Caitlyn in the most spectacular way possible, via an interview with Diane Sawyer in April, a Vanity Fair cover in June and her own reality TV show, I Am Cait, in July. To say she owned the narrative is an understatement. To say she opened hearts and minds among older, conservative and transphobic people is an indubitable fact.
They invented… influencer culture
Kim was a relative latecomer to Instagram, joining in 2012, but having already spent five years sharing the minutiae of her life on TV, she was a natural. Before you could say “selfie”, she was generating sales and sponsored partnerships (she reportedly makes up to $1m per post), in 2018 capitalising on her title as Queen of Instagram with a range of paid-for emojis (“Kimojis”, natch – those earned her $1m a minute) as well as a video game (that earned her $80m).
Nor were her sisters any slouches: of the 20 most-liked Instagram posts of all time, seven are Kylie’s. Kylie currently has 222m followers to Kim’s 211m, while Kendall has 156m, Khloe has 134m and Kris lags behind with a mere 39m. The entire family uses the platform to drive sales to their many brands in a ruthlessly fortune-amassing way that other influencers can only dream of.
They broke… the Internet
They set… new and often dodgy beauty standards
Au naturel? I don’t know her. The entire clan has always embraced the cyborg look: contoured cheeks, Scouse brows and hyper-long lashes. The more products they claim to use, the more they sell: it’s how Kylie Jenner became a billionaire aged 21. Thin-lipped as a child (see KUWTK Season 1 for evidence), Kylie has always denied fillers, turning media attention over her plumped lips into a lucrative marketing strategy that has seen Kylie Cosmetics soar in value. The clan has similarly denied going under the knife. Whatever the truth, their curvaceous, hyper-real body shapes and flawlessly made-up faces have become the look of choice among millions of fans.
They helped… Kanye become the richest Black man in American history (according to himself)
Obviously, Kanye West was a creative genius long before he married Kim in 2014, but however ambivalent he was about appearing on KUWTK, the exposure didn’t hurt his bank balance. Kim was his model and his muse, his motive for launching Yeezy (now reportedly valued at between $2.2bn and $3.4bn).
But wait, what’s this? Despite owning more than $100m in real estate, a music catalogue worth $90m, $9.3m worth of art, $7.6m worth of jewellery and, um, $1m worth of livestock, Forbes has disputed Kanye’s claim, pointing out he also has $56m of debt. It has instead anointed business mega-mogul Robert F. Smith the richest Black person in the U.S., worth an estimated $6 billion, and Nigerian Aliko Dangote as the world’s richest Black person.
They gave… new meaning to the term “epic fail”
Bad choices? They’ve made a few. Over the years, Kim and Kylie have come under fire for endorsing diet pills, weight loss teas and waist trainers, while Kendall was forced to pay out a six figure sum for her part in endorsing the Fyre Festival. Nor have they always shown that black and Asian lives matter: Kendall’s tone-deaf Pepsi ad of 2017 completely trivialised the BLM movement; Kim’s original name for her underwear company, Skims (Kimono), was blatant cultural appropriation; she was accused of blackface when promoting her new KKW beauty line (a look she called “supertan”) and both Kylie and Khloe have been accused of stealing ideas from independent black designers.
They spawned… a power broker
When Kim announced in 2019 that she was pursuing a law degree, the memes flew thick and fast. Yet her commitment to criminal justice reform was real. In 2018, a meeting with Donald Trump led to clemency for 63 year-old Alice Marie Johnson, in prison on a life sentence. She has also advocated and paid legal fees for others seeking release, as well as being vocal in calling for the recognition of the Armenian genocide via trips to her ancestors’ homeland. In 2020, she spoke out about her then-husband’s bipolar disorder, in an attempt to address “the stigma and misconceptions about mental health”.
Whatever Kim and the Klan do once the cameras stop rolling (the final season of KUWTK is currently airing on Hayu and E!), they’re going to do amazing, sweetie.