From Netflix to Yeezy: How this year’s top-earning stars turned the business of celebrity into $6.1 billion, $200 million shy of last year’s haul.
From Kylie to Yeezy: how top-earning stars turned the business of fame into $6.1 billion.
In one of the biggest celebrity cash-outs of all time, Kylie Jenner agreed to sell 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics to beauty giant Coty in November. Her cut: $540 million before taxes, by Forbes’ estimates—more than Wall Street thought it was worth, and more than enough to crown her this year’s topearning celebrity. Right behind her at No. 2 is brotherin-law Kanye West, who brought in all but $10 million or so of his estimated $170 million in pretax earnings from his high-end sneaker brand, Yeezy.
But this cash-grabbing clan would rather talk about their “billions” than their millions. “It’s fair to say that everything the Kardashian-Jenner family does is oversized . . . . To stay on-brand, it needs to be bigger than it is,” says Stephanie Wissink, a consumer product analyst at Jefferies. That’s what led Kanye to open his books to Forbes in April to prove he’s a billionaire. America’s hip-hop genius sent over documents outlining the massive royalty checks Adidas sends him, plus an accounting of his assets, all the way down to $297,050 worth of livestock on his Wyoming ranches. We pegged his net worth at $1.3 billion. (Kanye maintains he’s worth well more than double that.)
Why insist on paperwork? When dealing with such oversized ambitions, verification is key. The Coty sale backed up our estimate, based on the value of Kylie Cosmetics, that Kylie Jenner was the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. (Her net worth has now fallen below $1 billion as Forbes has reevaluated her business amid the pandemic.) But new filings released by Coty lay bare one of the family’s best-kept secrets: Kylie’s company is substantially smaller than she claimed. Kylie and her mother, Kris Jenner, who helps run the business, had been insisting that Kylie Cosmetics was generating over $300 million in revenue every year since 2016—even going so far as to provide Forbes with tax returns, which she signed and says were submitted to the IRS. While we can’t prove that those documents were fake (though it’s likely), it’s clear that Kylie’s camp has been lying. The filings indicate that sales were just $125 million in 2018, not $360 million as her reps had previously claimed. Then there’s Kylie’s skin-care line, which it said did $100 million in sales in less than two months last year; the filings show it was actually “on track” to end the year with revenue of $25 million.
Pressed for answers on the many discrepancies, the typically chatty Jenners did something out of character: They stopped answering our questions.
The hotshot who plays a billionaire on Netflix’s Six Underground and stars in its upcoming film Red Notice collected $48.5 million from the streaming giant in the past year, more than anyone on this list; all together, the stars here pulled in $220 million from Netflix, up 200% from 2019, bringing the five-year total to nearly $600 million.
Winner of five Grammys this year. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was the No. 1 album of 2019, with 3.9 million units sold. She reportedly collected $25 million from Apple for a documentary about her life and career, and if the coronavirus hadn’t killed her arena tour, she might have cracked the Top 20.
He played the Super Bowl for free, but his Astroworld tour grossed $53.5 million in 2019, the year’s top hip-hop road show. He followed it with a free Fortnite concert series for over 27 million viewers—far more than saw Astroworld—when the pandemic hit, helping boost sales of his Cactus Jack products: sneakers, action figures and more.
A mix of Japanese and Haitian heritage (and a monster backhand) make her a dream for marketers including Nike, Nissan and a dozen others that signed endorsement deals with the 22-year-old ace ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Back-to-back Grand Slam wins and a massive overseas following have made Osaka the top-earning female athlete for the first time.
METHODOLOGY: This list ranks “front of the camera” stars worldwide using pretax earnings from June 2019 through May 2020 before deducting fees for managers, lawyers and agents. Figures are based on information from Nielsen Music/MRC Data, Pollstar, IMDB, NPD BookScan and ComScore, as well as interviews with industry experts and many of the stars themselves.