Byron Baes Is Australia's Instagram-Ready Version of The Hills—But How Real Is It?

Netflix's Byron Baes takes viewers inside the epicenter of influencers in Australia, but how real is the drama down under? E! News has the exclusive details on your next docu-soap binge.

By Tierney Bricker Mar 19, 2022 12:00 PMTags

A love triangle featuring former Bachelor and Love Island contestants, the most-followed man in Australia and a sound healing session to salvage a party's vibes: Welcome to Byron Bay.

Netflix's latest docu-soap Byron Baes takes viewers down under to the linen-filled, spiritual oasis that is the epi-center of Australian influencer culture. The eight-episode first season is basically a cross between The Hills and Selling Sunset, introducing a tight-knit group of friends who are all attempting to make it as artists, while also dating, feuding and, of course, attending parties each week to confront one another.

But something that sets Byron Baes apart from its predecessors is that social media—namely Instagram—is just as much of a main character as anyone in the cast. Jade, the aforementioned most popular male influencer in the country, proclaims, "For 10 years now, I've had my phone every single second of my life doing everything for my fans and my followers." Meanwhile, Elle, an environmentally conscience entrepreneur, commissions a sculpture of herself as a mermaid to save the coral reef. Naturally. 

And Byron Baes executive producer Emma Lamb knows exactly what casual viewers think of content creators, who say things like "I'm not an influencer, I'm an inspirer" without a hint of irony.

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"I think influencer is seen as a bad word," Lamb told E! News in a recent phone interview. "I think that there's a perception that they don't do any work and they just take selfies on the beach and that's that and they just show this super curated image of their life. But that's a real shame because, underneath those curated images, they are real people. For me, that's what we wanted to show in the series, is that they have all the same emotions, thoughts, feelings as everyone else."


Before they could go behind the filters, the producers had to assemble their cast of characters, with Lamb explaining they utilized Instagram and spoke to social media agents to narrow down the pool and find connections among the potential cast members. 

"It was important to find a group that had some shared history," Lamb said. "That's what we were searching for initially."

For that, the Bell sisters—fashion designer Jessica and model Lauren—were key, as was Nathan, a former contestant on Australia's version of The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, whom Lamb described as "a social connector, so he was that glue that pulled everyone together."

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Through them, the rest of the Byron cast was filled out by former Love Island Australia star and model Elias, brand manager and spiritual soul Hannah, punk rock artist Cai, spiritual coach and fire performer Simba, and fashionable couple Saskia and Frimmy. 

As an entryway for viewers into the beach town's community, two newcomers from the Gold Coast—think of it as the Las Vegas of Australia—arrive in the premiere: Aspiring singer-songwriter Sarah, who was approached through Instagram to be on the series, and Jade, an influencer who shot to social media stardom after a photo of him and Kim Kardashian at her fragrance launch went viral.


"Jade for us was a no-brainer in terms of being on the show because he is billed as Australia's most-followed man," Lamb explained. "So to make a show which is about influencers and influence culture he is somebody that you would absolutely be interested in. On top of that, he's obviously got an amazing personality and is incredibly interesting. Jade genuinely wanted to make friends and to meet new people because while he has got a lot of followers, he's talked a lot about the fact that he doesn't have many real friends."

He also might not actually have that many real followers, at least according to Alex, the sharp-tongued social media manager who accused Jade of buying  a significant portion of his audience after allegedly discovering almost half of it was from Turkey. ("I've traveled to Turkey," Jade said in defending his numbrs. "I've traveled the world doing what I'm doing.")

Somewhat of an outlier among the Insta-ready cast, given his own social media accounts being private, Alex was "always approached on the basis of coming into the series as a cast member," Lamb said, much to Alex's own surprise. "In the early conversations, he thought we were approaching him to talk about all of his talent, and we were like, 'No, no, no its actually you we want to talk about being part of the series.'"

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Given his simultaneous understanding and skepticism of the influencer world, Alex became an integral part of the series, Lamb said, offering a vessel for the viewer who is likely eye-rolling along with him, which includes many of the residents of Byron Bay. 

After the series was announced in the spring of 2021, a group of surfers staged a protest, while Former Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson told ABC (Australian Broadcast Corporation) the project was offensive to the town. There was also controversy when it was reported production had begun without consulting with local Indigenous groups or the Byron Council, according to Echo. A petition related to the issue garnered over 9,500 signatures.


"Obviously, we didn't expect to get as big of a reaction as we got in Byron from the community," Lamb admitted. "I could see it from both sides, where it's bringing up issues in their community and that the show could potentially impact them. In terms of the show, it did present challenges to some extent, but we did work closely with incredible businesses and people in Byron that were on board with the production. It really helped us to elevate the look and feel of the show because we were able to showcase the incredible scenery and do things like four-wheel driving on beaches and horse-riding and all of those things. All of that lifted the series."

It isn't uncommon for a local community to rally against a reality series set within it, with Charleston residents resenting Southern Charm and SoCal locals rolling their eyes at Laguna Beach fans sporting Team LC t-shirts. And Lamb understands the reaction. 

"Byron is an incredible place. It's absolutely beautiful. It's a really fascinating place and as with any small town, I think the people are very protective of their community and there really is that community spirit there" she explained. "Those are all things to be celebrated and I understand where they are coming from. But I also feel like, in terms of the show, we didn't go there with the intention of dividing a community or causing issues. I think the show might not be for you and that's completely okay. We are not saying the show is representative of everything that Byron has to offer. We're saying it is representative of this small pocket in a community within Byron."

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Taking a deeper look at that niche group of influencers was something that intrigued Lamb, a veteran reality TV producer whose credits include Married At First Sight Australia, The Voice and The Real Housewives of Sydney

"I think that it is an interesting concept and we learned a lot in making the show about the influencer culture and how that works," Lamb said. "It's a very interesting discussion and in that world of Instagram, there are a lot of conversations around is it real, is it not real? In the docu-soap genre, there is the same conversation, so the two things go hand in hand."

And for the record, Lamb denied that Byron Baes is staged à la the later seasons of The Hills, insisting, "I think that all the people on the show are real and authentic, it's their real human emotions. That's the way in which we approached the series and I think that's key to making a successful series."

And given the recent success of Netflix's other docu-soaps like Selling Sunset and Bling Empire, hopes are high down under for a second season of Byron Baes.

"Obviously that's in the hands of the viewing public and Netflix," Lamb said. "But we would all to love to make a series two, as would the cast."

Byron Baes is streaming on Netflix.