It was the Internet fight to end all internet fights. Tati Westbrook vs James Charles; beauty YouTuber vs beauty YouTuber. Their spat was kick-started by a 44-minute video Tati posted in May after James supported a rival’s haircare supplement. In it, she disowned her former friend, accusing him of predatory behaviour towards straight men (accusations he denied) and of betraying her trust. James lost three million subscribers, despite a tearful apology video.
In short, it was a salacious saga – and with a barrage of tweets and reaction videos posted minute by minute, in certain corners of the internet it felt like the news story of the year. But if you even heard about it, there’s a good chance your first thought was... who on earth are these people? Welcome to the world of the YouTube megastars: a new yet hugely bankable generation of internet celebrity. As the second most popular social media platform after Facebook – and perhaps the one most driven by personality – YouTube has become a breeding ground for influencers with huge followings.
LA-based Tati, 37 – aka GlamLifeGuru – has around 10 million subscribers for her relatable make-up tutorials. Many people credit her as paving the way for younger stars like James, 20, who lives in New York; she even mentored him when he started uploading his videos three years ago. Since then, he’s built an audience of 15 million subscribers, and brought Birmingham city centre to a standstill in January when 8,000 fans flocked to the Bullring to meet him. Then there’s PewDiePie, KSI, Jake Paul, Logan Paul... and if none of these names sound familiar, it may be because you were born before 1995. That’s what journalist Chris Stokel-Walker found when he wrote his book YouTubers about these new stars who, despite having access to audiences that traditional media channels would kill for, are far from household names. ‘Ask people under the age of 24, and they’ll know these names,’ he says. ‘But as soon as you get over the age of 24, the perception falls off a cliff.’
And yet, whatever field you can imagine, there’s probably a YouTube niche with its own stars dedicated to it, be that beauty, fashion, pranks or toys. Some upload ‘hauls’ of clothes or products they’ve bought – unpacking their shopping for an audience – while others live-stream themselves playing video games. What they all have in common is that their followers see them as authentic. ‘It’s carefully curated authenticity,’ says Stokel-Walker. ‘But what separates YouTubers from mainstream celebrities is that impression of accessibility.’ They achieve this by replying directly to comments below their videos and often talking directly to camera.
As a result, subscribers see themselves as friends, rather than as an audience. That ‘friendship’ generates a lot of money. Most YouTubers enjoy income from advertising, getting roughly 55% of revenue from ads placed on their videos (YouTube owner Google gets the rest). According to analytics website Social Blade, Tati makes up to £2,000 for any video with more than a million views. Meanwhile, last year’s highest-paid YouTuber was seven-year-old Ryan Kaji, whose following for his channel Ryan ToysReview – 19 million – helped him earn $22m (£20m), according to Forbes. If you’re big enough, you can branch out into merchandise – James Charles has a clothing and make-up line where a 39-shade eye palette will set you back £39 – and other platforms. A 2018 Instagram rich list compiled by Hopper HQ claimed James could make around $9,000 from a single Instagram post, while CelebrityNetWorth. com estimates his at about $12m.
But with mega celebrity comes potential for mega drama: rows like the one between Tati and James happen all the time. Drama is built into the platform itself, with a cottage industry of ‘tea’ (slang for truth or gossip) accounts having sprung up around it. The minute a YouTube argument erupts between stars with significant followings, other creators begin making reaction videos, trying to capitalise on the views such controversy generates. Tati’s original post calling out James stood at around 40 million views before it was taken down; meanwhile, a channel called DramaAlert has racked up about 12 million views over four videos chronicling the falling out, with headlines like ‘James Charles losing subs EXPLAINED’. Hosted by a YouTuber named DJ Keemstar, 37, it’s been dubbed ‘the TMZ of YouTube’, following the ins and outs of rows and interviewing the participants for the detail.
DramaAlert has built the blueprint for the way feuds are covered on the platform, but there are now countless other accounts such as Tea Spill, which follows the beauty YouTube community – from Kylie Jenner’s new skin products to, you guessed it, James v Tati (the subject of its most popular video to date, with 4.4 million views). The format varies – some channels, like Keemstar, have their creator talking into a camera; others, like Tea Spill, chronicle a story through written titles. Without a presenter, it’s not always easy to say who is behind a channel, but their creators tend to be young YouTube users, even teenagers, filling a gap left by traditional media. SocialBlade puts Tea Spill’s monthly earnings as around £20,000.
Why does this all matter? Well, as Stokel-Walker puts it, these YouTubers are the world’s ‘new celebrities’. ‘With two billion monthly active users (bearing in mind that half the world’s population doesn’t have internet access, and 1.5 billion people live in China, with no access to YouTube), these people are the stars of a platform that is the new media,’ he says. And, slowly but surely, some are going mainstream. British beauty YouTuber Zoe Sugg, better known as Zoella, has a line of products in Superdrug. US YouTuber Lily Singh is hosting a late-night TV show later this year and, before his spat, James Charles attended the Met Gala. Still, many more YouTubers are happy with their online-only fame: redefining what celebrity means.
For now, James’s feud with Tati has waned: just the other week he returned to YouTube with a video that trended as the site’s most-watched. But it’s only a matter of time before the next YouTuber tea is spilt..
Debrief Zoella's Wardrobe According To Her YouTube
Zoella may have a 37 fashion and beauty dedicated videos, but not one made it into her top 10 most viewed. For the sake of research I watched a few. I learnt she likes to speak slowly about what she ordered online from ASOS and Pull & Bear. If a haul video gets your juice's flowing watch away but beware these clips are filled with product placements.
Thumbing through Zoella's Instagram I was convinced she was a hipster. Between the flat whites and graffiti pics are denim-on-denim selfies, pensive shots of her wearing wire-frame reading glasses and semi-ironic slogan tops. However, this could not be further from her Youtube look. Like miles and miles away. Like a galaxy away.
According to her fifth most viewed video, Zoella actually started recording the everyday aspects of her day-to-day existence at just 11-years-old. To celebrate a subscriber milestone Miss Sugg let us thirsty viewers see what tween Zoella packed for a family holiday. One thing is ludicrously clear: pre-teen Zoe is far edgier. Between the on-trend hair slides, collection of chokers and spaghetti strap tops, this young girl could outpace grown-up Zoella in the style stakes.
It's a rare day when this blogger breaks out of her twee stripes or plain-top-and-jeans uniform, but when she does it makes a nuclear impact. Take this camouflage top for instance or that eighties-twinged sweater - it's so unexpected it has me sitting up straighter and listening a little closer.
Zoella is so chirpy and 'normal' she gets accused of being 'basic'. Naturally, the fact that she loves a plain coloured t-shirt should come as no surprise nor the fact that she rarely accessorises beyond a Michael Kors watch. Very relatable.
Zoella lives her life on screen and even though her income may have skyrocketed in the last decade her wardrobe has remained very grounded. She likes clothes from the brands we like to shop from - Topshop, H&M and ASOS. While she's not jettisoned herself onto the red carpet or other starry walks of life she does one thing very differently from the rest of us: she sits around her bedroom all day in a face of stage make-up. Zoella is rarely seen without foundation, blusher, bronzer, fake lashes and a triptych of eyeshadow shades.
There's something passively cute about a Peter Pan collar that makes me think of school children. It's disarming in its lack of pretension and just fashionable enough, which means Zoella can once again parlay visually to the crowd that she is normal, she is relatable, she is accessible.
Zoella's funny 'helllooooo' and affable giggle didn't shock me, but her language did. She's 28 and she uses words like 'poopey' and 'willy', she talks like a pre-teen unsure of how rude they can be. But, this childish persona allows her to be zany. She throws cream pies, gets mucky like a clown and it's adorable. Yeah, I enjoyed the fact she had attractive G-Plan furniture and lights Dyptique candles with abandon, but I continued watching for her PG kookiness.