YouTube Drama: James Charles and Tati Westbrook

Prem Posted by Prem at May 13, 2019 15:19:10 May 13, 2019 15:19:10

YouTube drama is the best drama, mostly because I’m jealous that young twenty somethings get to film themselves talking at a camera and earn enough money to buy mansions. The best part? This particular gossip starts with a betrayal brand deal for (wait for it) HAIR CARE VITAMINS!!!! (I’m still waiting for Jameela Jamil to break through a wall to yell at me about the dangers of celebrity-promoted beauty and health products.)

This week’s drama comes from the Beauty Guru corner of YouTube, a term which refers to the thousands of channels dedicated to beauty, make-up, and wellness. Even if you’re not a YouTube regular, this drama was such a big deal that chances are in the aftermath of the explosion, some of the debris might have landed in your timelines and newsfeeds. 

Some Context:
Here’s a quick rundown if you’re reading this all like “who the f-ck are all of these people and why do I care?” I promise, the gossip is worth it. 

The Characters:
Tati “I Can See Your Halo (Beauty)” Westbrook
Tati Westbrook launched a channel called “GlamLifeGuru” in 2010 where she reviewed beauty products and provided makeup tutorials and tips. She became close friends with James Charles early in his career, mentoring him and basically becoming his second parent to help him raise his profile. In 2018, Tati also launched a nutraceutical/supplements brand called Halo Beauty that she runs with her husband James (not Charles). Tati is 37. 

James “Kontroversy King” Charles
James Charles is a YouTuber who launched his channel in 2015 and became one of the biggest beauty channels on the site. Prior to this weekend, he had over 16 million subscribers. In 2016, he became the first male spokesmodel for CoverGirl, and worked with numerous celebrities including Iggy Azalea on her recent music video “Sally Walker” where he apparently braved a snowstorm to be there. James has been the face of many controversies including insensitive jokes about Africa and Ebola, beef with Ariana Grande, beef with the cast of the movie It, and transphobic comments like the fact that he wasn’t “fully gay” because he had been attracted to trans men. James turns 20 on May 23. 

The Lead Up:
Honestly, there’s too much. E! does a great summary of what happened, as does Refinery29.  

Short Version:
James promoted a competing brand (Sugar Bear) instead of his good friend Tati’s Halo Beauty. Tati posted an emotional Instagram story vagueing about it that went viral. James tearfully apologized on his story, claiming that it was due to Sugar Bear’s help with his security at Coachella. Another YouTuber, Gabriel Zamora (who I’m calling “discount Gamora”), called out Tati. Tati posted this video on Friday, blowing up YouTube.

 

The video trended #1 on YouTube earlier this weekend. It’s basically 43 minutes of Tati scalping James Charles, pulling out facts and receipts, and reading him for filth while presenting her side of the story. I thought I’d get bored watching, but I was like this for the entire duration:

 

It’s the year of scammers, and according to Tati, Charles is one of them. She calls Charles out for lying about selling out to her competitor’s brand, for aggressively hitting on a straight waiter at her birthday party, and for continuously trying to use his celebrity status to try and “crack” straight men and turn them gay. This is part of a much more alarming trend in the YouTube community where stars use their power to solicit sexual pictures, videos, and texts from their sometimes-underage fans. Recently, YouTuber Austin Jones was sentenced for 10 years in prison for this, and last week, ProJared’s wife unleashed a Tweetstorm after their divorce announcement, citing similar behavior

Tati also knocks Charles’s character, claiming that he benefitted immensely from her support and expertise, yet never returned the favour, or even appreciated the effort. She even claims to know that “he has a way of just getting what he wants.” The video is SCATHING and worth a watch for its own entertainment value, but it’s also fascinating from a gossip point of view. 

Tati claims that she “normally doesn’t go social” but was prompted to after discount Gamora’s hurtful comments, James Charles’s delay in telling her the truth, and his decision to speak to “drama channels” to protect his image. (Sidenote, in the YouTube world, instead of providing exclusives to publications, YouTubers will “speak to specific drama channels” who will then make their own videos about the ensuing conflict.)

Traditional celebrities don’t deal with their sh-t like this, airing their dirty laundry in videos where they speak directly to the camera. Aside from the odd thrown shoe and elbow at a Harper Bazaar’s party, celebrities prefer to vague about their conflicts, leaving subtle (or not-so-subtle) clues that force gossip lovers like us to speculate about what went down. Think Katy Perry vs. TayTay, who created a whole song about it (Bad Blood). Or Mariah and Eminem (Obsessed). With celebrities, image is super important and these subtle tools in the PR playbook allow them to spin the narrative how they want (unless they want to be excluded from it), without implicating themselves directly or having to present the receipts. 

You know who calls out sh-t when they see it? Reality Stars. Like the Kardashians or the Real Housewives. Drama is a place to confront each other and expose the lying bitches. In Reality TV, the edit is powerful so you need to call someone out directly so that their words can’t be minced.  

With the birth of the social media star, audience participation in drama has made it much more difficult (but way more entertaining) to control the spread of the story. Everything is recorded and Twitter detectives suddenly find sh-t from 2000 years ago and have the screenshots to prove it. This means that videos like Tati’s (and James’s subsequent apology) are important ways to set the record straight. You’ll notice, the videos are always minimally lit and edited, and the subject talks directly to the camera, often showing real, unedited emotion. 

Social media stars always present a planned, strategized version of themselves, but the technology makes it appear like it’s a full picture of their lives. It’s the struggle that every star faces. How do you seem authentic while still carefully curating your image and your brand? It reminds me of the televised interviews when scandals erupted in the newspapers. Oprah interviewing MJ, Barbara Walters interviewing Monica Lewinsky, or even recently, Anderson Cooper interviewing Stormy Daniels. In each of these cases, the scandal had become so big that key players felt the need to assert their point of view.

Tati is an expert at this balance, and she demonstrates her knowledge in building her brand. The lighting is perfect, the backdrop is clean but visually balanced, the makeup is flawless (obviously), and her presentation is phenomenal. Her tone is measured and calm, her words are practiced and smooth, and her flow is logical and researched. She’s careful to justify her actions while retaining her morality, and she manages to criticize James Charles without seeming vicious. The result is that even though her video is long, you walk away believing that her account is truthful but that she’s not being vindictive. 

Compare this to James Charles’s video, where he’s basically half asleep, almost whispering, and filled with almost too much emotion that might be real, but probably isn’t. (Just look at this parody video) James starts off the video explaining that he just woke up because he’s travelling. A humble brag? At the beginning of an apology video? Contrast that to Tati’s opening, where she features videos of them collaborating to imply the toll this break in friendship has had on her. 

James and Tati are on different planets when it comes to image management. Granted, James is 17 years younger than Tati, which explains his immaturity in handling this situation, and many others. At 20, I don’t know if I could have handled the pressure and immense fame that Charles has. At the same time, age can only explain so much, and in a world where public opinion matters so much, James is fighting a battle he cannot win. Tati knows what she’s doing, and as a result, seems to be winning. As of this post, Charles has lost over 2.5 million followers, including Kylie Jenner, Shawn Mendez, and Iggy Azalea! On the other hand, Tati has gained over 1.5 followers and is still going! Tati knows the social media rules like Meghan Markle knows the celebrity rules. In both cases, they’re winning because of experience. (Wish we could say the same for Constance Wu.)
 

Photos:
Theo Wargo/ Emma McIntyre/ Getty Images

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