Shane Dawson’s new documentary series, The Beautiful World of Jeffree Star, was originally teased as a look into YouTube’s contentious beauty world, one dominated by scandalous feuds and endless eye shadow palette launches. Instead, the series follows Dawson and Star as they team up to create a palette together — and in doing so, they naturally wander into drama of their own.
In the middle of the series’s run, top beauty YouTuber James Charles revealed that he would be releasing a new palette soon, too. Fans of Dawson and Star flooded Charles’ YouTube page to insult his work, including his palette and videos. Many claimed they were only going to buy Dawson’s palette to support him; others called out Charles’ product for not being as good. He eventually turned comments off.
On YouTube, palettes are grounds for fan wars in 2019, and the stakes are high: for the YouTubers behind them, there’s big money to be made.
James Charles’ primary palette sells for $39, and he claimed to sell out of the initial run in five minutes when it debuted in November 2018. Dawson and Star’s palette is even more expensive. The full 18-shade palette will sell for $52 when it goes on sale Friday, November 1st, and a nine-shade palette will sell for $28. They will also sell a $90 bundle of six lipsticks. Fans who want the entire collection, which also includes lip gloss, lip balm, and a bag, can get it in a package for $210.
Their “Conspiracy” palette could generate $17.5 million through in-store revenue sales and another $17.5 million on Star’s website, according to Morphe executives who talk about potential sales in the documentary series, as well as Star’s own calculations. Those figures sound huge, but Dawson and Star have a combined 39 million YouTube followers.
“You could go home with like $10 million,” Star says to Dawson in one episode. “How does that make you feel?”
Nearly every major beauty vlogger and guru has a makeup palette these days. And for several top beauty YouTubers, those palettes are made by the same company: Morphe, a decade-only brand that describes itself as being “created for the creators.” The company has partnered to distribute palettes with YouTubers including Jaclyn Hill, Charles, Star, and now Dawson. That means, regardless of who wins this season’s palette battle — Charles or Dawson — Morphe gets a slice.
In malls across the US and Canada, Morphe’s store walls are covered with faces of popular creators who are instantly recognizable to teens walking past. A 2018 study from beauty research firm Mintel found that male beauty YouTubers and influencers were having an effect on what makeup products sold at higher rates. Emine ErSelcuk, Morphe’s vice president of global retail, credits teaming up with influencers and YouTubers early in the company’s life as part of its success.
“We do influencer collaborations that are true to the vision of that beauty influencer,” ErSelcuk told Retail Insider in February. “And we’ve been very, very successful with this formula.”
Part of that is because YouTubers have a strong connection with their fans, and they’re able to build hype around their products. Dawson’s documentary was supposed to be about Star, a controversial beauty vlogger who has become a staple in the scene as well as the community around him, but it turned into a six-hour-long sales pitch for their new palette. It’s named “Conspiracy” in reference to Dawson’s past work.
“As much as people want to say that Shane Dawson is really authentic and they’re making this video showing the behind-the-scenes of the fashion industry, it’s just a six-part commercial for the palette,” Maggie Mae Fish, a YouTuber and actress who has examined YouTube’s beauty scene, told The Verge. “Shane positions it as, ‘We’re actually here to tear down the roles of this industry,’ but you’re here to sell your palette.”
His entry into the beauty community isn’t without its own controversy. Dawson isn’t a beauty vlogger, and people have accused him hopping on a popular YouTube trend to make a quick buck. But Dawson’s series is structured to fight this, making you sympathize with the challenges he’s faced selling merch in the past. Being ripped off by merchandise vendors and frustrations over not being more successful, especially compared to younger creators, is a consistent theme. By the time the fourth episode, “The $20 Million Dollar Deal with Jeffree Star,” happens, fans are made to feel like even though Dawson is new to this world, he deserves to be compensated.
That doesn’t take away from the excitement Dawson’s fans and Morphe’s customers have about buying the latest palette. It’s like people who buy every piece of merchandise a band releases or pay an exorbitant amount of money to see them in concert, Fish said. People within the beauty community have tied the rise of palettes to a generation growing up on Instagram where everything is visual first.
“I really sympathize with kids that go to school and see every other girl has the Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson palette, but they don’t and that sucks,” Fish said. “It is kind of a status thing. But if getting their favorite YouTubers’ products makes kids happy, that’s great.”