A week ago, beauty vlogger James Charles was attending the Met Gala on YouTube’s behalf and jetting off to Australia to meet thousands of fans. This week, he’s become YouTube’s latest villain, losing subscribers at a record rate, all because of a 43-minute takedown video by one of YouTube’s original beauty gurus.
The drama is a perfect example of how power dynamics work within the world of YouTube. Since the lengthy video was posted on Friday, Charles has lost more than 2.7 million subscribers and been pushed away by prominent vloggers. Meanwhile, the takedown video’s creator, Tati Westbrook, has gained close to 3.5 million subscribers.
Westbrook has vlogged about makeup and beauty for almost nine years. She’s not only seen as one of the most prominent creators working in the space today, but she is also a fairy godmother to aspiring beauty vloggers. Charles, easily one of the most famous beauty vloggers working today — with millions of views per video and a recent collaboration with the Kardashian family — is one of those artists Tati took a bet on. Now, after being close friends and collaborators for a few years, Tati has announced that she doesn’t want to “be friends” with him anymore.
“I don’t want to associate with you, and I need to say that very publicly so that this chapter can just be closed,” Westbrook said.
Her video, titled “Bye Sister,” called Charles out for behavior she disapproved of. Westbrook took issue with his use of Snapchat to promote a wellness brand that’s considered to be a direct competitor to her own company, and she said he was acting sexually “aggressive” with other men.
Westbrook’s video, which has more than 35 million views at the time of writing, also sparked immediate action within the YouTube community. Influential YouTubers like Emma Chamberlain, the Dolan Twins, Elijah Daniel, Tana Mongeau, Shane Dawson, and multimillionaire beauty entrepreneur Jeffree Star have either commented on the situation or distanced themselves from Charles.
A day later, Charles apologized in an eight-minute video called “tati,” saying he took responsibility for the fallout. “I’m so disappointed in myself that I ruined a relationship that did mean so much to me, even if I didn’t do the best job of showing it all the time,” Charles said. “What sucks the most is I know there is nothing I can say or do to ever earn that friendship or trust back.”
Rifts between friends become more than just a spat when it comes to YouTube creators since the relationships often end up as content. Being armed with the best video on the situation, and getting to it first, can be the difference between becoming YouTube’s new villain or hero.
Een, the host of Nerd City, one of YouTube’s most popular commentary channels, told The Verge that this situation is a “stunning display of power being shifted around.” Charles had survived multiple controversies in the past, including tweeting racist comments years ago. The only thing that changed here was who Charles got into a fight with.
Westbrook’s decision to post a 43-minute video on YouTube, ensuring that everyone within the industry — and, most importantly, her fans and Charles’ fans — saw it, was done for a reason. Westbrook said she felt justified in going public because Charles had been speaking to drama channels, but it was also designed to have a real impact.
Fighting with another YouTube creator gives viewers the opportunity to get involved and pick a side. That’s especially true when the situation appears to have an obvious victim and aggressor. Drama between friends can transform into a worldwide campaign for millions of strangers to stan a queen and cancel the culprit. This happens relatively often on YouTube, but it’s especially true within the beauty scene. “Makeup channels are like soap operas on steroids,” Een said.
This isn’t a rare occurrence within the YouTube community. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. For example, a couple of prominent beauty vloggers last year lost hundreds of thousands of followers after a series of fights went public. Much like Charles and Westbrook’s situation, the extended YouTube community and their millions of followers got involved by posting about it on Twitter, Instagram, and, of course, reacting to it on YouTube.
Drama drives attention, and creators know it. In 2017, Jake and Logan Paul racked up hundreds of millions of views on diss track music videos about other YouTubers they were feuding with at the time. It also leads to increased interaction, which can create more dedicated viewers. On TikTok, there are now countless videos showing young viewers dramatically throwing out eyeshadow palettes they bought from Charles.
While the numbers are absolutely in Westbrook’s favor, Charles isn’t without his defenders. Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, a controversial creator in his own right who has faced multiple incidents in the past over the use of racist language and anti-Semitic imagery, criticized the way Charles is being treated. Kjellberg said that although he couldn’t defend Charles’ actions, this type of behavior from other YouTube creators should be considered unacceptable.
“For a ‘mother figure’ to completely just drag this kid ... no one has a problem with that,” Kjellberg asked in his video. “No one has a problem with this? Over something that could be resolved in private? I’ve had plenty of YouTubers being unfair to me publicly that has been humiliating, but either we talk it out in private or I stop being friends with them. I can’t imagine just making a video publicly dragging someone instead of talking to them.”
The drama is certainly a big setback for Charles, but it’s unlikely to end his career, says Een. YouTuber controversies happen all the time, and attention spans are short.
“Since when did these dudes need to be squeaky clean anyway,” Een said. “He’ll shed the fans that wanted him to be a humble sweetheart, and then be fine.”