Before I write anything else: Allure’s June/July issue was published May 10 (we just didn’t see it until now), so the social context of the cover and the interview is just — “just” — coronavirus; it’s not glossing over the past week, because it hadn’t happened yet.
Okay. We last saw YouTuber Emma Chamberlain on February’s Cosmo, shot from beneath right up her nose and into some sleepy eyes. Apparently, per Allure’s effort, she’s still exhausted. This is… atrocious, right? It’s a terribly lifeless effort. She’s enervated. Her head hurts. I’m fatigued just looking at it. And for a beauty magazine where the cosmetics are king, I don’t think the makeup job on her eyes helps. There’s a photo in the profile online where she’s grinning to camera while wearing purple glittery eyeshadow, and while perhaps that one itself wouldn’t have worked for a cover — and I do understand the challenges of not wanting to look like your magazine is pretending everything is fine — it’s so much more personable. This just feels like her direction was #pandemicsadz.
The profile pieces have a vibe in common. Now, I cannot vouch for how either writer actually felt, obviously. But both articles have the air of a journo who can’t figure out how to make the subject interesting — or quite make sense of the trajectory of her fame and success — and therefore overcompensates by hurling compliments and adjectives and superlatives at it in the hopes that the math would add up. Now, I say that in reference to framing Emma’s professional achievements and appeal, but allow me to share this florid description from the Allure profile as well: “[H]er features are delicate, her wide eyes are a pale, crisp shade of blue — usually reserved for shading glaciers.” Or this spin on her deciding not to go to college (no mention of the fact that she dropped out of high school, so she’d have to finish that first): “She’s already become so many things the brightest, summa cum laudest graduates hope to be, and some they would never dream of being.” True! Some people want things, and others do not! It just all has the patina of A Bit Extra. She must have a great publicist. Two major magazine covers in five months a lot for someone who, essentially, is a very, very lucky white girl who dropped out of high school and into a Louis Vuitton deal and her own branded coffee (??), but who doesn’t have much else to say. Maybe Emma sold really well for Cosmo, but it makes me wonder what other YouTube voices out there would be worth elevating if people really looked for them.
And Emma, it should be noted again, is just 18. And so, as I said with the Cosmo story too, she’s still figuring out so much about herself and the world; if I were interviewed for a magazine at age 18 — or even today, most likely — I would be found sorely wanting. Which is not to denigrate 18-year olds. There are some who are eloquent and carry perspective beyond their ages, but it’s not super common, and nor it it supposed to be; that’s what actually living life is for. And thus, much of this sounds so… well, 18. Like, for example, her spinning Covid as a positive experience:
But in many ways, Chamberlain is relieved to have a reason to press pause. “I can’t put in my two-week notice and then go and do a little vacation, because I’m my own boss,” she says. “Weekends are not off for me. Nighttime, morning, early in the morning, there are no limits… I’ve been going for two years straight. So this is kind of a nice forced break.” She’s been passing the time playing Fortnite (a first for her), painting, and coming up with new ideas for videos. “It’s given me a lot of time to think. I have a lot of [new] ideas, which is such a relief because, my God, being out of ideas as a YouTuber is so tough. You end up making content people hate and then you get roasted,” Chamberlain says.
I sympathize with Creators’ Block, but that whole last sentiment about the plight of the YouTuber (especially in the midst of a pandemic causing so much other strife) is so… yep, 18. The piece makes a concession to Emma’s age at the end — the idea that it’s very hard for anyone at that point in her life to think about legacy or the way their existence might leave a meaningful footprint. Emma’s attempt at that is:
“I hope I would be seen as somebody who, this is kind of a big thing to say, is an inspiration to other girls — to anybody — to be a little bit more honest on the internet,” Chamberlain says. “Growing up on the internet, it was just a lot of fake stuff. Since I started on YouTube, many people are being so much more real, and I would like to think that I added to that, that I helped make people feel better in their own skin.” Chamberlain hesitates. Not many of us have to pinpoint our place in the American cultural landscape, ever, much less at 18. Finally, she puts it into words: “I would hope that people say, ‘She lifted the curtain.'”
Listen, even if I am too old and grouchy to connect with this person entirely, there are way worse legacies than honesty.