Michelle Phan, YouTube’s OG beauty influencer, two years ago told fans she was quitting the video platform, saying she was unhappy, exhausted from the grind and needed time off to reset. Now, she’s back on YouTube — but not with the vlog videos that catapulted Phan to internet fame.
Early Saturday, Phan launched a live stream on her channel called “24/7 Magic Hour Radio”: a looping feed of songs she’s hand-picked from music artists she supports. Her return to YouTube comes two years to the day since she posted her farewell video on June 1, 2017.
Make no mistake: Her new project is a business venture. In an exclusive interview with Variety, Phan said her new 24-hour music live-stream — with “vibe-y, chill” mood music — is to promote artists who use Thematic, an online marketplace that lets musicians license their work with pre-cleared rights to video creators. Phan is one of the founders and investors in Thematic.
“It’s a passion project of mine,” she said. “That’s how it started with my first beauty video in 2007. It was something I was interested in sharing.”
Artists whose music Phan will feature in her music stream include Omar Apollo, La Hara, Valntn, Ryan Little, Qveen Herby, ninjoi. Cody Lovaas, Kevin Garrett and Dylan Rockoff. The 24/7 Magic Hour Radio live-stream includes an animated version of Phan created by Hanna Han (Instagram’s Naked Cherry), a Seoul-based animator and illustrator.
Even though Phan’s YouTube channel has been fallow for the last two years, it still has 8.8 million subscribers. Her hope is that the 24-hour music live-stream will provide more exposure for Thematic and the artists who participate in the marketplace — although it’s unclear how much of her previous fanbase will tune in to listen to Phan’s chillaxing music mix. She says Thematic provides a much fairer deal for musicians than the traditional record industry, which she believes uses outdated copyright right laws to prey on music artists and YouTubers alike.
“I’ve seen that when YouTubers become big, the labels come in and make copyright claims,” Phan said. On the other side of the equation, she said, “music artists, if they’re not educated, miss out on money they could make from royalties.” On Thematic, she’s set up a page for music artists to submit their songs for a chance to be featured on Magic Hour Radio.
Phan has personal experience in being targeted by a music label: In 2014, she was sued by EDM music company Ultra Records, which alleged she used music from several of its artists without permission. The dispute inspired her to launch her own attempt to create an indie music label.
The Vietnamese-American entrepreneur-influencer started posting makeup tutorials on YouTube 12 years ago while she was working as a waitress at a Florida sushi restaurant. Phan, who’s now 32 and lives in L.A., was able to walk away from her YouTube career because she’s made a mint from her various business ventures. In 2017, she sold her stake in Ipsy, the beauty-sample-box subscription company she co-founded that has been valued at $500 million. Today, Phan owns the Em Cosmetics line, which she bought back from initial partner L’Oréal.
Asked whether she’ll return to vlogging on her YouTube channel at some point, Phan declined to say. “I’m just having fun with it right now,” she said.
Currently, Phan said, she isn’t enabling ads on the YouTube live-stream but said, “I want to give back to artists in a meaningful way.” She noted that some 24-hour YouTube music channels can make upwards of $20,000 per month.
Phan has hired some staff to help manage 24/7 Magic Hour Radio, but she’s curating all the playlists herself. “All I need is a computer that runs 24-7,” she said.