For Variety’s Power of Young Hollywood issue, we interviewed TikTok stars about their lives in quarantine.
Emma Chamberlain is blonde again. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to dye my hair because I just want to feel something,'” said the internet “it” girl in a Zoom interview with Variety. Chamberlain, who rose to YouTube fame in 2018, has finessed the art of digital success–and all before she turned 20. She has nearly 10 million subscribers on YouTube, 9.8 million followers on Instagram, and another 7 million followers on TikTok. This is how she does it.
You changed your hair color. Better than bangs, right?
Oh my God, no bangs for me. I don’t think that’d be good. I don’t think that there’s a scenario that would lead me there. Maybe if one of my cats ran away, I feel like I’d lose it. I’d probably dye my hair green before I get bangs. That’s how scared of bangs I am.
What have you been doing in quarantine?
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I have done everything under the sun. I started cooking. I’ve been playing Fortnite. I watched a bunch of Netflix documentaries, a bunch of conspiracy theory videos. “Tiger King,” I watched that of course.
What is your loungewear situation like?
It is evolving. This is not even on purpose. I’m wearing my own merch sweats. These haven’t come out yet, but they’re purple and they say “Emma Chamberlain sucks” on them. I was not going to sell sweatpants unless they were the softest ones I’d ever touched in my life.
When did you start making your own merchandise?
I started making merch from the beginning. Like when I had 50,000 subscribers, I think I made my first merch. I made little graphic designs on some editing software and then put it on red bubble, actually. That’s how I sold my merch in the beginning. I really made no money from it to be honest but I just did it because people were requesting it. And then ever since I’ve always had merch.
You’ve inspired a certain look, how would you describe your own style?
My merch has always been the comfy side of things. I’m not doing fashion pieces as much. It’s more of a lighter side of like fashion. I like doing things that are funny to me, but also could be styled in a cool way. So it’s finding that balance. When it comes to my actual day-to-day style, I’m all over the place. Sometimes I’m wearing a skirt with a colored shirt and I’m kind of preppy, but then the next day I’m wearing Dickies and a hoodie.
What’s it like to be in quarantine as a digital content creator?
Honestly at first it was really bugging me because I’m a people person for sure. For me, going to meetings and doing little things like that, those were my social interactions. So now that that’s being taken away, it’s definitely kind of lonely. Zoom has grown on me actually. I hated it, but it’s kind of good because I feel like it’s super convenient and I get a lot more done. I feel like so much more gets done now. Being in person for a meeting is great, but you really do get the same thing done on Zoom most of the time. I don’t have to waste gas. It’s better for the planet. It’s kind of amazing.
What are your thoughts on Zoom weddings?
That is sad to me. You do get married once and I get it, but I don’t know. I mean to each their own, but … Do I even need to comment on this? God, I mean, we should all know that this just shouldn’t happen. I also feel so bad. That would be so lame, like if your wedding got canceled. God, I would hope that the venues would be like, “Money back, money back. Fine.” Just wait. Let’s postpone this to 2050 when this is all f–ing over. But anyway, yeah, that’s really depressing to me.
Do you consider yourself famous?
No. I mean, anybody who would hear me say that would be like, “Come on, that’s annoying.” I mean, I don’t even know what that means, but I don’t feel like that. So, because I don’t feel like that, the number on my screen to me is like, O.K., well that is what that is, but I don’t feel any difference. I don’t feel like I’m famous and I hate that word with every bone in my body, but I think the moment where something kind of clicked for me was when I was on a magazine and I was like, “Oh shit, this is a little bit different.” I think it was a moment for me where I was like, “I can’t run away from this conversation that I need to have with myself. This is what’s going on.” I still hate the word though.
When you were starting out, how did you know how to navigate fame without an agent or manager or publicist?
I’ve never talked about that before. Working with brands was pretty much out of the question just because it’s risky to be doing all that stuff without a legal team. Even getting in connection with brands and stuff was really tough and doing any kind of venture, if you will, was virtually impossible. I would spend literally three hours a day reading emails and at the same time I was editing, like, 30 hours a week on videos. I’m really glad that I had that phase of my career because now I’m so appreciative of my team and everything that they do for me, because, without them, I would be so overwhelmed. I probably would have quit by now. But it was really confusing and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and I was a child and it was really hard. Now I have a team that does it for me and helps hold my hand through the process.
How do your social media platforms differ from each other?
YouTube is my go-to. It’s a fun portrayal of my personality, but it’s actually pretty intimate because there’s conversation involved. Instagram is strictly me getting to put on my outfits and post them. It’s kind of a mixture of fashion and fun, random stuff. I like that because I like clothes more than most things, so that’s a fun place for that. And then with TikTok, it’s just no rules. Who even knows what I’m doing. It’s just fun and chill. It’s not a source of income for me, it’s just something I do for fun.
You were on TikTok in the beginning but didn’t started posting frequently until late last year. Why did you take a break from the app?
So basically a company bought Musical.ly and then everything transferred over. My friends and I used to use Musical.ly as a joke and it was just fun. Then it turned into TikTok. I immediately was like, “O.K., let me check this out.” I tried it out, it didn’t really click for me, couldn’t really figure out to make content on it. It was not even close to the platform it is now. They’ve added so much stuff and the algorithm is crazy now and that wasn’t the case back then. So then I took a break because I [didn’t] really see how I could use this and have fun on it. Then TikTok started and I refused to get on it because I was weirdly against it for some reason. I guess I kind of thought it was still Musical.ly, which was just lip syncing and I don’t want to do that, so I’m not gonna do it. But then it ended up being more of a Vine, Musical.ly medley and I was like, “This is actually kind of incredible.” And now here we are and I love it. It took me awhile. You have to also learn about the community that’s on there. Like all the jokes and the inside jokes, it’s like joining a new friend group.
Who are your favorite creators on TikTok?
There’s this girl who’s an artist. Her name is Faux Shmoe and she makes these little movie characters out of clay. Amazing. Another one, his name is Fibulaa. He’s super funny. Lady Efron is really funny. Skincare By Hyram is great. Jeremy Scheck cooks. I love him. Tabitha Brown is amazing. Brittany Broski is amazing.
Let’s talk about your dance content on TikTok.
I used to put effort into the dances, but then it would make me cringe when I’d watch them again later. So I was like, you know what? I still want to learn all the dances because I like knowing how to do them, but I’m going to stop with the effort so that I don’t have to look back later and cringe. So it’s a win win for me. But I was a cheerleader, so that’s why I like liked dancing with a purpose because I did cheer.
Did you watch “Cheer” on Netflix?
I didn’t watch the full thing and I don’t know why. I think it’s almost because I was so in the community. I miss cheer. It was also kind of sad for me weirdly because I really miss it a lot. It was kind of doing bad things to my brain. It was making me want to do it again. And I was like, “Emma, in no way, shape or form should you ever do cheer again.”
Are you worried that these platforms could get deleted or banned as someone who makes money off them?
I used to get really afraid of that. I do think that with most of them, it’s kind of an irrational fear. Like for example, with YouTube, I don’t see YouTube going anywhere. I don’t put all my eggs in one basket. I try to be on every platform, you know? I also have a podcast and my coffee company. I’m trying to do other things at the same time so that no matter what happens, I have many things that I’m passionate about and excited about so that I don’t feel this pressure on one thing.
Other things will always be invented.
It’s about adapting. There’s no way in this time that if one platform went away that it wouldn’t get replaced with something new the next week, or people would start using another one more. So I’m not too worried about it. I also feel like the thing is, when you build a community that’s really strong with people that love you they’ll kind of follow you wherever you go, usually. They’ll find you wherever you go, if they want to. The real ones will come with you, you know?
What will you do if TikTok gets banned?
I mean, I would be sad a little bit, but I also think it would be kind of a relief because it is kind of addicting from viewer standpoint. As a viewer, it is really addicting and I can spend a lot of time on it and I actually think it might make my anxiety kind of bad. Talk about a matrix mentality. It’s so much content in such a short amount of time, from so many different people. It’s also such a curated algorithm that it’s a little bit dangerous. Don’t get me wrong. I love it. But if it went away? Everything happens for a reason and I’d be like, you know what — it was time. Time for me to get a hobby. No joke, it’s time for me to get back to my life.