Last year I got like, a nose piercing. And it was totally like, because it would fit my whole cool artsy vibe, and not like because like, Emma Chamberlain had one. Totally not.
Okay, I’ll admit, Emma had a big influence on that decision. And so many other teenagers can attest to her major contribution to fashion and internet culture as a whole.
From being the headliner of the ‘VSCO girl’ aesthetic and making thrifting the next 'it' thing, to now perforating all our Pinterest feeds with the most scrumptious of outfit pairings - her candid, raw and transparent internet persona has won all our hearts during the last few years. But after skyrocketing her fame to millions and graduating to world-renowned stages like the Met Gala, does she still have that relatability that made everyone fall in love with her in the first place?
Fast-paced, offbeat and quick-cut beginnings
When Emma started her YouTube channel back in 2017, she was the platform’s girl next door - a breath of fresh air in an already saturated landscape of braggery and self-promotion. She was the teenage-girl-shaped window to the outside world - painting every mundane task like getting your driver’s license to shopping for clothes with a stupendously hilarious sense of humour, rough honesty, the occasional burp and an overactive stream of consciousness that gave her viewers their new best friend.
She quickly grew into her own unique editing style to reflect her personality - and even behind the extensive editing, fast-cuts, zoom-ins and special effects, these were just tools to add on to the x-factor of her content: her.
Drinking coffee with the algorithm
Of course, as her subscriber count grew, she naturally started to understand what her viewers and the algorithm would like. Thumbnails became more eye-catching with loud fonts and ironic edits, and titles became attention-grabby.
And yet Emma managed to do something very few could do on the YouTube landscape post fame - stay relatable. Her fans all knew that their parasocial relationship with her relied on one thing - it wasn’t her celebrity friends, or her new clothes - it was still what those moments of themselves they saw in her. Whether it was her unfiltered likeness, or venting about anything and everything to the camera, she hadn’t climbed on her high horse, even when it was suddenly right in front of her.
Fraternising with fame
Now, 2020 and 2021 were big years for Emma. She founded Chamberlain Coffee, her own coffee brand, and was invited as an interviewer to the Met Gala, the biggest fashion event of the year. This was a huge step in her career, and this was also about the time her videos started to change - quick monologues mellowed to softer narration, and random cuts transitioned to slower, mood music in the background.
Personally, I loved Emma’s newer videos before she became more irregular with her posting. It was refreshing, even inspiring, to see a young adult navigate through healthier habits like reading, cooking and being comfortable in your own company. I would hardly notice her big house, or expensive furniture, but more about how she lives all these different experiences that were still attainable for me too.
In her newer videos, she relies on her scripting and videography to tell a story, and yet her once-in-a-blue-moon vlogs of her in different countries still manage to garner millions of views.
And while many are quick to equate these changes with her new-found stardom, the global spotlight ‘getting to her head’ and making her distance herself from her fans and authenticity, we’re all equally quick to forget that she is also just a teenager, finally growing up. YouTube was something she started to get away from the restrictive conventions of school, which, luckily for her, became a career path.
It would be foolish for her to forcefully retain the same teenager-like craze and chaos in her videos if it was, one, not natural for her, and two, for all the possible brand endorsements that were coming her way.
Unfollow and unsubscribe?
The many criticisms of Emma today mimic the disconnect people feel with their long-lost friend - if they moved to Hollywood and started wearing Louis Vuitton. With luxury brands, her booming business and editorial shoots, Emma’s occasional candidness on her podcast, for example, seems a little on the surface, if not contradictory to her lifestyle posted on Instagram or YouTube.
Her feed now alternates between elaborately curated magazine covers, to outfit-of-the-day, self-clicked, 'fit pics', which leave her followers juggling with their perceptions of her. From a career-woman’s point of view, Emma is in an impossible limbo - she needs to stay open enough to connect with her audience as an influencer, but also show her versatility as a model by working with famous designers and professionals.
Even so, her podcast, Anything Goes, has been the target of much criticism - especially on her comments on religious, political and philosophical topics. Many people argue that her statements are not always well-researched, with adequate proof, and are often dangerous considering her huge following and consequent impact.
It is obvious that when she steers into territory that she’s not perceived as having enough knowledge of, her thoughts come across as more half-baked than anything. Obviously, when it comes to the podcast landscape, there are far worse personalities saying far worse things, but it is worth considering even our favourite celebrities' opinions with a grain of salt.
Apart from being barely active on YouTube, its obvious Emma is distancing herself from the ‘influencer’ lifestyle as she progresses to celebrity status. She has opened up about her mental health struggles on multiple occasions, and has said how making videos actually adds to her anxiety a lot of the time. The rich and influential being depressed or anxious is a difficult pill to swallow for many, but the two are not mutually exclusive. It is important that, regardless of how we feel about these people, we should treat their struggles with respect, if not empathy.
The thing is though, Emma became so famous because she was the fashion industry’s umbilical cord to the youth - and if the youth can’t relate to her anymore, businesses will start looking for the next big thing. It's important to see that for professionals like Emma to stay afloat, she needs to depend on income that cannot be based on the whims and fancies of an already volatile audience - so focusing on Chamberlain Coffee, Anything Goes, her endorsements with Aritzia and other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are the best way to go.
At the end of the day, her true fans continue to follow her not because of the flashy brand deals, but because they want to see their best friend succeed from humble beginnings, and ultimately, because of her.