CANCELLING COVERGIRL CHARLES: WHAT WENT DOWN?
For those who need (or want) the full run down as to how a 37-year-old woman and a 19-year-old man ended up feuding so publically, read about it here.
In a nutshell, Tati Westbrook, one of the original YouTube makeup gurus, was one of James Charles first mentors in the YouTube beauty industry. The 37 year old ‘mother figure’ took a young James (now 19) under her wing and taught him the ways of creating an online brand. Her mentoring worked. James amassed millions of YouTube subscribers, lucrative brand endorsements and got mobbed by fans wherever he went. Most famously, he became the first male face of Covergirl.
However, this perfect pairing was ripped apart with the release of a 43-minute long - yes 43 minute long - video entitled ‘BYE SISTER,’ from Tati. At the time of this writing, it has amassed over 46 million views on YouTube. In it, she ‘exposes’ James for the person he really is, behind the scenes. From marketing competitor brands to even allegations of predatory and unseemly behaviour towards straight men, the video blasting his behaviour was a bullet that fired straight into the heart of James’ subscriber list. While the finer details of the feud aren’t easy to follow, the big breaking point it seems, was James’ endorsement of a rival vitamin company (Tati has her own vitamin company that James neglected to support in the past).
James’ apology video (an ‘8 minute-long grovel’) was published quick and fast - but wasn’t enough. It’s now one of the most disliked YouTube videos on the platform (joining Rebecca Black’s Friday and Baby Shark Dance) - with over 2.8 million ‘thumbs down.’ Despite this, it still has over 47 million views - showing the undeniable appeal of the blend of interpersonal and professional dispute, playing out in the public arena.
IMMEDIATE IMPACT: CANCELLING CULTURE
The impact was immediate; James has gone from being a beloved star to an icon of ‘cancelled culture.’ He’s been rapidly rejected by fans en-mass, losing over 3 million subscribers in mere days (one of the biggest losses of subscribers in YouTube history). He lost a record breaking 1 million followers within 24 hours. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Shawn Mendes, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashion all said ‘BYE SISTER’, by unfollowing the young beauty guru on Instagram. There are already rumours of major endorsements being pulled.
The internet lost its mind as the drama unfolded with new updates every hour. Because of the enormous clout of both James Charles and Tati Westbrook, the tale of the two’s falling out reached far beyond the YouTube beauty communities - the drama of the revelations is still driving conversation in hundreds of mainstream media outlets. Senior Account Manager on the Thinkhouse Media Relations and Advocacy team, Donna, notes that the excitement and engagement with the story seemed to further legitimise influencer culture, due to the widespread commentary on the matter:
“I loved watching the drama of this story unfold. I think one thing that made it so engaging, was the fact that there were so many places to consume different information from - both direct from the source and comment and opinion. Tati made it clear that for her, it was important to release a video so she could fully control the narrative or her own story, James followed suit. You could then go to so many other places to hear YouTubers like Jeffree Starr, podcasters like Comments by Celebs (who did an emergency episode on it) and even waiters that served at Tati’s birthday party, add their opinion. ”
Other YouTube drama channels analysed every detail of the feud which allowed fans to get deep into the issues. Commentators pulled up old Tweets, screen grabs from old Instagram stories and even texts from friends, to ensure the story didn’t die - and it hasn’t. These pieces of ‘evidence’ are called ‘receipts’ - digital records that are kept in order to prove a story or back up a point:
“Receipts are a commodity in this world — not literal receipts that are printed after a purchase, but metaphorical receipts in the form of digital records that are supposed to prove innocence or guilt. (These often manifest as screenshots of private conversations, photos or videos.) When public fights break out, receipts are “stacked” and, eventually, someone is canceled.” Valeriya Safronova, NY Times
#JamesCharlesCancelled was trending on every major social network with thousands of memes to accompany the story. The scandal got so big, even CNN and Sky News were reporting on it.
It’s a tale as old as time; a person gets famous, something bad happens, and the public rejoices in their downfall. However, in this new era of ‘cancelled culture’, for the first time, the public doesn’t just have to watch as it unfolds - they actively take part and feel like they belong in its narrative. The story rapidly inspired hundreds of memes and some have even choreographed a dance to James’ apology video. With drama accounts devoted specifically to the scandal, it has never been easier for people to join in the conversation, unsubscribe and play their own part in the downfall of a celebrity. It’s the modern evolution of reality TV!
If a beloved 19 year old can fall from grace and have his reputation severely damaged in a couple of days, a company can experience exactly the same. Brands and organisations would be wise to be conscious of this ‘thank u, next’ phenomenon and cancelled culture. Be prepared for the eventuality of challenging debate.
From a brand perspective, have confidence in your core truths and communicate these honestly. Young people expect higher standards of conduct and fans will see through inauthentic communication. One of the major criticisms James' response was his poor apology. Apologies should be carefully considered. Don’t be averse to taking a breath and be considered about your response to difficult situations. You can read more on the art of the apology here.