James, now 24, was first accused of sending explicit photographs and inappropriate sexual messages to a 16-year-old fan in February of that year. However, James quickly claimed that he was misled into believing that the fan was 18, and allegedly blocked him as soon as he found out his actual age.
But this fan’s claim soon prompted a total of at least 15 boys and men to speak out about their alleged experiences with James, some of whom claimed that he’d inappropriately interacted with minors.
At the time, James responded with a now-deleted YouTube video titled “Holding Myself Accountable,” during which he apologized for his “desperate” behavior and admitted to messaging two 16-year-old boys — both of whom, he claimed, he was led to believe were 18.
James’s YouTube page was subsequently demonetized; he lost millions of subscribers, stopped hosting the miniseries, Instant Influencer, and severed ties with makeup brand Morphe, which he’d become closely affiliated with.
James took a break from producing YouTube content of his own, and when he returned in the summer of 2021 with a 30-minute video titled “An Open Conversation,” he still faced heaps of backlash.
Now, two years later, James is reflecting on the grooming allegations and aftermath of the controversy in extensive detail.
Sitting down with Cosmopolitan ahead of the release of his new makeup line, James outright denied being a “groomer” or a “predator,” though admitted that he did make a “big mistake.”
“I don’t want to sit here and fucking mope and whine and cry, because nobody wants to hear it,” he told the outlet. “I had to do a lot of thinking. Like, Okay, babe, this is your fault. No, you’re not a pedophile. No, you’re not a fucking groomer. No, you’re not a predator. But you made a big mistake.”
“I absolutely did fuck up,” he went on, before suggesting that the “meaning” of the term “grooming” is nowadays “misconstrued” because of how much it’s overused. As the outlet notes, anti-sexual violence organization RAINN defines grooming as “manipulative behaviors that an abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught.”
“I feel like that word is a very popular buzzword right now, especially in politics and stuff. But the actual meaning of it has been so misconstrued,” James said.
Then, referring to the first fan who publicly accused him of misconduct, James claimed, “The conversation lasted one hour. I don’t know this person; I’ve never met this person. Nothing happened between me and this actual person, so to use that word [grooming] is so categorically incorrect.”
What’s more, James recalled feeling “disgusted” and “mortified” after allegedly finding out that this fan was 16. “I’ve never been more disgusted in my life than when I found out that that kid was 16 years old,” he said. “I was mortified, absolutely mortified.”
The reporter noted that when they reached out to the fan in question for comment, they claimed that they'd privately apologized to James a few months back for falsely telling him they were 18 and making a TikTok that “blew the situation up.”
As for the 15 other people who made public allegations, James claimed that some of the screenshots that circulated across social media were “completely fake” and depicted conversations that “never even happened.”
“The source of where the list came from was not doing any sort of research, no fact-checking,” he said.
Amid all of the backlash, the reporter notes that James was forced to hire security after having his property spray-painted and food thrown into his yard. Going on to recount the aftermath himself, James recalled crying himself to sleep “every single night” and thinking about suicide.
“I can’t even begin to explain to you how bad that week of my life was,” he said. “I was crying myself to sleep every single night. I was sitting there in bed staring at my phone. I wanted to kill myself. I wasn’t talking to anybody.”
“I think I’ve always been somebody who’s been able to cope,” he continued. “I’ve been able to turn my phone off, to go see my family, to have friends over... With this situation, it was really scary because my coping mechanisms weren’t coping. It was the first time where I was like, Oh, fuck. I actually don’t know what to do here... I eventually got to a point where I was like, This is not healthy. This is not good. This is getting to a really fucking dark place.”
James went on to tell the reporter that things got even more difficult when his younger brother, who used to regularly feature in his YouTube videos, stopped speaking to him because of the allegations. He noted that it’s now been two years since they last spoke.
Today, James said that he’s far more cautious when instigating romantic conversations with people he doesn’t know. “I’m a club bouncer at this point,” he said.
“I see a lot of people saying, ‘Oh my God, nothing even happened to him, he got away from this scot-free with no sort of repercussions,’” he added. “That is so far from the truth. It certainly wasn’t an overnight thing where now I’m slaying again.”