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The Quick Success Of Hailey Bieber’s YouTube Channel Is Both Validating And Invalidating To The Platform’s Biome

In this week's newsletter: How YouTube can pay better homage to the platform's original creators, and how Arielle Charnas is paying homage to her own brand by naming her baby after it.

Posted on June 4, 2021, at 8:00 a.m. ET

This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.

The quick success of Hailey Bieber’s YouTube channel is both validating and invalidating to the platform’s biome

YouTube

I am obsessed with Hailey Rhode Bieber’s YouTube channel in ways that conflict with my sensibilities. It’s boring, but soothing and beautifully manicured, but also unintentionally anarchic — she has a series where she makes food with guests IN HER BATHROOM!

I’m confused and disgusted, but I can’t look away.

Within just two months, the model and influencer has convinced over 1.1 million people to follow her channel. Two weeks ago, she shared a photo of the silver and gold plaques YouTube awarded her for hitting major follower milestones, something that would have taken an average creator years to achieve. The feat is astounding, in terms of the speed of the rise and the numbers, but it also feels like a huge hack of the YouTube ecosystem.

Her meteoric ascent didn’t come from innovating new kinds of content or hustling hard at her channel. In fact, Hailey’s videos are very obviously produced by a team of people. (Specifically, she works with OBB Media, a “full-service production company,” its website touts.) In some videos, she directly calls on assistants or employees of the company to grab things for her.

I don’t want to discount Hailey’s involvement or hustle. I’m sure she’s committed to her channel, is relatively creative, and has a good work ethic. Some videos, like a recent one where she talks to actor Yvonne Orji about navigating being a devout Christian in Hollywood, I actually found really heartening and interesting to watch. (A lot of the great talking points were carried by Yvonne...but I digress.)

But her channel’s fast success and appeal have more to do with the voyeurism around her brand and her star-studded life, and less to do with her personality, IMO. Her interview with her friend Kendall Jenner (where they cook mac ‘n’ cheese in her bathroom — 911, yes, I have an emergency!!!!) was predictably dull, and a style challenge she held to create outfits out of tinfoil also lacked gusto. Both videos have been watched millions upon millions of times.

Hailey’s appeal on YouTube is the same as it is on Instagram. In the words of Kim Kardashian, whom I’d say this also applies to, she’s exciting to look at. Her life is interesting to imagine. And, of course, her fragile marriage to Justin Bieber is titillating to speculate about. Her new channel is so popular because she and her team had the wit to carry all of the intrigue surrounding her to another monetizable platform.

Watching Hailey in videos instead of scrolling through her Instagram posts helps close the intimacy gap, as we want to do with every exciting-to-look-at celebrity: We want to hear them talk and read their body language in movement. She’s not incredibly compelling in videos, but the fact that we have this new access to her is perhaps what’s interesting.

Instagram

This appeal earning her more than 1 million followers in two months, however, creates a new standard for YouTube-ing that could be both helpful and harmful to the industry. Hailey investing in becoming a YouTuber is validating to other creators on the platform. It says this model for fame and success is a lot more exciting and viable than traditional paths.

But it’s also invalidating to YouTubers who worked their asses off trying to climb out of obscurity to become famous themselves. Hailey has no idea what it takes to build a no-name channel from the bottom up with only natural charisma and a lot of self-taught marketing and postproduction skills. She hasn’t experienced the hard-earned payoff of finally having a unique video go viral after months of experimentation and disappointments. She doesn’t have the same kind of deep emotional attachment to holding those silver and gold YouTube plaques.

Can she be a YouTuber without going through these inaugural steps? I ask facetiously, but I imagine that part of why the creator community is so collaborative and tight-knit is because of the bond of taking this path together.

I came across a thoughtful video from YouTuber Smokey Glow about the “celebrity-to-YouTuber pipeline” that covers this exact tension and shift in the industry. “Even five years ago, being a YouTuber or influencer was really joked about, and not taken seriously at all in the mainstream media. It seemed like every influencer was almost clawing their way, trying to become a mainstream celebrity,” Smokey Glow, whose first name is Hannah, says in the video. “[What’s] interesting is in the last five years that has really just completely flipped, and now you have all these mainstream celebrities trying to become these influencers and these social media stars.”

She also calls out the inequitable “playing field” that’s created by celebrities with big followings showing up on the platform and becoming YouTube famous overnight. But she doesn’t fault them.

“It’s not really the celebrities at fault here … but I think the really interesting thing to note here is more so that YouTube actively promotes these celebrity accounts,” she says. “Like, every video Hailey has posted, I’m pretty sure, for the most part, has gone to trending.”

YouTube could be more equitable, or perhaps honor the creators who helped make the platform what it is today by featuring newer ones. However, the company seems to be only focused on profitability. When I reached out about this issue, a spokesperson for YouTube said that their trending tab is triggered algorithmically. They also noted that they try to feature as many endemic and young creators as traditional celebrities on that page.

Making a name for yourself on YouTube is hard work. Video creators often conceive, shoot, and edit their own videos. It’s a hallmark of the job! They often have to have some defining appeal, whether it’s a dynamic personality (à la storytime YouTubers), acute observations (commentary channels), or a mastered skill (beauty, or singing, or DIY projects). Where people have irrationally condemned all influencers as being talentless, YouTubers often prove this trope wrong. So to be able to bypass all of the cultural components of being a creator on the platform, to only reap the rewards, seems unsatisfying and unjust. And it seems like the company is only facilitating these hacky pursuits in the name of driving more viewers and sponsorship opportunities, instead of preserving a bit of the culture that makes the platform so special.

Lastly, Hailey, if you’re reading this, the cooking in your bathroom shtick is discombobulating, and not in a good way. I’m sure your bathroom is huge and sanitized, but it really is a gross concept. You will make a lot of money with or without my advice, but I insist that you and your team need to go back to the drawing board with that one.

Tanya Chen

Arielle Charnas naming her baby “Navy” as a possible homage to her brand is interesting in more ways than one

Instagram

This week, fashion blogger and influencer Arielle Charnas and her husband, Brandon, welcomed their third daughter. In an Instagram birth announcement, Arielle told her followers the new addition is named Navy Bea.

The name got a lot of people chatting because, of course, Arielle’s blog-turned-fashion-brand is called...Something Navy. Arielle didn’t explain the inspiration behind the name, but it certainly seems like the name was at least a bit influenced by the blog. It’s even possible she named Navy after the blog itself, or in a sort of homage to her career.

Her followers at least seemed to think so, making the connection immediately. “SOMETHING NAVY 😭♥️😭,” wrote one. “LOVE the name!! The best SN collab ever!!” wrote another.

As a name, Navy has become a trendy choice. It appeared on the Social Security Administration's top 1,000 names for the first time in 2019 (it was number 815) and jumped to number 658 in 2020. So little Navy Charnas will be in good company.

I think Navy is a cute name, and I like the idea of naming your child after something you have built. Arielle started Something Navy in 2009 and has since turned it into a whole empire, with retail stores, a line at Nordstrom, and a website that hosts not only her blog, but also an entire lifestyle brand. That her child will now bear the name of something she put her whole heart into is, I think, a fitting tribute.

However, the timing is also interesting. Arielle had a rocky 2020. She made a series of missteps during the pandemic, including getting a COVID-19 test when they were scarce and fleeing to the Hamptons during New York’s stay-at-home orders. That led to her being eviscerated in the media, and in April last year I wrote that she had become “the unwitting poster child for what not to do in a pandemic.”

It’s unclear how the bad press affected her business, but her brand is now expanding — without her. Last week, Business of Fashion reported that Something Navy is planning to “rely less on its famous founder to drive sales” as it looks to expand. Arielle will remain on as chief creative officer, but it seems clear her role is being diminished.

“I will always be the founder of Something Navy and the original ‘Something Navy girl,’ and as the business grew I knew I wouldn’t be able to be a one-woman show forever. I’m not necessarily taking a step back from the brand, but just working in a different capacity,” Arielle told the publication.

Given this news, I have to wonder if christening her baby “Navy” is a way to mark the end of this era or reclaim what she has built. This is pure speculation, but it could be that Arielle is making a statement with this choice. With Navy, what she built will always be a part of her family.

Or maybe she just really likes the name. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts via email or on my Instagram page, @stephemcneal.

—Stephanie McNeal

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.