Why Your Favourite Social Media Star is so Controversial
There are some social media stars who consistently end up on YouTube’s drama channels. They have an incredible number of fans, which drastically increases and decreases with their mistakes and apologies. As their numbers jump and fall, so, too, does their controversiality. Interestingly enough, when the drama dies down, these numbers often shoot back up to their original range—it’s almost a pressure gauge for scandals. Without even hearing the latest gossip, you may notice the drop in followers as you check their Instagram or Twitter page. You may even unsubscribe due to the fact that about half the fanbase has done the same—only to click that subscribe button after the storm recedes.
Why are these people our favourite social media stars when we hate half of who they are? Rule four of Popularity Explained offers a clear explanation.
“Liking isn’t wanting,” and this means we can dislike someone as much as we want while still wanting them and their advantages. Where our favourite public figures fail in areas like compassion, tolerance, kindness, and patience, their popularity is boosted by their attractiveness, wealth, charisma, and special skill sets. Their popularity and image is something you want, something you’re attracted to. This holds true in our day-to-day lives, competitive fields, and politics. Would you rather choose a political candidate who is average in most skills but is kind and tolerant, or someone who has a collection of achievements and is charismatic? The charisma is a bonus, and it makes you vote for them to represent you. Their potential drawbacks are overshadowed by this larger version of themselves.
When people with these kinds of advantages end up knee-deep in swamps of hate, a unique element comes into play; the shimmer of drama and its best friend, ‘tea’. This type of push-pull of pros and cons finds itself center stage—not necessarily the figures themselves. It sparks debates, creates ‘sides’, and offers both apathy and empathy depending on your opinion. It’s what brings up old news to fling around as evidence in current ‘cases’. The celebrity seems to split into two distinct people to be sewn back together at a later date.
Even if you don’t frequent the communities of these stars, their names and faces soon make their way to meme pages, everyday slang, and ‘irl’ conversations. Often enough, we start ‘researching’ ironically, and up enthralled. We want more, we want worse. We want to tear down the walls among advantageous heroes and prove that their perfection is scratched by moral claw-marks. This is true for loyal fans, too—when what we believe conflicts with the actions of the person we look up to, we unsubscribe or oppose their image to bridge the gap between what we feel is right and what we are doing (or, in this case, watching)*.
Two names that have held a cringe to them lately are James Charles and Jaclyn Hill—both of which have been tossed across YouTube headlines and TikToks everywhere. For better or for worse, you’ve almost certainly heard something about them or their character—after all, it isn’t easy to resist the temptation of click-bait articles and viral threads throwing shade on twitter. The coverage is as thick and abundant as these beauty gurus’ full glam foundation.
From Tati Westbrook’s video about her take on James, “Bye, Sister”, to “The Truth About Jaclyn Hill Cosmetics Lipsticks…” on RawBeautyKristi’s channel, it’s clear this kind of back-and-forth publicity draws a following, for better or for worse. Looking at the view counts alone, it becomes evident that people want to see juicy drama among people who seem to be untouchable and unattainable, most likely because they dislike or are envious of the star. Some videos aren’t meant to be antagonizing at all, but as viewers make their own opinions on the subject, it just volleys the drama further.
There has been a flurry of activity in regards to these makeup artists. Activity that, unlike official scandals in the White House, have stirred up the public only to settle it down with consolation prizes and an even bigger following. If you’ve watched the beauty community with the feeling, “I hate this but I can’t look away”, you’ve probably seen at least one of the videos from this situation or others. This includes the Laura Lee twitter disaster, Jeffree Star’s open and honest threads and videos, and so much more. How have the central figures of drama channel news not only survived but flourished after their big ‘exposing’ moment online?
What many people question is the coexistence of a rising ‘cancelled’ culture and how it continues while controversial figures within it who have accumulated such a massive following are brought up over and over. Redemption and duality always seems to flourish despite the immortalization of missteps—and these superstars are deemed “problematic faves” with little more than a slap on the wrist and a few arguments. It seems the advantages of these people outshine their direct shortcomings, unlike those in government positions where, lets face it, they aren’t typically as attractive or likable.
James’ recent scandal with his ex-mentor, Tati, had him losing followers by the millions. He was accused of harassing a straight man, hurting Tati by directly supporting a skin, nails, and hair vitamin competitor, and a plethora of other alleged arrogance-stricken remarks. After Tati’s original video that was broadcast on a secondary platform, she was directly opposed by a fellow influencer, Gabriel Zamora. Although her claims had nothing to do with him, he felt the need to step in, which seems to be the tipping point as to the degree of this whole situation. It was after this that Tati’s video, “Bye Sister”, was recorded and uploaded.
Everyone was dishing out hate or sympathy on either side of the split. Memes surfaced about James as well as Tati. Commentary on the validity of either side was questioned and cross examined. People who didn’t know the names of these influencers hopped onto their pages and scrolled through mountains of comments. James’ controversiality has always been present to some degree, but this brought it to the front of his identity.
After Tati’s video went viral, he lost a total of 2M subscribers. Although this was only a fraction of the 15M he started with, the dramatic plunge left the entire community flabbergasted—and in many ways, this disadvantage may have prompted others to follow the crowd. It was a massive blow to his social status in the most literal, numerically measurable way possible. However, it seems the shock of the allegations against James—true, false, or simply misperceived—soon simmered down enough to allow his subscriber count to soar once again. Like a pause and a deep breath, time was lost, but his subscribers certainly weren’t. His advantages had people who didn’t like him attracted to his platform. They subscribed for one reason or another, somehow breaking the unspoken rule that if you don’t like someone, you can’t enjoy their content.
Jaclyn Hill is known to her 5.9M YouTube subscribers and 6.2M Instagram followers as a talented, bubbly, and sweet makeup artist. After years of collabing with Morphe, a well-established makeup brand, she recently launched her very own business—Jaclyn Cosmetics. As the launch began, her site became overloaded with smiling subscribers and curious buyers. Although there were some hiccups with the traffic, at the end of the day everything seemed to be going well—after all, crashes and malfunctions on shopping sites are fairly common when it comes to new, large launches.
Not long after their orders were placed, packages arrived at the doors and P.O. boxes of her customers. When they looked inside their $18 (USD) lipsticks, they found some unnerving foreign objects and oddities—fibres, bubbles, suspicious fuzzies, and other unsightly images surfaced on social media platforms everywhere. In a panic, Jaclyn didn’t make a statement on what was happening for several days, even after tweets arose regarding customer service complaints.
It seemed to be going downhill fast, and by the time her video about the issues did arrive, everyone had already formed their own opinions about the brand and how she dealt with the crisis. She announced that the fibers were from vat cleaning towels and cotton gloves, and were most definitely not hair; the bubbles were just oxygen rising to the surface of the lipstick tubes as they cooled; the grittiness of many of the lipsticks was due to a poor mixing job; the meltiness of countless tubes was an unfortunate side effect of climate and weather.
If she had made those statements earlier, called for a quality recall, or made an effort to let her customers know she was working to fix it—as many believe she was—would her name and reputation be stomped all over? Even if there really was mold or other contaminants, would her quick action prevent conspiracy theories from popping up? It isn’t as character-defiling as other drama mixups, but her brand is now starting off with a less-than-excellent rating in quality and customer service.
Jaclyn’s fans and supporters have, as a vast majority, not taken these happenings and applied them to her as a person. Many view this catastrophe as a learning experience, and have graciously accepted the issues and are waiting for a better product. Just like James, Jaclyn has had her own flare up and recession of negative attention before this, and as before, the drama has already begun to fly away.
Why do we keep coming back for more when the drama scares us off and the fear of being associated with this behaviour throws us into a hysterical frenzy of memes and cruel comments? Why do we choose people who always make mistakes and end up in the limelight for them?
It isn’t difficult to see the love-hate relationship between influencers and their audience. We love how they look, what they say, where they live, how they spend their time and money. We love the personality cast through the screen and into our bedrooms. We love the inspiration they offer as people who have succeeded and seem to want you to succeed, too. We love to want them. When havoc covers a multitude of their desirable traits, we shrink away, but we hardly ever distance ourselves for more than a week or two. Unless a massive situation pulls at the seams of what is moral and what is not, we accept apologies. It’s safe to say that if your favourite social media star is ever scrutinized, they will most likely pop back onto your screen eventually.
Advantages make people want you, and in cases like these, their advantages will, in the end, overshadow most of our doubts. In truth, all of us could be called out for something we did or continue to do, and our icons are no less immune. They are controversial; not because they have been associated with the dreaded drama of tea spilling news, but because they are human. We like them and we dislike them; we want them and we are attracted to them—but liking isn’t the same as wanting, which is why we can be so fickle with who we follow.
These people are role models, and they should be held to a higher standard as a public figure—they are not, however, ‘cancelled’. These moments of trouble subside to reveal the same personality we followed in the first place, perhaps with a little more accountability and realism under their screen name. Problematic favourites are people whose disadvantageous actions are put beneath their highlights, much like the events in their personal life versus the events on their instagram page. Aren’t we ones to do the same? Your favourite social media star is so controversial because their pros exceed some harsh cons, and their advantages don’t always make people like them—they make people want them.
*This phenomenon is called the Cognitive Dissonance Theory, and explains a lot of the “brainwashing” reported by relatives of released prisoners of war; they came home apparently radicalized.
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