I felt like I couldn’t breathe, it felt like I was drowning.’ In 2018 Manny Gutierrez (aka Manny MUA) had the kind of life that anyone with a YouTube account could only dream of. Five million subscribers, his own cosmetics line and a contract as Maybelline’s first-ever male ambassador. In just four years he went from working behind the MAC counter to being mobbed by fans at meet-and-greet appearances. Until, one day, he hastily ‘liked’ a tweet that would seal his fate.
Thinking nothing of it, he carried on about his day. A few hours later, however, his entire career, reputation and sanity imploded.
His YouTube peers were quick to capitalise on his ruin, uploading videos analysing every aspect of his fall from grace. ‘RIP Manny MUA’s career’; ‘Manny MUA exposed’; ‘Is Manny MUA a social climber?’. His previously loyal fans voted with their fingers, and his subscriber count plummeted drastically. He didn’t know it yet, but Manny MUA had faced the most modern-day of public reckonings: he’d been ‘cancelled’.
How did the YouTube beauty community go from everyday makeup tutorials to this century’s version of the Salem witch trials? And what does it say about both us – the viewers – and them – the stars – that cancel culture exists in the first place?The age of innocence
I’ve followed beauty YouTubers since 2009 and it wasn’t always like this.
Online tutorials started on the platform in 2006, with makeup artist Adrienne K Nelson’s ‘Look hot in 5 minutes or less’ video. With zero commentary, questionable royalty-free music and not a ring light in sight, it was a world away from the YouTube productions of today.
One year later, the then-26-year-old Lauren Luke, aka Panacea81, became the first YouTuber to break out of the platform’s bubble. Her Geordie accent, relatable appearance and snoring pug made watching her recreate music-video looks, like Leona Lewis’s Bleeding Love, oddly comforting. By her own admission, Luke was painfully shy with no friends, but online she transformed from Josie Grossie to Regina George (but nicer). Soon the brand offers came rolling in. Nintendo turned her into a game, the BBC made a documentary about her and Barry M hired her to film tutorials, all eager to profit from her popularity. Me? I found this world via MUA Kandee Johnson, whose tutorials provided me with much-needed escapism in my early twenties.
By the time Manny Gutierrez joined the site in 2014, the road to becoming a full-time YouTuber had not only been paved, but paved with 24-carat gold.
The first time Gutierrez truly grasped his newfound star power was two years later, when he visited Texas for a new MAC collection launch. ‘There were hundreds of people chanting my name. It was such a crazy experience, I had to have security with me. That’s when I realised things had changed – it wasn’t me in my bedroom any more, it had gotten much bigger than that.’
As his subscriber count climbed into the millions, the paycheques and brand deals rolled in. He moved out of his family home in San Diego and bought a house in LA, along with a brand-new BMW i8 (which will set you back about R2 million). His celebrity and wealth enabled him to achieve his lifelong dream of immortalizing’ himself with his very own makeup line: Lunar Beauty. ‘I tested makeup for a living and I felt like I could make beautiful products.’ Then, in May 2018, his debut eye-shadow palette, Life’s A Drag, launched. As the positive reviews flooded in, it seemed that Gutierrez could do no wrong. He had scaled the mountain of fame and planted a glittering multicoloured flag. How was he to know, just three months later, it would be so unceremoniously torn down?
The thirst for views
With the beauty community becoming more saturated than the Instagram Lo-Fi filter, YouTubers started going to extreme measures to get views. While Logan Paul recklessly ‘vlogged’ a dead body in Japan’s famous ‘suicide forest’, beauty YouTubers left their bedrooms (and their relatable personalities) behind, in order to pull in the numbers they used to get with ease. ‘Testing sex-proof mascara with my boyfriend’; ‘Private jet tour’; ‘Zoo animals pick my makeup’; ‘Get ready with us in our helicopter’. From glam room tours to Cartier bracelet stacks, viewers became increasingly aware that they weren’t in Kansas any more. The very people who were once the antithesis of the celebrities they couldn’t relate to had changed beyond recognition. ‘We fall into what’s called the comparison trap,’ private therapist Amy Drake* tells me. ‘It becomes really difficult for us to watch others achieve a level of success that we will never be able to reach ourselves.’
As these displays of wealth left viewers detached and resentful towards the people they once saw as equals, new drama-centred YouTube channels rose up, holding the beauty community to account for their garish behaviour. Like vultures, they circled, waiting to feast on the fallout of each scandal, uploading videos like ‘Beauty gurus scamming their subscribers’ and ‘YouTubers [sic] shadiest moments’.
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