Thursday 22 August 2019

Ciara O'Connor: 'Millennial Diary'

Tati and James Charles
Tati and James Charles

Ciara O'Connor

Every so often a story comes along that is so huge yet so incomprehensible, insane and profoundly alienating that it practically gaslights you into thinking you're an ancient hermit.

The James Charles saga is the stuff 2019 internet culture is made of: boys in make-up, YouTube wars, #sponsored content, gummy bear vitamins, Coachella and eyeshadow palettes. And millions of people are on the edge of their seats waiting for the next instalment.

But probably, like me, it completely passed you by.

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James Charles is an online beauty sensation - a couple of weeks ago, the 19-year-old had 17 million subscribers on YouTube (Kylie Jenner has four million). When he became the first male face of Covergirl cosmetics, following in the footsteps of the likes of Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, he was still in school and, since then, his career has sky-rocketed, with lucrative brand partnerships and his own merchandise. He quickly became the darling of LA, with countless celebrity friends and invitations to the Met Gala. He's a multi-millionaire.

Last week, another beauty influencer, 37-year-old Tati Westbrook, a former business mentor and 'mom' figure to Charles, released a 43-minute video effectively disowning him and alleging less-than-savoury behaviour. The video went viral and James Charles broke YouTube records, losing three million followers in one weekend.

Although the kid has fairly publicly been accused of racism, transphobia and predatory behaviour in the last couple of years, it's all been water off a duck's back - until now. It turns out what really grinds the internet's gears is personal betrayal, being a spoilt brat and (heaven forfend) endorsing a brand on Instagram in bad faith. When YouTuber Logan Paul filmed a dead body, he lost only 50,000 people.

Tati's video is like turning up to the party of a friend of a friend halfway through a showdown about someone snogging someone else's boyfriend - it's fascinating, car-crash stuff, but essentially in a different language, with a vocabulary ('drama channels'), references ('James's Ebola scandal'?!) and cast of characters (what is 'Gabriel Zamora'?) all of its own.

There are things I don't want to delve too deeply into - like, what exactly it means to 'confuse a straight man into thinking he's gay', one of the mystifying 'accusations' levelled against James.

I watched all 43 minutes of Tati's video so you don't have to. Essentially, she appears to have been tipped over the edge by her former protege making content for a rival of hers in the hair-vitamin industry (this is a real thing). Apparently, James had always refused to plug her Halo vitamin products on his channel - because they were inappropriate for his young teen audience.

However, when he apparently found himself in need of extra security at Coachella, Tati's business nemesis, Sugar Bear Hair, (and I can't stress this enough, this is a real thing) stepped in to save the day. To thank them, James made an Instagram story endorsing the gummy bear sleeping tablets to his millions of 13-year-old fans, qualms about propriety be damned. (It's unclear why the multi-millionaire didn't just buy his own security - the internet smells a ruse.)

The knife still lodged in her back, Tati spoke of the love she lavished on the make-up wunderkind who "really understands everything involved in having a YouTube channel, in being a creator... I think I sent him a text one time being like, I can't wait until all of this is over and we're on a yacht of our own and not on a brand trip. I think that I'll know you for the rest of my life".

This is truly the stuff of Jodi Picoult novels.

Like any influencer worth her salt, she turns this grubby tale into a motivational feminist fable with a rousing speech about the importance of living your truth, and not letting fear control you and speaking out in the face of injustice. This Rosa Parks of lipliner practically moves herself to tears congratulating herself on being in her 30s in the beauty industry.

If Tati's account of nurturing James's career is true, perhaps she only has herself to blame: she inflated his ego, made him believe he deserved everything and created a monster. Millions of people agree he's probably not a very nice person. But neither is she or any of the people involved in this convoluted mess. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the internet today.

*******

Meanwhile, the Great Asos Returns Debacle of 2019 rumbles on. When the online retailer announced it would crack down on 'serial returners', the hysteria was real. Scaremongering was rife, with tales of accounts being arbitrarily suspended for 'suspicious activity'/ taking the absolute p**s.

Naturally, Instagram was blamed - because there is precious little today we can't in some way blame on those tiny little squares. Apparently, everyone wants to be an influencer, which means ordering clothes, taking a picture in them and sending them back because no one's actually going to pay you for content for your 800 followers, hun. So you need to be thrifty. I don't buy it, though. I know what's really going on, and I'd like to offer Asos some potential solutions - free of charge, just like their delivery.

They might consider having opening hours. Like a real shop. Having done absolutely no research into this, I'd say between 80pc to 100pc of questionable Asos orders are done after 10pm, after a few glasses of wine.

Can you imagine the carnage if Penney's was open 24 hours? If we could spill out of the club and straight into the accessories section? As well as waking up with the usual debris of drunk decision making (a passed-out 3/10 beside you, garlic sauce on the pillow, a mystery glow-stick), there'd be piles of double-layered brown paper bags brimming with slipper socks and sequined leggings and fishnet skirts that looked absolutely STUN at 4am. This is Asos.

The app seems to be custom designed for the chemically altered: no passwords, you don't even need to get your debit card out. Perhaps some kind of low-level Sudoku could unlock the app or the software must exist to issue US-style roadside sobriety tests: force us to walk in a straight line before we're able to order anything with lame, co-ord cropped, ruched or legging shorts in the description. Problem solved.

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