By virtue of the fact that I know as much about the American Beauty Guru YouTube scene as I do about tiddlywinks fixtures this summer, the fact that I am offering my two pence on the James Charles situation comes as big a surprise to me as to anyone else, but here we are. Thoughts I have, so thoughts I will share. Not just about James Charles and his indiscretions, but about the internet’s reaction to them, something that we are getting all too used to seeing on here and that is cancel culture.
Because that’s what has happened here. James Charles has been cancelled by the internet. Over the last four days he has lost over 2 million subscribers on YouTube, received hundreds of thousands of messages and been trending on Twitter.
He went from a well-loved-beauty-guru to God-he’s-getting-a-bit-big-for-his-boots-isn’t-he to PICK-UP-YOUR-PITCH-FORKS-PEOPLE-JAMES-CHARLES-IS-THE-DEVIL-REINCARNATE-AND-WE-MUST-RID-THE-INTERNET-OF-HIM-IMMEDIATELY.
A teenage millionaire making seismic waves in the industry, tipped to be the next big thing, hell, he was the next big thing… cancelled, just like that.
And, for what?
Well, that I am still trying to make sense of. The drama came to the attention of most of us mainstreamers when Tati Westbrook, a 37 year old American beauty guru made a video entitled Bye Sister (in reference to what James calls his fan base). In April James used his Instagram to promote sleep vitamins by Sugarbear, a competing brand to Tati’s own, Halo Beauty. As good friends Tati felt let down by James’ decision and made an indirect video in which she talks about being upset. James responded in his Insta-stories saying it was an oversight. Clearly unsatisfied with that as a response, Tati then uploaded the 43 minute YouTube video that really poured petrol on the fire.
In it she explains why she felt so let down by James’ decision to work with Sugarbear, disregards his excuses (pointing out that promoting sleeping pills to a teenage audience is not the one) and says that there is no way she could continue being friends with him, that at this point the damage is more than vitamins. She also cited alleged behaviour that made her uncomfortable and says both her and her husband have felt taken advantage of.
In the aftermath, Twitter has basically taken #TeamTati and for every subscriber James has lost, she has gained.
Furthermore, since the scandal came to light, others have come forward to tell their own James Charles is a devil and I always fucking knew it, stories too. He is being accused of being a sexual predator, something Tati alluded to in her own video, for coming onto straight men and then bragging that he can do what he wants because he is, in his own words, a “celebrity”.
Old school “friends” have come out to tell their stories of his sexual misconduct. In a tweet that went viral, someone that claims to have gone to school with James Charles has told that he assaulted a friend of hers, blocking his way out of the bathroom and fondling his genitals, only stopping because someone else walked into the bathroom.
A bit of investigation into this would suggest that James Charles made no secret of his interest in straight men. This is a topic that has come up a lot in his videos and over the last few years, stories of him trying to buy the affections of straight guys have come to light, and that is of course incredibly problematic. But it is a far cry from some other accusations doing the rounds right now, that he is an abuser and had an interest in boys below the age of consent.
And then there was the fact that prior to all of this, the veneer coat that made James Charles so new and shiny, was beginning to chip. Even in my practically rural dwellings on the outskirts of YouTube-dom I was privy to the scandalous whispers surrounding James Charles.
His “jokes” that missed the mark (something about ALL of Africa having ebola?), ignorance surrounding trans-issues, kink for straight men, overtly sexualised behaviour (just look at his Instagram) and his staggering greed: he hit headlines earlier this year for trying to charge fans $500 to meet him.
The boy is not without scandal. I’m not even sure he sounds altogether that nice… but the crux of this hangs on the fact that underneath it all, he is just that…. a BOY.
At 19, James Charles has grownup for the most part, online. Over the last 3 years his fame has reached staggering heights, his wealth, something that most of us can only imagine. Since he was 16, he put in the graft. Dismissing more traditional routes in favour of YouTube, he opted to make videos of himself, a teenage boy, applying makeup, a pastime notoriously favoured by girls and then uploading them for the world to see. Not only that, but he came out as gay at a young age and has been an advocate for gender fluidity throughout his career.
Now that’s not to use his sexuality, or anything else for that matter, as a means of excusing him, I merely point out that he might not have had the easiest route to the top.
But the top is where he is… or was at least, at just 19.
Which means that, like many people in his line of work, all the growing up he has done, he has done in public. For three years he has been watched like a hawk and as such, so have his mistakes. Our own teenage idiocies, thankfully stored forever in the memories of the few that were there for them thanks to a relieving lack of technology or interest, James Charles’ are there for the world to see.
Couple that with the entirely unusual nature of his life and fuckups feel inevitable. To earn, for example, more money than your parents, at such a young age, that surely messes with the power dynamics. How can they send him to his room when he misbehaves when his room is in West Hollywood and fully paid for by him? Threats to cut him off will fall on deaf ears. And even without the unusual power shift, the fact that he is SO busy means that they probably treasure time with their baby more than most.
If it all sounds as if I am insinuating that his parents are to blame for his actions, please know that is not the case, I merely point this out to help us understand how this all came to be. He’s literally been a free agent for three years, no one there to tell him off or tell him no.
Now let’s combine this with the Albatros that is “celebrity”.
16 million Instagram followers, (up until this weekend,) 16 million Youtube subscribers, entire cities closing down when you appear to do a meet and greet (as happened in Birmingham earlier this year when he came to open the Morphe store in the bullring). You find me a person that that wouldn’t fuck up.
The millions of dollars, adoring fans and an army of “yes men” around him, it is small wonder that anyone in this industry ever maintains even a modicum of normality.
James Charles has had smoke blown up his arse, constantly, for three years. There is always someone to party with, there are always people to tell you that you are right, there are always people there. Everything has all been about him, all this time.
He is quite literally a sensation.
And if his life wasn’t weird enough already, he’s just been cancelled.
James Charles is currently experiencing the biggest “subscriber drop” that YouTube has ever seen. Since I started writing this, he has dropped another million subscribers. In the history of the platform, no one has lost followers at the rate that he is, not even Logan Paul after he uploaded a video of a man hanging in the Japanese Suicide Forest.
Which to me, is weird.
Whilst James’ behaviour is problematic, and inappropriate, and all round shitty, it is not the worst that YouTube has seen. I’m finding it hard to believe that so many YouTube fans treasure the fundamentals of friendship to such an extent that they are prepared to disassociate with James the minute he fucks a friend over. Because that’s what really kicked this all off. A falling out between friends.
The jokes about him being into straight guys, the rumours surrounding his inappropriate sexual advances, this stuff has all been circulating for a few months now. This stuff is known, even by me, to whom YouTube is a very foreign land. Which means that the subscriber drop that James has experienced this weekend has happened directly as a result of his falling out with Tatti.
If the masses were that outraged with the stories emerging over the last few months, by the videos up there for all the world to see of him hitting on straight guys (just watch this video he uploaded to his own channel), they’d have been leaving in drips and drabs. That, or calling out his shitty behaviour sooner and more effectively. Rather, they decided to wait for something else before they came prepared with their nail guns, ready to stick them straight into his coffin.
Why did it take James taking a brand deal with one of Tati’s competitors for everyone (Tati included) to realise that James Charles was a sexual predator that no one should be associating with anymore???
Something just smells off to me.
Maybe there is something about James Charles that is yet to emerge. Perhaps there is more to this story than we know, the list of famous people unfollowing him on social media would imply that that is the case (bye Sean Mendes).
Or maybe this is just how the internet works now, maybe this is what cancel culture is.
Is James Charles’ career over? I hope not.
Not because I like the guy, or even because I am defending the shitty stuff that he did, but because it means terrible things for the world if a 19 year-old with a few fuckups to his name is left without any career prospects.
Because I can’t think of a 19 year old without a few fuckups to their name. Sure, they’re not as bad as those exemplified by Charles, but his life is that of extremes, and by virtue of that, his fuckups will be worse than ours.
This all sounds as if I am defending him, I am not. But I am worried for him.
Because for months and years he has been treated like a God, been made allowances for, had his bad behaviour excused because of his celebrity status. In turn, he got swept up in himself and his life and his wealth and his fame. He lost his sense of everything important and he fucked up.
And now he’s paying the price.
He is a victim of his own success, of an industry that builds people to extraordinary levels. And one that tears them down at a moment’s notice too.
Does the punishment fit the crime? It’s impossible to know without a fair trial, and that is something that James Charles is not going to get because he has already been deemed guilty by the Kangaroo court that is the Internet. Trial by Twitter has happened and they’ve found him wanting.
I cannot even comprehend what it must be like to be James Charles right now.
For the last few years he has lived his life in the belief that he was doing well. Everything around him told him that he was a success. Without anyone to call out his shit and with millions of fans online and dollars in the bank, there was nothing to warn him about what was to come.
And then he took the wrong vitamin and shit hit the fan with such ferocity there won’t be an area of his life not covered in it.
That doesn’t make his behaviour right. I want to reiterate that again. But it does at least go a way to explaining it.
I don’t believe that he deserves the abuse that he is getting right now. In fact, being in his position is unthinkable. Not just to lose your career, but your friends, publicly, all the while having abuse hurled at you from every conceivable direction, it’s enough that we should be worried.
The fact that he got in this position in the first place indicates to me that he does not have a sensible support network around him. It actually sounded like Tati Westbrook was all he had, and now she’s gone.
And that ought to be remembered as we head to the “James Charles is the devil” narrative currently reverberating around Twitter.
Because James Charles is not the devil. He is the victim of his own success and will right now be feeling desperately vulnerable, isolated and attacked.
Not something that any 19 year old should be going through.