The online spectacle surrounding YouTube celebrity James Charles started out as a spat between friends. The hundreds of reaction and commentary videos that have sprung up in the last week, however, collecting millions of views and generating thousands of dollars in ad revenue, show how drama becomes everyone’s business on YouTube.
In the days since beauty vlogger Tati Westbrook published a 43-minute video condemning Charles’ behavior over the past few months, Charles has lost more than 3 million subscribers and reportedly been dropped as a partner from beauty entrepreneur Jeffree Star’s merchandise manufacturing company, Killer Merch. He’s lost more than 200,000 Twitter followers, according to marketing firm Tagger Media, and many of the celebrities he’s worked with have publicly started to distance themselves from him.
Suffice to say, it’s a bad time for Charles right now — but that’s not true for the rest of the YouTube creator community. Daily vloggers, explainer channels, commentators, react channels, comedians, and even news organizations have jumped on Charles’ downfall, using it as a way to draw new viewers.
Drama is big business, says Jason Urgo, CEO of Social Blade, the most popular analytics tool among YouTube creators. Urgo compares it to traditional news coverage — people tune in because they want to understand what happened. A complex story like Charles and Westbrook’s fallout can take hours of research to understand (especially when it’s buried inside of lengthy videos). YouTube creators know this, and many people, including Philip DeFranco, ImAllexx, and Tea Spill have jumped on the story.
The numbers prove it, too. The first video YouTube’s gossip king, Daniel “Keemstar” Keem, posted about Charles’ situation to his main channel, DramaAlert, has close to 5 million views and has multiple ads running on it. His second video, posted a couple of days after the first, has close to 3 million views, also with multiple ads.
“The bigger the drama, the more people are interested,” Urgo said. “This fight between creators drew a lot of attention from the entire community, and probably was even a bigger deal for Keemstar and others covering it because it wasn’t an obvious fight either, so people went to them to figure out what exactly was going on.”
Keem may be the go-to gossip channel, but others have learned from his strategy. YouTube is full of videos with titles like, “My experience with James Charles” or “James Charles downfall, explained,” or just “My reaction to James Charles,” many with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views. Both of YouTube commentator ImAllexx’s videos about Charles have garnered more than 1 million views, with multiple ads running. Tea Spill, a channel that defines itself as “keep[ing] you updated on all the silly beauty guru drama,” has amassed around 10 million views in a week thanks to a series of videos about Charles.
YouTubers have operated similarly when controversies came up in the past with major creators, like Logan Paul or Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg. Unlike Paul’s and Kjellberg’s, whose controversies were clear to people within YouTube’s world and outside of it, Charles’ situation is confusing. It’s interpersonal drama playing out on a worldwide stage, with numerous characters being introduced as the story progresses.
Drama, reaction, and commentary channels exist as a news source for people trying to understand what’s happening. Charles’ case exemplifies how increasingly important and necessary these channels are becoming as YouTube drama becomes a worldwide Twitter trend and those not embedded in its culture try to learn the basics behind a story.
One of the core reporters behind some of YouTube’s biggest drama stories goes by Gustavo on Twitter. He’s a reporter for Keem’s DramaAlert, and a go-to resource for people who want to keep up to date with their favorite creators. Gustavo told The Verge over Twitter DM that commentary and drama channels are becoming increasingly popular because rifts between personalities like Charles and Westbrook are “both entertainment and real.” Having people, like Gustavo and Keem, who understand the space and the creators better than anyone else, makes their work vital to viewers.
“I’ve seen some mainstream media news outlets trying to cover the James Charles story, and it was a mess,” Gustavo says. “They don’t understand social media. That’s what makes guys like Keem so important — he understands social media [and] creators better than anyone else.”
It’s not going to disappear, either. Keem’s channel just surpassed 5 million subscribers, something that Urgo partially credits to DramaAlert being a go-to source for stories like Charles’. More channels are popping up all the time trying to replicate that style and as YouTube culture continues to break into the mainstream, the bigger these channels will become.
“It’s the law of supply and demand,” Gustavo told The Verge. “A lot of people are making videos about it because there’s an audience for that.”