Influencers have found a way to make money by being themselves. A sense of “realness” has always led to a spike in popularity, whether it’s politicians trying to appeal to the everyday man, or celebrities showing off their quirky personalities during talk show interviews. Yet there’s an irony in this.
The wave of acting relatable has seen an increase on social media with vloggers and lifestyle YouTubers leading the rise of the “relatable millionaire.” Of course, not all YouTubers who are perceived as relatable are millionaires. Some are average teens who go to school and speak about their daily lives and insecurities.
Being relatable is not a bad thing. However, flex culture, the process of showing off all the expensive things you own, is annoying and unlikeable. It’s likely to get more haters than admirers and yet continues to have mass appeal across social media platforms.
It’s weird to watch these millionaires who pretend they are the same as the average person. A YouTuber could be complaining about how they’ve been spending all their money on food while vlogging from their giant house. They could be telling the camera “I’m just like you,” while dropping out of high school and going on Gucci shopping sprees off-camera. That’s where this sense of fake authenticity comes from.
But relatability, while popular, is a slippery slope. Not everyone can maintain this image.
Relatability is difficult to maintain when your life isn’t relatable
Emma Chamberlain became popular for being relatable, leading to quick success on YouTube. Things changed when she moved to L.A. Her subscribers began to say that her money and fame made her different. It certainly didn’t help when she began selling merchandise. Her merch website was filled with blurred out pictures of products, so that consumers couldn’t see what they were purchasing, and pricey, with three scrunchies going for $25. But there always seems to be another quirky personality getting fame every year; after Emma came the likes of Antonio Garza and Joana Ceddia.
Sometimes, trying to be relatable backfires.
Take the case of Corinna Kopf, a member of the popular Vlog Squad on YouTube. She decided to make anxiety merch in an attempt to relate to her audience. Yes, you read that right. She was selling t-shirts that said “my anxiety has anxieties” and a hoodie with the Google definition of anxiety on it. However, rather than coming off as relatable as she had intended, it came off as her trying to make mental illness trendy. It’s problematic to make a profit from merch that romanticizes anxiety. Imagine wearing a hat that said “schizophrenic” or a “bipolar” blouse.
Juxtaposition is key
For some YouTubers, being unrelatable works. YouTuber and cosmetic company owner Jeffree Star loves luxury. He constantly shows off his expensive lifestyle and yet despite his unrelatability, it’s his personality people that relate to. In one video, he eats Burger King on his private jet. This juxtaposing image is seen as relatable even though I doubt most of his viewers have their own private jets. Viewers relate to his love of fast food — it makes him human.
Shane Dawson is another YouTuber who relies heavily on his relatable personality. Especially when hanging around with Star, he acts poor, even though he isn’t. He’ll act shocked at Star’s designer clothes but then will go buy Gucci for himself. He falls into the unfortunate trend of relatable millionaires acting like they are less well-off than they actually are. His humour and insecurities are so relatable to his audience that he doesn’t have to keep up the image that he is poor.
The key to being relatable not to pretend you’re leading a middle-class lifestyle. Designer clothing, fancy cars, and luxury brand hauls are a dead giveaway.
Good examples are Safiya Nygaard and JennaMarbles. Although both are wildly successful on YouTube, they remain low-key. They don’t take themselves seriously, as seen with their ridiculous challenges and videos, and they seem more like their natural selves when behind the camera. This natural quirkiness is more relatable than if they pretended and joked like they were poor.
Famous YouTubers are going to be rich. Many are going to live in big houses in California and buy designer clothes. They are going to travel and be part of fashion shows and other opportunities. Some will brag about what they have, others will try and completely deny it.
There needs to be a balance in the middle. To be both a millionaire and relatable at the same time, without isolating one or the other. It is the most authentic to show your relatable, low-key personality while not denying your wealth and privilege.