Over the past two weeks, a very public feud between top beauty vloggers, and former friends, James Charles and Tati Westbrook has shown us the real side of YouTube’s beauty and makeup community — revealing a world of terror and subterfuge that they’ve seemingly spent their careers trying to conceal. But the continued attention paid to that ugly reality, and their continued efforts to tap into it, make their recent truce all the more riveting — the darker, dramatic side of YouTube may be just as lucrative as the makeup.
The feud between the two close friends began in April. Charles, 19, shilled for a beauty supplement brand, SugarBear, that also happens to be Westbrook’s top competitor. Westbrook, 37, took major offense, and aired her grievances in a 43-minute confessional video arguing that Charles was not only untrustworthy but also used his celebrity to intimidate and aggressively pursue men.
Since then, the two have seen a shift in the balance of power. The beauty community galvanized to defend their idyllic Westbrook from what she said was Charles’s disingenuous, seedy behavior, turning against him en masse. Charles, who’s a multimedia star with much more cultural cachet than the business-oriented Westbrook, lost more than 3 million subscribers; Westbrook gained more than 4 million.
But Westbrook became the target of a second wave of backlash, as fans of the pair turned against her as well. She received criticism for ignoring Charles’s supposed tendency to flirt with unwilling men and other offensive actions until it messed with her financials.
Since then, each day has come with the threat of a new upload from one of the vloggers, crying on camera to convey how torn up they are about the fallout of their friendship. Throughout the weekend of May 17, the latest chapter unfolded, as Charles went on the offense by defending his character, Westbrook turned to the time-tested iPhone Notes app-method of making a gracious exit — and even another major vlogger got involved.
But melodramatic as it all is, one thing is for sure: They all knew we wouldn’t stop watching.
James Charles made a second video about Tati Westbrook — not an apology but a defense of his character
After losing prominent social media followers, including celebrities like the Kardashians and brands like Sephora, and millions of subscribers, Charles uploaded a 41-minute video on Saturday, defending his character and rebutting the allegations that he’s used his fame to manipulate men, along with what he says are other falsehoods spread by Westbrook. The video is titled “No More Lies”:
“I am a 19-year-old virgin. I have never and will never use my fame, money, or my power to manipulate or get any sexual actions from a guy,” Charles says in the video. “That is disgusting. That is not me. The fact that Tati brought this up blows my mind.”
Charles then goes on to show a series of text messages that he says exonerates him from the allegations in Westbrook’s video.
He then says that the negative feedback and dramatic fallout after Westbrook’s comments drove him to what he called “a dark place.”
“The last few weeks of my life have literally been the most painful time I’ve ever had to deal with,” Charles says. “My head and brain, for a hot minute, went to a place so dark that I didn’t think I was going to come back from.”
Charles’s attempt to win favor with his former supporters worked. After seizing on the growing antipathy toward Westbrook, Charles gained more than 1 million new subscribers. Meanwhile, Westbrook’s channel bled 250,000 subscribers, signaling that Charles had tipped the scales back in his favor.
His combination of fiery self-defense and seemingly pained vulnerability may have appealed to fans craving authenticity from their idols — Charles is nothing if not one to hold his head up high and refuse to take it. And the response to the video, especially with Charles’s description of his emotional trauma, shifted the narrative toward framing Westbrook as the villain.
The following day, May 19, Westbrook responded to Charles: She effectively threw in the towel. She will no longer address the James Charles drama, she wrote in a two-part letter posted to Twitter. Instead, she wants the “community” to be “strengthened from all this madness,” as playing it out just adds to the back-and-forth vitriol.
“Over the last eight years, I built my career based on honesty, integrity and trying my best to do what I thought was right,” she wrote. “The toxicity and chaos that ensued over the last 10 days was absolutely not my goal, as it was a fight I was almost certain to lose.”
May 19, 2019
Though Westbrook put out a statement that she would be dropping this feud, it wasn’t necessarily all said and done. Celebrity guru Jeffree Star, who is friends with both Charles and Westbrook, entered the ring as well, adding another player to the already bloated back-and-forth. Star isn’t afraid of drama, a trait that looked to do more damage than good to fans’ view of the other two vloggers butting heads.
In the feud, he sided with Westbrook, corroborating her claim that Charles exhibited predatory behavior. But Star didn’t elaborate on this until Sunday, when he uploaded a 13-minute video titled “Never Doing This Again,” a plea to end the drama in what he says is “one of the most important videos of [his] life”:
“I think there is a major portion that thinks Jeffree Star is going to come for James. I said some things online about pulling receipts. I was gonna pull voice memos,” Star said. “I stopped those feelings. I let them all subside.”
If Star does feel like he’s the bigger person in all this, then why, in a roundabout way, does he claim he has proof (such as voice memos) of Charles’s transgressions? Why does he insist on reiterating that Charles is disingenuous? Perhaps because Star, too, understands the twisted appeal in hinting at the shadowy side of YouTube’s beauty community.
Westbrook has reached out about making plans to meet Charles (through a mutual representative, according to Charles), and it seems like there’s an uneasy peace between the two (and Star) now. Charles tweeted on Sunday night after Westbrook’s tweet and Star’s video that he was also taking the drama offline and meeting Star and Westbrook face to face:
Thank you @jeffreestar & @glamlifeguru for your sentiments. I am on board to move on, will not speak about this further, but do hope to speak in the future when we’re all ready. This week was awful for all of us and I ask that the community focuses on positivity moving forward ❤️— James Charles (@jamescharles) May 20, 2019
With the gain in subscribers that Westbrook has seen, the bounce-back that Charles has experienced after dropping 3 million, and Star capitalizing on the feud with a tantalizing video of his own, it seems like fanning the flames now while they’re ahead would be the best thing for all three — until they each upload, say, a “making-up and mending friendships” video in the future. Because the drama’s draw is undeniable, for both viewers and the vloggers themselves.