I met Grace Helbig in 2011. She was sitting on a raggedy couch, showing off the Reeboks her mom had bought her for her birthday. She decided that she was going to teach me how to tie my shoes, and she tugged at the laces in preparation for tying the first knot. Then she pulled the laces together and said, in a nasally, pseudo-sexy voice, “Then you just cross ‘em over, like an interracial couple.”
I thought she might be the future of the entertainment industry. When Grace said she was crowd-funding a feature film, I gave $10. When she published her first book, I bought two copies. When Grace announced that “The Grace Helbig Show” had been picked up by E!, I shared the trailer on Facebook because there was nothing for me to throw my money at.
Well, I met Grace Helbig through YouTube. And by “met,” I mean, “I watched her videos every single day, and now I know a lot of intimate details about her life, but we’ve never actually spoken in person.”
But that’s the complex nature of the YouTuber-viewer relationship. It’s about building a cult of personality and finding a support system that will bolster your efforts and make them into palpable reality.
Through the years, I watched Grace go from hairstyle to hairstyle, flit from one emotionally repressed character to the next and celebrate everything from a small guest spot on David Letterman to finally securing her own TV show.
I can tell you all about how Grace has a French bulldog named Goose (because “goose” is slang for “butt”) and her love of Bloody Marys. I can tell you the story of when she cut her own bangs to hide the stitches she got after drunkenly falling down the stairs of her apartment complex while trying to play with her neighbor’s dog.
I know all of this because I have been watching Grace’s videos for more than four years. And Grace, like hundreds of YouTubers before her, has built her brand around the one thing she knows best — herself.
I’m invested in Grace’s personal brand, not just because she produces quality content, but also because I like her as a person. I trust Grace the same way I trust my own, real life best friend.
After I discovered Grace and the Pandora’s box that is the YouTube community, I stopped watching TV regularly. Who needs Emmy Award-winning dramas when you can watch Grace Helbig, sick and sniffling in bed, dancing in slow motion with a box of stuffed clams while “Take a Chance” by ABBA plays in the background? That’s some revolutionary, high-brow comedy.
I found it unappealing to filter through commercials and corporate-built networks, and I connected more to the genuine, honest appeal of sitting face to screen with a complete stranger who seemed to really understand my complex, sophisticated sense of humor.
The future of media lies in building brand recognition — the personalization of the media persona. But this concept has been alive in the entertainment industry for decades. YouTubers have just adapted and perfected this personal vernacular.
It’s the same reason we can’t get enough of the Kardashians and the same reason talk shows have remained while all other types of programming have come and gone.
We don’t watch “the Tonight Show”; we watch Jimmy Fallon. We don’t watch “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”; we watch Ellen. We don’t watch “The View”; we have shit to do at 11 in the morning.
My parents watch Jimmy Fallon every night, regardless of the guest, because they know it will be a hilarious, sing-song spectacular. I watch Grace Helbig every day, regardless of the video’s title, because I can count on her awkward antics and all-too-real comedic insecurities.
And the transition from YouTube to talk show seems like Grace’s most sensible move. The medium is fundamentally the same. It’s just a transition from the small screen to a slightly bigger but still semi-small screen. On YouTube, much like talk shows, it’s not about what you watch but whom you watch.
Rosemarie Alejandrino writes Monday’s arts column on popular culture. Contact her at [email protected]