Where Have All The Beauty YouTubers Gone?

James Charles, Tati Westbrook and Jeffree Star used to dominate YouTube. Why have these beauty YouTubers lost video views and influence since Dramageddon 2.0?

James charles jeffree star YouTube makeup video tutorial still holding makeup palette

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

I miss the days when beauty influencers ruled YouTube. NikkieTutorials, James Charles, and Jeffree Star were some of the platform’s biggest creators with tens of millions tuning into their channels for product hauls, makeup tutorials and, of course, the drama. 

I’ll never forget ‘BYE SISTER’: the seemingly endless feud between James Charles and Tati Westbrook that kicked off over a supplement brand endorsement Charles posted to enter a VIP area of Coachella, but soon spiralled into Avengers: Endgame of internet beef. Ecstatic commentary flooded the internet, but out of the influencer spat emerged something more sinister. When sexual misconduct allegations and reports of inappropriate, harmful behaviour conducted by James Charles came to light, it was explosive, but sadly I wasn’t all that surprised. By that stage allegations of racism, abuse and general shittiness plagued quite a few of beauty YouTube’s biggest darlings — I was getting used to it.

And then came the apologies. 2020 saw a hysterical mass apology cycle hit beauty YouTube. YouTubers would get called out for histories of racism, homophobia and other hateful behaviour, only to deliver strained and endlessly memed apologies, ‘corrections’ and clapbacks. I couldn’t look away. For a stratospheric moment in the news cycle, these makeup enthusiasts contour palettes and beauty blenders in tow – dominated the landscape of popular culture for (mostly) all the wrong reasons.

It’s only been two years, but a lot’s changed since Dramageddon 2.0. As we make our way bleary-eyed into 2023 big influencers either cancelled, married or farming yaks it’s clear that the glory days of beauty (specifically makeup) YouTube are very much behind us. How’d we get here?

Are You Still Watching? 

I’m gonna state the obvious: TikTok, and shortform videos in general, are king right now. Our attention spans are getting shorter, and being able to scroll through 10-second videos hits us with an instant, addictive dopamine shot. YouTube execs are also sweating about the shift: in September 2020 YouTube Shorts was launched, a TikTok lookalike that just recently released a revenue-sharing program designed to entice creators away from TikTok and over to YouTube.

Make no mistake; YouTube is still thriving the subscriber count to YouTube Premium continues to increase year-on-year and it’s also hard to see even TikTok successfully compete with it as far as longform video content goes, much as they try. But the beauty YouTubers who have long thrived on the platform seem to be, at least in part, collateral damage in TikTok’s rise. 

Let’s take beauty YouTube’s most disliked creator, James Charles. He uploaded 52 videos on YouTube in 2022, averaging around 1.4 million views per video by my count. Compare that to 2021, where James uploaded 47 videos and averaged views of around 5.6 million per video. If we revisit 2019 and even exclude any videos including any ‘BYE SISTER’ drama or any video made after that until 2020 Charles was still averaging roughly 15.2 million views per video. From 15.2 million views to 1.4 million; that’s a huge drop-off in three years.

Keep in mind that Charles’ subscriber count is actually higher than it was in 2019, too. At the beginning of May 2019, he had around 16 million subscribers. In the height of the drama, his sub-count plummeted to around 13.5 million. At the time of writing, he has 23.8 million subs, but far less average views per video. Interesting. Charles is fairing better on TikTok, though — he’s enjoying a cool 37 million followers.

Jeffree Star, who wormed his way into the ‘BYE SISTER’ drama like he did with pretty much any relevant scandal, announced just a month ago that he was done with YouTube entirely. What a shame! “No one watches it anymore,” he told fellow scandal-ridden YouTuber, Shane Dawson (watch here, if you must). “There’s literally no point for me to do it anymore because no one watches. No one cares. No one cares about YouTube. Not one single person goes to watch her for enjoyment or fun anymore that I know.”

Star can hardly blame his decline on YouTube, though: his history of racism and other bigoted behaviour took the spotlight (again) in 2020, and serious sexual and physical abuse allegations have been swirling around Star for years. Post Me Too and Black Lives Matter, society’s tolerance for purported perpetrators of violence isn’t what it used to be. Maybe we’re all just collectively done with Star’s bullshit? I know I am. 

I will say, Star’s output on YouTube does also mimic wider beauty influencer trends. He only posted 23 videos in 2022, less than half of Charles’ output. Other once-huge beauty gurus also shared significantly less last year. Bethany Mota only shared 11 videos in 2022 (she struggled to get over 100,000 views despite having almost 10 million subscribers) and RCLBeauty101 only uploaded seven videos over the entire year. Between Mota and RCLBeauty101’s 2022 output, only three of their 18 total videos were explicitly about cosmetics. And even when digging through Charles’ content, his most popular videos in 2022 include some beauty vids, but often Charles’ best performers are videos that shamelessly tack onto trends outside of the community (“Wearing ONLY Thrift Store Outfits For A Week”, “Trying To Cook VIRAL Recipes From TikTok”). Which brings me to my next question… 

Do We Even Still Care About Makeup? 

Beauty YouTubers of the ’10s may be struggling to flog their contour palettes, but the interest in celebrity cosmetics is hardly declining. COTY, owner of Kylie Cosmetics, has been surging financially in recent months; Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty raked in $60 million USD in its first year alone; and Rihanna just became America’s youngest self-made billionaire woman not by releasing music (grr), but from her hugely popular makeup line, Fenty Beauty. 

There’s something different about beauty (and beauty content) these days. Now more than ever, it feels like we’re more engrossed by skincare, and makeup designed to showboat ‘natural’ beauty. Creator trends reflect this newfound ‘skinification of makeup’, with OG skincare master Hyram dominating across YouTube and TikTok (he first went viral after criticizing Kylie Jenner’s own skincare line). Professional skin specialists like esthetician Cassandra Bankson and dermatologist Dr. Muneeb Shah are also inescapable across social media — at least on my feed, anyway. And must I even mention Dr. Pimple Popper’s complete entertainment empire? Heavy contouring tutorials are out; glowy skincare and barely there makeup is in. Sorry, James Charles. 

A Post-Dramageddon YouTube

The decline of beauty YouTube has made way for a new era of viral YouTubers. A lot of the content that dominates YouTube these days is all about splurging, extremities, excess and, going big for going big’s sake — and video games. Mr. Beast is by far YouTube’s biggest creator right now, and his content is all about big budget, and bigger reward. In single uploads, Mr. Beast promises to give out more money than most people will earn in a lifetime. (Remember when he made a real-life Squid Game? That was a lot.)

One look at YouTube’s trending videos at the time of writing, and you have deep dives into uber celebrities (Kim Kardashian, The Royals), loads of video game content, YouTubers showing off wealth in whatever way they can (“I Survived 50 Hours In Antarctica”, “100 GIFTS IN 24 HOURS!!”, “I’m Building the First YouTuber Theme Park from Bed”) and the Barbie trailer (<3). It seems to me, for the money social media creators pull in, YouTube users want to see that money being put toward bigger and better production. If creators can’t do that, mosey on over to TikTok, where almost anything and everything goes — no production budget required. 

I have no idea where beauty YouTubers go from here, but I do know that reviewing Lady Gaga’s makeup line just isn’t going to cut it anymore. I want whatever winged eyeliner lessons you’re serving up in 60 seconds or less, please and thank you. Still, every once in a while, I can’t help but reminisce over beauty YouTube’s glory days and its utter chaos. What a time it was to be alive.