If you’re from the generation that thinks ‘shade’ is your answer to the erratic weather we’ve been getting these days, then this article may not be for you.
Just as we were all beginning to tire of the sponsored beauty videos and cafe listicles cluttering our newsfeeds, Singapore’s YouTube community found itself embroiled in some popcorn-worthy drama recently.
It all started when influencers Tan Jianhao, Dee Kosh and Night Owl Cinematic’s Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan came together to film a ‘Smash or Pass’ video. The game involved the four of them going through a list of people, and declaring if they would consider him or her attractive enough to sleep with.
Think the “Shoot, Shag or Marry” game that you couldn’t escape as a polytechnic or university freshman at orientation camp — except here, the list was composed of a host of other well-known influencers on the scene.
It didn’t take long after the video was posted on Tan’s channel for the brickbats to come in.
Some bemoaned where the industry was headed:
While actor Noah Yap didn’t refer to the original video directly, he published a video on his channel where he lamented that the local YouTube scene had become too competitive and thrived too much on drama.
Some took aim at the four for “being real” at the expense of others:
In a post on her Instagram account, influencer Naomi Neo pointed out the “fine line between being outspoken and downright mean”, and that those in the industry shouldn’t be producing content at the expense of their peers.
Others pointed out that influencers need to have thicker skin:
On the other hand, blogger Xiaxue filmed a reaction video, saying that it was hypocritical to brand the foursome’s actions as bullying when the influencers’ response could lead their own followers to bully them as well.
Should influencers be expected to take the heat?
The original ‘Smash or pass’ video has since been deleted from Tan’s channel, although in a follow-up post, he made it clear he didn’t feel that he had been in the wrong, but wanted to respect the opinions of those who had been angered by it.
Tan has a staggering 650,000 YouTube subscribers, while Ryan and Sylvia have 540,000 subscribers on their shared channel, and Neo has an Instagram following of 345,000. Given the popularity of these personalities, the squabble has raised questions whether influencers should be expected to bear public scrutiny like other public figures.
Since influencers build their entire brands on being seen, heard and talked about, it’s not so surprising that ‘stay out of the kitchen if you can’t take the heat’ has been echoed by netizens on several threads.
In a similar vein, Xiaxue warned against excessive political correctness in her response video, and said, “Our society is so easily offended that nobody can discuss any prickly issues because even if they’re true, anytime you say something that’s against the majority, you’re considered an accomplice to the crime.”
She questioned, “How can we become stronger and better people if we do not allow any kind of speech that is vaguely offensive?”
While he had not seen the original video, Manhunt 2015 winner Fuad Al-Hakim told The Pride that fighting back in public can prove counter-productive. With almost 20,000 Instagram followers, Al-Hakim is not immune to receiving the occasional public criticism, but he prefers to de-escalate the tension instead.
“As an influencer, sometimes you need to have thick skin. It’s best to shrug it off because there’s no point trying to prove them wrong and make a scene about it. The post may not have been that visible, but when you start fighting back, it just attracts even more attention.”
Given how closely an influencer’s personality is tied to his or her brand, being overtly brash in the name of entertainment could backfire as well. A casual follower of the local blogging and Instagram scene, 19-year-old Lim Wen Sin is one of many young digital natives today who are increasingly savvy and discerning with how they consume social media.
How would she show her disapproval, if an influencer steps out of line? No need for pitchforks or keyboard warriors when a simpler and more impactful way to sound displeasure is, literally, at her fingertips.
“If the values that (an influencer) stands for and the things he or she does clashes with what I believe, then obviously, I wouldn’t follow them anymore”, she told The Pride.
Just as everything is quick and instant in today’s social media age, loyalty to a brand or personality is equally fleeting.
Whether they like it or not, influencers today stand shoulder to shoulder with traditional celebrities in the glare of the spotlight. The difference is that while a movie star or model can be measured in the subjective terms of how good their films or pictorials turn out, the world of influencers is entrenched in a more ruthless game of numbers. In this world, clout and value is measured by the size of one’s following in the eyes of sponsors and followers.
Draw attention, and things are well and good. Draw attention for the wrong reasons, and sponsors could drop you like a hot potato as you watch followers click “unfollow” faster than you can distract them with another funny skit.
Case in point: YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, alias PewDiePie, recently faced backlash for a series of videos that were seen as anti-Semitic jokes taken too far. Despite defending himself as exercising his freedom of speech, the most popular personality on YouTube, with 53 million subscribers, was dropped by big-name collaborators like Disney and YouTube itself. The latter cancelled a premium show Kjellberg had headlined.
While not directly comparable to the ‘Smash or Pass’ video that Tan and co. produced, the fallout from Kjellberg’s incident told us two things about social media stardom. One, influencers, for their celebrity status, are expected to toe the line and meet certain standards of behaviour. And two, failing to do so can lead to much more than just a barrage of angry comments. Losing sponsorship deals and a dwindling follower count would hit an influencer where it can really, really hurt.
Holding on to clicks, likes and followers in this fickle reality takes more than just mastering your best selfie angle. While pushing the boundaries by being antagonistic and edgy may be the quickest path to higher hits, those gunning for lasting fame, instead of infamy, will also want to present their best selves to a judgmental and outspoken public.
Being slow to offend and yet slower to take offence seems to be the order of the day. Instead of lighting fires, or trying to fight fire with fire, those in the game may want to withstand the heat that comes with the spotlight on a healthy dose of grace and good humour.