An impossibly attractive couple sit next to each other on the couch. They’re in their mid-20s and they smile—pearly white, toothy smiles—as they recount the day’s events. They tried to go to a movie, but they were late and couldn’t get in. So they played miniature golf and their son, age 6, was predictably terrible at it. Then they went to the movies.
It’s hard to believe that 100,000 people have watched that video and another 300 or so left glowing comments. I am in that number. My comment was something along the lines of, “OMG, y’all are too cute! Can’t wait for your next vlog!” (Comment was paraphrased to protect the dorky.)
Videos very much like that — most of them don’t have the extra narration, though — are how I invariably spend the first 15 to 20 minutes of my day. They’re called “daily vlogs,” and they’re a huge portion of the content that women of color contribute to YouTube.
Also, I can’t stop watching them. I sit with my eyes glued to my iPhone, a huge smile plastered over my face as I “ooh” and “ahhh” over the ridiculously adorable babies and toddlers of YouTube, some of whom I have watched grow since they were infants. A part of me feels really stupid about this, and I am aware of the fact that I have become rapt over a guy buying diapers at Target, narrating the whole time, or a woman pushing her baby on a swing, doing what normal mothers do every day.
My friends and family similarly remind me how ridiculous they deem my vlog obsession. I hear the protest, I feel the oddity, and yet I don’t care. Me, and a whole bunch of other people. We just don’t care.
Most of the women I digitally stalk as they run errands in mundane suburbs all over America are entrepreneurs. They started making videos on how to do hair or makeup during YouTube’s beauty boom and they’ve branched out to create sometimes two or three additional channels. One vlogger I love, itsJudyslife, even created a separate makeup channel that’s dubbed in Spanish. Her daily vlogs about life with her health-nut husband and three adorable baby daughters average nearly 300,000 views. The channel, one of her five channels, is just shy of 1 million subscribers.
They have left corporate jobs or freelance businesses to make videos for a living. Like one of my favorite YouTube couples, Gabe and Babe, who were recently profiled by their hometown paper for being full-time “video diarists,” as the article described. Gabe, like most of the vloggers I watch, grew a following creating natural hair tutorials for black women. Now I watch her, her husband “Babe,” their crazy-cute toddler Chad, Jr., and teeny dog do extra-normal stuff almost daily.
There’s almost a Martha Stewart–GOOPish-ness about the whole thing. “Full-time YouTubers,” as they are called, like Judy, Gabe, or Whitney (aka Naptural85), another of my faves, have created careers instructing women how to be their prettiest, healthiest selves.
The daily vlogs are equal parts life snapshot and instructional manual. There are tips on how to create the simplest of recipes, that, honestly, you could figure out how to make or simply google. There are hella obvious style tips. There are brand shout-outs galore. Folks in the comments can’t get enough, requesting the exact make and model of the $12 popcorn maker or scream that they must know where the beanie hat came from. As much as I love my vlogs, that aspect of the fandom baffles me.
On the other hand, though, one of the things that makes YouTube vloggers must-see-TV isn’t the tips or the recipes or the health encouragement. It’s seeing super glam Judy with a bare face, juggling a couple of babies. Or lioness-maned Whitney with a silk bonnet over her head, looking just how I look before bed. Basically, they’re like reality TV if reality TV were actually real.
It’s 20 times more compelling than anything on the “Real Housewives” franchise—which, I’m not ashamed to say, was my obsession for four or five years straight. It’s real people, real personalities, real growth, real challenges and real laughs.
Another aspect for me is that it’s not just reality TV that has shifted to my iPhone. At least twice a week, I’m ass up on my yoga mat with Adrienne; creating a grocery list based on recipes from FoodHeavenShow or sweating with PopSugar Fitness (that last one—seriously good videos if you can’t afford/don’t like the gym!).
A lot of the various types of entertainment that used to come from the Food Network or a Jillian Michaels DVD now come from YouTube. So in some ways, I’ve just replaced the time I used to spend watching television with time on YouTube, watching regular people like me.
The fact remains, though, that the majority of these vlogs consist of people making smoothies, feeding babies and driving to and from the grocery store. Some vloggers have quite a bit of drama going on, but those aren’t the ones I watch. Maybe the lack of narrative is freeing. Maybe seeing cute babies laugh and play is relaxing. Maybe there’s something affirming in seeing black and brown women wield power just for being themselves.
Or maybe I’m just weird and I like to watch strangers run errands.