Charts show how James Charles rose above Jeffree Star and defied cancelation

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for MTVJames Charles poses with fans at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards. Charles was ranked number ten in YouTube’s 2020 list of the platforms top creators.
  • Makeup and beauty YouTuber James Charles has been embroiled in controversy at multiple points in his career, but his popularity and success have grown despite being “cancelled.”
  • After losing the most subscribers in YouTube history in May 2019, Charles regained the 1.7 million subscribers he lost in seven months.
  • In fact, Charles’ channel has grown larger than both Jeffree Star’s and Tati Westbrook’s after the two older YouTube beauty gurus made serious accusations against Charles in 2019.
  • Charles’ rebound demonstrates that being the target of “cancel culture” doesn’t necessarily mean your career is over – in Charles’ case, the momentum actually allowed his career to skyrocket.
  • This is part of Insider’s “uncancelable” series, which uses data to analyse cancel culture.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

James Charles is no stranger to internet drama and YouTube conflict. The 21-year-old beauty guru has more than 24 million YouTube subscribers and more than 31 million TikTok followers — but he’s also been “cancelled” over numerous things, from a tweet about ebola to comments about “influencer representation.”

Cancel culture is a relatively recent term for an online phenomenon characterised by both famous and non-famous people being called out and publically shamed for behaviour that’s considered problematic. For influencers, it sometimes results in a massive loss in subscribers, an attack on their public image, and the loss of sponsorships and other forms of income.

Out of all of Charles’ scandals, his most infamous is the 2019 controversy within YouTube’s beauty community.

Jeffree Star James CharlesJames Charles / YouTubeJames Charles and Jeffree Star very publicly ended their friendship.

The YouTube star endured the largest subscriber loss in the platform’s history after being embroiled in “Dramageddon 2.0,” a 2019 feud between Charles and fellow beauty YouTubers Tati Westbrook and Jeffree Star. But Charles went on to outgrow and surpass both creators within a year of the controversy.

Despite facing one of the biggest cancellations in YouTube history, Charles was able to use the momentum after the feud to reach new career heights — suggesting that the effects of cancel culture on internet celebrities may actually benefit or sustain their careers over time.

At first, the 2019 beauty guru war appeared to do serious damage to Charles’ career

On May 10, 2019, Westbrook published a 43-minute long video titled “Bye Sister” on YouTube. In the video, Westbrook, who had publicly mentored Charles for several years, said she was ending her friendship with him. Westbrook said she was blindsided by Charles’ paid endorsement of Sugar Bear Hair and its hair vitamins — the primary competitor to her own brand, Halo Beauty, and its products.

The video also contained accusations that Charles, who is gay, used his money and fame to try and manipulate straight male teens and young adults. Westbrook specifically said that Charles made inappropriate sexual comments about a waiter at her birthday dinner that she, Star, and Charles all attended.

Star then endorsed Westbrook’s video on Twitter, and he also called Charles a “danger to society” and said that Charles was not allowed in Star’s home — further escalating the drama.

According to Social Blade, a company that tracks social media statistics and analytics, Charles lost over 1.7 million subscribers on YouTube after Westbrook and Star laid out the allegations. While Charles hemorrhaged followers, Westbrook’s following on YouTube began to skyrocket. Westbrook gained over four million subscribers, growing her channel to 10 million subscribers for the first time in her career.

After addressing his side of the story, Charles started to gain subscribers again, and Westbrook lost many of hers

Charles responded to Westbrook and Star in the middle of his massive subscriber loss, and his refutation of their claims boomeranged his follower count, defying cancelation. In his “No More Lies” video, Charles said his Sugar Bear Hair endorsement was in exchange for a VIP Coachella pass, which Charles claimed he desperately needed because he was getting mobbed by fans.

Charles denied the claims of predatory behaviour made by Westbrook and Star, and he revealed text messages that Star sent him threatening to expose further accusations. After Charles denied their claims, both Westbrook and Star apologised.

Rumour jeffree star owns morpheTati Westbrook/YouTube; Jason Koerner/Getty ImagesTati Westbrook (left) has claimed that Jeffree Star is a co-owner of Morphe Cosmetics, and that it played a role in allegedly stirring up a feud between Westbrook and James Charles.

Over the next seven months, Charles regained the 1.7 million YouTube subscribers he had lost, and he has since grown his channel larger than both Westbrook’s and Star’s. Westbrook fell back below 10 million subscribers, and she currently has 9 million. Star currently has just below 17 million subscribers.

In 2020, the beauty guru feud was revived, leading to drama between Westbrook and Star that hurt both of them

In April 2020, Star reignited the beauty drama on the “Mum’s basement” podcast where he claimed that he has proof of a “victim” of Charles saved in a voice memo on his phone.

Renewed scrutiny of Star’s claims against Charles resulted in a number of smaller YouTube creators making videos criticising him, including a former Black male model for Star’s makeup company who said Star “tokenized” his race, YouTuber Blaire White, and a handful of YouTube channels devoted to creator drama who said Star privately maligned Charles’ character before their 2019 feud.

In June 2020, Westbrook posted a follow-up video to the 2019 feud, saying that Star and YouTuber Shane Dawson gaslit her into making the original “Bye Sister” video. Dawson denied some of Westbrook’s claims in a frantic Instagram Live, but neither of them addressed the specific claims in Westbrook’s video.

“I can tell you this: It’s now my opinion that Jeffree and Shane were both bitterly jealous of James Charles’ success,” Westbrook said in the video.

Following her June 2020 video, Westbrook has yet to upload another video to YouTube — and her subscribers have noticed. She’s lost subscribers every month following the controversies, according to SocialBlade.

Star’s social media growth has also fallen below Charles’

Charles has also bested star since their 2019 feud, according to the numbers.

Charles surpassed Star’s subscriber count in April 2020 and Star has consistently uploaded fewer videos per month than Charles while also receiving fewer views per video.

Additionally, Charles is averaging close to four times more engagement than Star on Instagram — a major platform in the beauty and makeup communities, according to Social Blade.

In a video with Shane Dawson in 2019, Star said that if his “Blue Blood palette doesn’t have a million likes already, it’s gonna flop.” Star has not had an Instagram post surpass 1 million likes since September 2020.

Star has been insistent, though, that he came out on top of the drama with Charles. In his April 2020 podcast appearance, he said “to me it isn’t a numbers game, because I’ve already won.”

Charles has mastered cross-platform engagement, helping boost his numbers

While Westbrook halted her YouTube career, Charles has continued to diversify his streams of engagement. He uploaded his first TikTok video in August 2019. As of December 2, 2020, Charles has uploaded 198 videos to the new social media platform and has 31 million followers — surpassing his YouTube subscriber count by over 7 million.

Charles has also tapped into a wholly separate internet zeitgeist: video games and streaming. He regularly streams himself playing video games on Twitch.

Additionally, Charles has continued to grow his business relationship with makeup manufacturers by releasing updated eyeshadow palettes and brush sets through Morphe.

TikTok users were captivated by the drama between the D'Amelio family, James Charles, and Trisha Paytas.Instagram/@dixiedamelio, @trishapaytasTikTok users were captivated by the drama between the D’Amelio family, James Charles, and Trisha Paytas.

According to YouTube, Charles was ranked tenth on the site’s top ten creators list of 2020. He is notably the only makeup or beauty YouTuber on the list.

Charles may just be 21 years old, over a decade younger than both Star and Westbrook, but his career trajectory is currently surpassing them both.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.