- YouTube star Gigi Gorgeous has 2.7 million subscribers, and has become an icon for being true to yourself.
- She worked with Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple to make a documentary about her life and gender transition, which is now playing on YouTube Red.
- She has seen a change in the way brands deal with YouTube stars, with both sides learning to compromise.
25-year-old YouTube superstar Gigi Gorgeous, who has 2.7 million subscribers on that platform alone, has been thinking a lot about one particular fan recently.
“She told me she was trans,” Gigi explained in an interview with Business Insider in New York City. “I was the first person that she told … for her to pick me as her first person, I thought that was really special.”
Gigi’s relationship with the fans who watch and interact with her videos is powerful and intimate. And while this quality has propelled Gigi to stardom, it isn’t something brand partners have always fully understood, though she said that is changing as the business ecosystem around YouTube continues to mature.
Gregory to Gigi
In 2008, Gigi started off her YouTube career under the name “Gregory Gorgeous,” gaining popularity by posting things like witty makeup videos. She was a star even then, but she really defined her status as an icon for honesty and self-expression when she publicly documented her gender transition, becoming Gigi.
Beyond posts on social media, Gigi’s transition was portrayed in the 2017 documentary “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous,” which was directed by Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple and is available to watch on YouTube Red. The portrait of Gigi and her family is raw, emotional, funny, and uplifting.
In short: It’s everything that has made a particular type of new star flourish on social-media platforms like YouTube.
“I was always super outgoing, loud, the social butterfly of my high school and elementary school,” Gigi said. That is clear in her work, and an important element of being a social-media personality. But it is her mix of candor, humour, and warmth that is so compelling. It’s what makes fans choose her as the person they first want to tell that they are transgender.
It has also, however, not always been easy for brand partners to intuitively grasp.
Brands and stars both want control
“Brands are slowly but surely learning” how to collaborate with internet talent, Gigi said in our interview.
Take sponsored posts, for example. A sponsored post used to be about hitting certain points, which often fell flat, Gigi said, characterising that as a “waste.” Now brands are beginning to understand that they have to let digital stars have more freedom if they want to see any result.
And it’s not just on the brand side that learning is happening, but on the talent side as well.
“Now I’m a lot more selective,” Gigi said. She has a long-term deal with Revlon and has done recent deals with brands like Clinique, Samsung, and AT&T.
But there was a time she would take any brand deal that was brought to her, she said. “Oh this mouthwash, get in a video,” she joked. “I’d just do it. That’s the God’s honest truth.”
Gigi said the understanding on both sides – brands and talent – has evolved. Just having a big brand and a big social-media star doesn’t mean you’ll get anything valuable out of a deal. It has to be a fit.
“It’s all about having knowledge of my brand,” she said.
But companies can still get nervous about what their influencer partners are saying in videos and on social media, according to Gigi.
That’s understandable in a world where YouTube’s biggest star, PewDiePie, ended up getting dropped by Disney in February after the Wall Street Journal pointed out anti-Semitic themes in his videos; and Vine-launched star Logan Paul drew public condemnation and blacklash from YouTube for filming a dead body in Japan’s “suicide forest.”
Brands want a measure of control over the people they work with. But it can sometimes make life difficult for stars like Gigi, who thrive on openness.
Gigi gave the example of a contract she had with Crest in Canada, which she said contained “literally a diagram of breasts … You can’t show a quarter of a breast [on social media].” And it wasn’t just idle talk from the toothpaste giant. Gigi said Crest flagged pictures on her Instagram to her manager, which she then had to delete. (Crest did not respond to a request for comment.)
But as more and more consumption of video moves to digital, and stars like Gigi continue to emerge, both sides have a huge incentive to strike a balance. Millions of fans are drawn to the authentic relationship they feel with Gigi.
That is essential to the business of being Gigi Gorgeous, and if you want to be in business with her, you have to get it.
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