Having broken a million subscribers in July, Emma Blackery talks to TenEighty about being catapulted into YouTube fame in under two years, the effect it’s had on her relationships, keeping the balance between personal and professional (which has proven hard), and why she feels she may have burnt many of her bridges.
“Pink Fluffy Hat Time was awful,” says Emma Blackery, recalling her first YouTube channel emmaforthewin. “I shot it on a camera that only recorded in 360p and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I started it purely to show off my pink fluffy hat, which looking back, was as awful as the show.”
Looking back, she regrets removing those videos early on, admitting it was where she learnt to edit. Nonetheless, her intentions on YouTube were always to promote her music, and a fall-out with her band brought about the creation of the channel we know her for today.
She recalls the band being quite successful, going on tours around the country (“I even got a tattoo of a cartoon car crashing, as a tribute to the ten-car pile up we had on a motorway”), but over time they stopped writing as much. “We went on a temporary hiatus to gather inspiration,” says Emma. “I genuinely thought we’d end up getting back together.”
And they did, without Emma. Finding out over Twitter that they’d reformed with their old singer, she had her tattoo covered up and decided to do something she’d never done before. “I didn’t want that to be the end of my music career,” she says, “so I went solo.”
With the help of the drummer, who she remained friends with, she recorded a four-track EP, Human Behaviour, in his shed, and went about promoting it online. “I shot an awful music video – which I wish I still had – on a tripod in a field, and created that channel ‘emmablackery’ to upload it,” she says. “Like a VEVO, y’know? That’s why the channel’s just my name.”
“I think deep down, though, everyone has a secret desire to be appreciated…”
Before Emma knew it, she was hooked, watching YouTubers such as Dan Howell, Phil Lester, and Alex Day. She admits that, at the time, Alex was an inspiration to her. “He came from Essex, he was funny, he was doing everything I wanted with my old ‘emmaforthewin’ channel,” she says.
Taking inspiration from a series of videos Alex did, where he read out chapters of Twilight and commentated on it, Emma tried something similar out for herself. “Fifty Shades of Grey was released and it was all people were talking about,” she says. “I thought, ‘well, Alex is reading Twilight, maybe I should read this!’”
The series brought her a lot of attention and suddenly, in late 2012, her channel started to boom. “I made a video complaining about the new YouTube layout, and Bertie [Gilbert] commented on it – y’know, when commenting on someone’s video actually helped,” jokes Emma.
“It was bizarre,” she reflects. “In a few months I’d gone from total fangirl to a vlogger that people saw in the same light. For a long time, I didn’t know how to handle it.”
For most of her life, Emma was an only child. In her Draw My Life video, she revealed that her mum moved out when she was 12, and that there was a lot of illness in her family when she was growing up. Before her success on YouTube, did she find her life lonely?
“I don’t think all ‘only children’ are lonely, spoiled brats,” she says. “I’ve never had a problem being by myself. In fact, I prefer it. I think deep down, though, everyone has a secret desire to be appreciated.
“When someone tells you you’re doing a good job, you do more of that thing. I did what people enjoyed the most,” she admits. “I think we all relish praise in some way. That’s a big contributing factor as to why I didn’t give up.”
Her Fifty Shades of Grey series didn’t last long, however, when Random House took down the videos due to copyright infringement. In many ways, Emma recognises this as a blessing in disguise. “They were getting far more popular than my music,” she says. “I think it’s important to stay true to yourself – and I was. I loved reading that book. But I did put music on the back burner.”
Although her teenage years were tough, her success on YouTube allowed her to feel appreciated. Nonetheless, there are some pleasant memories from before YouTube. In 2007, when her stepsister was born, she found a lot of peace from the hurt in her past.
Emma fondly remembers visiting and watching In the Night Garden with her. “At the end of each episode, the characters all get up and do some sort of song and dance,” she says. “Every time, my sister would climb off the sofa, waddle over to the TV and do this strange little wiggle to the music! She was only one at the time. It was then when I truly fell in love with her.”
“I wanted people to know they weren’t alone. That someone understood…”
As her channel kept on growing, Emma began addressing issues such as self-confidence, having low ambitions, bullying, and depression, in her Feel Good 101 series. Much of these videos pulled from her own experiences, but she also wanted to break the taboo. “When I was a teenager no one talked about it,” she says. “It was something that apparently no one had. I don’t want the people who watch me to think the same thing ten years on. And our attitudes towards mental health are changing. It’s not ‘weird’ anymore. More and more people are suffering from depression and self-harming every day.
“I wanted people to know they weren’t alone. That someone understood,” she reflects. “I didn’t have that.”
Her next big success came in the form of a protest song about Google+. She never thought it would be the video that would go viral, but it did. “I don’t regret it… I just sort of loathe it,” admits Emma.
“It’s the song that people think of when they think of my music, and that sucks, you know?” she says. “ I know I should feel grateful, it’s just after releasing two EPs that you’ve worked really hard on, playing them live and there’s people still shouting ‘PLAY GOOGLE PLUS,’ it can get annoying.”
While Emma finds this irritating, it doesn’t stop her from playing. She respects what the song has done for her and her channel. If it wasn’t for the success of her YouTube channel – whether it’s her comedy vlogs, the Feel Good 101 series or the Google+ song – people wouldn’t be hearing her music in the first place. And she knows this.
“It knocked me down a peg… It made me realise ‘wow, not everyone will automatically know and like me’”
Her second EP, Distance, reached Number One on the iTunes Rock chart within the first week of its release. Since then, she’s been interviewed by Kerrang! and Rock Sound, and has gone on tour with Charlie Simpson – all things she never thought would happen.
“Charlie Simpson was my first crush,” Emma admits. “I had posters of him and Busted on my wall as a kid! Oh, I loved him. I thought I was going to marry him.
“I’m lucky,” she affirms. “I never really had to graft with my solo stuff. The music success came from the YouTube success. But touring with Charlie… it was humbling. Really humbling.”
She looks back on the tour fondly, despite admitting that at times it was tough. “Most gigs I was basically like Regular Joe on open mic night. Not many people clapped. People were shouting over me to order drinks,” she says.
“It knocked me down a peg,” she continues. “It made me realise ‘wow, not everyone will automatically know and like me. I still have to work’.”
Emma is completely aware that she can often come across as arrogant. We begin to talk about some of her outbursts on Twitter, which she believes have done damage to many of her relationships within the YouTube community. “Speaking my mind is easy. Dealing with the consequences is the difficult part,” Emma states.
One example of this is how things went down with Dan Howell. “He was one of the first YouTubers I watched, and naturally I really looked up to him,” says Emma. “I had this silly idea that one day I would collab with him, and as I was getting bigger and bigger, I kept messaging him and he never replied.”
This led to Emma becoming resentful and eventually badmouthing him on social media. “I was hurt,” she says, “but I know now that it all came from a rather silly and somewhat selfish place.”
However, that wasn’t the end of it. The pair crossed paths when Emma had the opportunity to interview Placebo – her favourite band – and she admits feeling a whirlwind of emotions. “I felt nervous, angry and excited all at once,” she says, “but overall I felt embarrassed for the things I said online. I went over and apologised profusely, and then my inner fangirl kicked in and I, sort of, cornered him into following me on Twitter.”
“Maybe I deserve not being spoken to for how I was…”
Another one of her outbursts garnered the attention of Alfie Deyes, not long after he had announced that he wouldn’t be attending Summer in the City. “I said something like ‘I’ll be there, unlike those who just sit in the green room all day’,” she recalls. “It was actually aimed at many YouTubers, but Alfie called me out on it.”
“I think I called him arrogant, and that was that,” continues Emma. “I don’t think there was anything else. We’re just from different places and have different views. I don’t dislike him at all.”
Reflecting on both incidents, she now understands why people within the community can sometimes be wary of her. “Maybe I deserve not being spoken to for how I was,” she says. “I also have to stop assuming people see my tweets.”
There was a moment in particular that helped her to see how she sometimes comes across on social media. When Dan eventually unfollowed her, he DMed her explaining that he had no hard feelings but would prefer to avoid seeing drama on his Twitter feed. “I get it. I sometimes feel that way too, and in the past I haven’t been able to stop myself getting involved,” says Emma.
“I still really respect Dan. He was a massive influence on my channel,” she says. “It’s only now that I realised how irritating I’ve been along the way. I acted out of hurt when he did nothing intentionally.”
“I cut out people who had helped me along the way… How horrible does that sound now?”
Emma hopes that one day he may look past how she acted, but also gets why he – and others – may want to keep her at arm’s length. “I don’t know if I’ll ever have the opportunity to make it right, but all I care about is for him to know I’m sorry,” she reflects.
From this, she has a bit of advice for anyone who may be trying to be successful as a YouTuber. “You have to see the people you fangirl over as professionals,” says Emma. “They work hard, they don’t see every tweet and they’re not intentionally ignoring you. Don’t start drama for retweets. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”
At her heart, Emma is a good person who means well. She admit her flaws and lays her damages out for everyone to see. Much of her following admire her for bearing her scars and speaking her mind. But it also means that her online presences can come across as two separate personalities; the Jekyll and Hyde within her.
“I’ve slowly come to realise that calling people out solves nothing,” she says. “Those who blindly support those people will just think you’re a jerk, and everyone else will accuse you of causing drama for popularity. Maybe I did cause drama for attention… I can’t even remember what was going through my head.
“All I can say now is those days are over,” she continues. “Bad people will be their own downfall. They don’t need me to call them out for people to realise who they truly are.”
“There are a lot of ways that people can feel inspired, but the only real thing that seems to drive me is jealousy…”
Whether it was her personal insecurities, her inner craving to be appreciated, or the mad numbers game of YouTube that drew her in, Emma is now trying her best to keep herself in check. “I used to think I was the best thing since sliced bread,” she admits. “It’s hard to stay humble when you’re instantly catapulted into this bizarre internet limelight.
“I was arrogant,” affirms Emma. “I cut out people who had helped me along the way because I didn’t see ‘a need’ for them. How horrible does that sound now?
“I just can’t shake that paranoia. I don’t feel like I can make friends without the fear that people are just using me for collab videos, or bragging rights, or whatever. The chances are they wouldn’t,” she says. “I lost my relationship with my best friend last year because of it. I haven’t properly recovered from that.”
It’s a double-edged sword. All these emotions she holds are the reason she believes she’s burnt most of her bridges, but they’re also the reason she’s so driven. Emma recognises that she often makes an enemy out of other YouTubers in her head. It’s not something she’s proud of. “There are a lot of ways that people can feel inspired, but the only real thing that seems to drive me is jealousy,” she says.
“‘Why is this person bigger than me? What are they doing right?’” she continues. “I never try to externalise those feelings. It’s all harmless competition in my head!”
“He taught me to be strong, to not suffer fools gladly, to work hard and be my own person…”
At one point the enemy in her head was Carrie Hope Fletcher. “I’ve never told her that. I’ve never told anyone that,” says Emma. “But I adore her now. She is the only woman in my life that walks into a room and lights it up. She commands it. She is the most kind, genuine, positive person I know.
“I wish I’d never seen her in my mind as something she’s not,” states Emma, “and never has been.”
Throughout her rapid journey to internet fame, the whirlwind emotions and moments of self-discovery, there has been two constants in Emma’s life that has kept her grounded. The first is her relationship with her father. “It’s unique,” she says. “Because of my anxiety, and a little bit of his overprotection at times, we call each other a few times every day.
“If I have no phone signal, or can’t get through to him, I panic,” Emma continues. “He is my hero. He taught me to be strong, to not suffer fools gladly, to work hard and be my own person. My dad is the reason I am who I am. And I make sure he hears that every day.”
The second is her relationship with Luke Cutforth, her boyfriend. “He is my best friend. He is my teammate. My partner in crime. I’ve never, ever been so close to someone,” she says. “I am irrevocably in love with him.
“You get nowhere [on YouTube] now without an initial push. He was that push,” Emma affirms. “He believed I’d be big and I wouldn’t be where I am if he hadn’t. It doesn’t matter how funny people think my videos are. He is why I’m here.”
Photos by Ollie Ali.
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