The era of A-list YouTube celebrities is over. Now, the people cancelling them are on top.
- In July, YouTuber D'Angelo Wallace went from 600,000 YouTube subscribers to over 1 million in one week.
- His channel's staggering growth is indicative of the renaissance that's happening in the "commentary" genre on the platform, where YouTubers discuss and critique other YouTubers and their drama.
- Now at 1.6 million subscribers, Wallace talked to Insider about his cocky attitude (and charm), his creative process, and the time an A-list YouTuber asked him to make a video about them.
Fangirling over your favorite YouTuber is out. Tearing them to pieces is in. And D'Angelo Wallace is very good at explaining why the YouTubers you used to love are actually not worth your time.
Since the early 2010s, it's been understood that YouTube is a powerful home-grown entertainment network, giving just about anyone with a camera the chance at money, notoriety, and internet superstardom. People like Shane Dawson — best known for his docuseries and videos about conspiracy theories — and controversial beauty mogul Jeffree Star thrived online, building their careers for more than a decade and rising up to become two of the platform's untouchable A-listers.
Then came 2020, and many of YouTube's top stars faced a reckoning.
Dawson and Star received an avalanche of criticism for their old, racist content, which was re-examined in light of the growing Black Lives Matter movement. Wallace was one of the loudest voices holding the duo accountable for their past behavior and their roles in the explosive 2019 internet drama between beauty YouTubers Tati Westbrook and James Charles.
After Charles had advertised Westbrook's rival's hair vitamins on his Instagram story in 2019, Westbrook accused him of disloyalty to her own hair gummy vitamin brand. She also accused Charles of using his social media fame to try and manipulate straight men, which Star publicly agreed with, calling Charles a "predator" and a "danger to society." The claims of predatory behavior were never backed up with evidence however, and Westbrook eventually went on to apologize to Charles and accuse Dawson and Star of manipulating her.
In conversation with Insider, Wallace compared the past two years of YouTube beauty community drama to "Tiger King," gripping millions of YouTube fans to their screens to watch the chaos unfold. "Thankfully, there was less murder," he added.
22-year-old Wallace, and others in the 'drama community' who have devoted themselves to critiquing YouTube celebrities for Google AdSense dollars, has served as a cancellation catalyst, pouring gasoline on outrage directed at internet stars. Drama channels say they're trying to create a new level of accountability in the culture, which has been known to encourage shock-value and clicks over other principles.
Wallace's deep dive into the beauty YouTube drama of May 2019 deconstructed each YouTuber's role in the feud, exploring how it came back to negatively impact each of their careers. That analysis didn't just earn Wallace subscribers. It shaped how millions of YouTube fans now view the three beauty gurus and their drama.
Beyond drama about YouTubers, Wallace also discusses mainstream pop culture and entertainment — his first video to be featured on YouTube's "Trending" tab was a critique of "Cuties," the controversial Netflix-hosted film about child dancers.
Whatever your opinion is of the growing community Wallace is a part of and those making successful livings of commentary, drama, and "tea," it's undeniable that they're a growing force on YouTube and are cultivating fanbases of their own. Wallace told Insider that he started making more money from YouTube than he did at his part-time job before his Dawson video ever went up, and social media analytics site Social Blade estimates that he can earn more than $300,000 a year off of his two channels.
"I do think it's extremely meta that you can become an influencer of influencers," Wallace told Insider. "Statistically speaking, this shouldn't even be happening. Every now and then I happen to see my own sub count and it just doesn't look right."
From his voice to his analysis (and zingers), Wallace has become a trusted arbiter of YouTube personalities
Wallace's numbers don't lie. As he tweeted in July, his subscriber count rose from under 500,000 to over a million within one month.
About eight months ago, Wallace started a side channel with the sole purpose of talking about "whatever I want" — as opposed to his original channel, which started in 2018 as an art channel, where Wallace posted videos of himself digitally drawing and chatting about topics like art theft.
By mid-July, the "whatever I want" channel was poised to eclipse his original. Within one week of uploading the second video in his series, his chapter about Dawson, he shot from 630,000 subscribers to over 1 million. That's a rare milestone for any commentator, let alone a fresh one.
—D'Angelo Wallace (@dangelno) July 29, 2020
"It's his unapologetic cockiness. It's his charm. It's him being honest and cheeky. It's his funny demeanor. It's the work ethic," Angelo Antonio, a fan of Wallace's, told Insider. "Also his voice. It's like butter mixed with honey that massages your inner ear."
Surprisingly, Wallace wasn't doesn't have the debate-club background of a polished orator. Rather, he says, he was just "super into writing papers" in college, which translates over to the scripts he writes for his YouTube videos.
"What I really loved about writing papers was you could introduce a topic, back it up, and then still have a point," Wallace said. "A lot of my video ideas I structure the same way I would write a paper about it."
His most-viewed video, "The exact moment Shane Dawon's career ended: 12:37 PM, 06/30/20," is an hour and 13 minutes long. It's been watched more than 13 million times. Through YouTube's monetization program, most YouTubers make money off ads. Wallace turned ads off for his Dawson video.
"I feel uncomfortable profiting off this stuff," he explained in the video, before showing clips that included Dawson discussing sexual acts with children, using racist slurs, and kissing pets. For his other videos, Wallace runs ads.
In the Dawson video, Wallace traced his YouTube rise and transition away from "edgy," offensive humor to documentary-style series that asked big, moral questions about other YouTubers. Wallace also showed how Dawson's self-described "empath" identity fell apart once Westbrook introduced a new narrative.
With Star and Dawson already hiding from the public eye by the time Wallace's videos started debuting, they proved to resonate with millions of viewers looking for answers about how the two giants came toppling down. Wallace wasn't the only commentator dissecting their drama — rather, YouTube was consumed by hundreds of videos from dozens of drama channels. But Wallace stands apart.
"His videos offer a reaffirmation of the viewers' moral compass and opinions, rather than an attempt to change them," Liam McEvoy, another commentary channel whose Star videos have also been viewed millions of times, told Insider.
Part of Wallace's goal with his Star video, he said, was to compile all the existing "lore" about the beauty mogul. Criticism of Star could seem "unwarranted," Wallace said, if viewers didn't see the full extent of Star's heavily cataloged bad behavior online.
"Everyone says they don't like drama, but at the end of the day nobody will turn down a good story," Wallace said.
When the video took off, Wallace says he pivoted to "not just explaining what happened, because that's fun to talk about, but why it was affecting everybody so strongly."
With his Dawson video, which sealed the series' success, Wallace's decision to turn off ads also impressed his viewers.
"People resonate with videos like that. Putting in weeks of research for free because the creator just wants the information in a structured manner out there," Antonio said.
Navigating being a popular content creator who talks about other popular content creators can be tricky
Wallace says one of the first commentary videos he ever watched, which left a lasting impact, was popular YouTuber Cody Ko's scathing, hysterical "Worst of Buzzfeed" video about a Buzzfeed employee who claimed to have never eaten most fruits and vegetables.
"I just was floored by how funny it was. I called my mom and was like 'Look, you have to watch this video of this guy reacting to this person eating fruit on BuzzFeed,'" Wallace said. "She looked at me and said 'Who is this?' And that's when I realized I was in a rabbit hole."
While commentary YouTubers like Ko, Danny Gonzalez, and Drew Gooden have become "Trending" tab favorites for their low-stakes commentary and analysis of entertainment and YouTube trends, Wallace has walked the tightrope between more casual commentary, such as his video on Billie Eilish's musical talent, and more serious subject matter, such as his video covering Dawson's cringe-worthy quotes about pedophilia.
"I really try to explain things with clarity so that people understand it's just my opinion, I'm not presenting anything criminal or anything like that," Wallace said. "But I have absolutely wondered things like 'Is this person going to watch this and then I'm going to get a court summons?'"
Turned 22. The moment I saw that viral strawberry dress, I knew my fate involved pastels and strawberries for my birthday... but I'm a man. So I did the manly thing: doing it anyway. Dress Design: Lirika Matoshi Jacket Reimagination: Me/My hot glue gun Also I got y'all a present: a new video all about me, over on my bonus channel
Wallace's concern represents a growing divide between A-list YouTubers and the commentary and drama channels that cover them. Gabbie Hanna, a YouTuber and singer with her own widely dissected summer drama, has publicly fought with commentary channels and told Insider they fostered a "toxic environment" of harassment on YouTube.
Other creators, like Star, have been known to communicate with drama channels behind-the-scenes, offering information and praise in exchange for positive coverage (or negative coverage of their nemeses).
"Sometimes I find it hard to grasp how you can have millions and millions of subscribers but seemingly always be mad that people are talking about you online," Wallace, who has also had negative commentary videos made about him before, said.
"It becomes a game where you have to pick your battles. At the same time as Gabbie Hanna is criticizing these people, she's also absolutely legitimizing them, because now we know that she's watching. The commentary is literally making an impact, it's not just opinions anymore."
At the same time, Wallace says big YouTubers don't always practice what they preach when it comes to drama channels. In fact, one YouTuber who has publicly advocated against drama channels reached out to Wallace to see if he would make a commentary video about them, Wallace said.
"This person was like 'Hey, can you please make a commentary video about me?' And that's when I realized clearly there are layers to this," Wallace said. "I was actually shocked, texting my manager 'Is this real?' I verified the emails and it was absolutely real. I think a lot of these bigger channels have realized that they can get press from smaller channels just by being mad at them."
Not only does Wallace's channel stand apart for its acute observations and lengthy deep dives, but it's Wallace's personality that has resulted in his own growing fanbase. While many creators rely on self-deprecation to appeal to their audience, Wallace has taken the opposite approach.
"People tell me that it makes them more confident, like when I say things about 'Wow, I look great in that photo' or I say 'Wow, that video I just uploaded was the best video about that topic on YouTube,' people will actually internalize that," Wallace said. "And they start at least allowing themselves to think about themselves that way, which is not something we do often."
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