Emma Chamberlain rarely took a break.
Until this spring, the now 19-year-old was constantly on the move. On top of booking appearances and collaborating with other YouTubers, Chamberlain also filmed and edited videos for her own channel, which has amassed over 9.5 million subscribers and more than 1.2 billion views since she began posting them as a high schooler in 2017.
Her signature editing style of using rapid jump cuts and quirky asides to the camera inspired a wave of imitation vloggers who emulate Chamberlain’s use of on-screen text and raw honesty. Chamberlain’s wildly popular videos are often fun, light watches, but the process of creating them is laborious. Last year, she told the New York Times that a weekly upload could take anywhere from 20 to 30 hours to put together. She often edits in marathon stretches, sitting down for 12 to 15 hours at a time to bang out a vlog that clocks in at under 20 minutes.
Whether for business or pleasure, Chamberlain traveled constantly and had adapted to editing on the go. In the last year, she was awarded Choice Female Web Star at the Teen Choice Awards, hosted the Teen Vogue “Generation Next” show at New York Fashion Week, and graced the cover of Cosmopolitan, in which she was described as “The most popular girl in the world.” On top of all that, she also launched a weekly podcast: “Anything Goes With Emma Chamberlain.”
Chamberlain manages her intense lifestyle with a seemingly never-ending supply of caffeine. A mason jar of iced coffee and a splash of almond milk is present in nearly every video Chamberlain uploads. In Dec. 2019, she launched her own brand of coffee. On Sept. 27, she’s relaunching Chamberlain Coffee with a collection of five sustainably sourced and packaged blends. In addition to bags of ground coffee, Chamberlain Coffee will sell single-serve grounds packaged in mesh sachets like tea bags. (Mashable reviewed one of her original steeped coffee bags in 2019.) They’re meant to be an alternative to instant coffee that Chamberlain’s viewership, who are primarily teenagers and young adults, can consume without needing access to equipment like a French press or a Chemex.
Chamberlain’s industrious wayfaring came to a halt when the COVID-10 pandemic swept across the world. Like the rest of us, she was isolated to the confines of her home in an effort maintain social distancing. In the roughly six months since Los Angeles enacted a stay-at-home order, Chamberlain has finally had the quiet to reevaluate her lifestyle and the people she spends time with. Other than seeing the friends in her quarantine bubble, Chamberlain told Mashable, and attending a widely criticized birthday party with dozens of other influencers at the Hype House, her social life has been scaled back significantly.
I sat down with Emma Chamberlain for a cup of coffee (over Zoom, of course) to chat about rekindling friendships, staying out of YouTube drama, and the loneliness that we’ve all been feeling in quarantine.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Mashable: To kick this off, I know you’ve featured coffee in like every one of your vlogs, but can you personally describe your relationship to coffee?
Chamberlain: Coffee is very nostalgic for me. I just grew up drinking it, throughout every stage of my life from the time I was very, very young to now. I [was] probably too young to be drinking coffee, although my first favorite coffee drink was my mom getting a soy latte and then me asking for extra, extra, extra foam — it’s literally just foam — and then a tiny bit of coffee at the bottom. But yeah, then you know, using it for studying when I was in high school and getting coffee with my dad throughout the years and stuff like that. So it’s just a very social thing for me, and a very nostalgic thing, and a very comforting thing. And I’m passionate about it, I love it. I love a good cup. That’s all it takes for me to make my day.
So a lot of influencers will start brands that are more geared toward lifestyle, like you’ve done clothing collabs, or some release hair care lines or makeup brands. Why coffee?
I think it just made the most sense for me because it’s something that people know me for, for sure. A lot of people associate coffee with me. I wanted to do something a little bit different and I wanted to go a different path and I wanted to do something that no one else had done. I’m not somebody who’s super into makeup and I’m very into clothes, but…you know.
Coffee was something that I feel like hadn’t been done yet by an influencer. I wanted to really make it something different and special, that not only the influencer world hasn’t seen yet but also the coffee industry as well. I think we didn’t get to that point where those goals were met until the relaunch.
Yeah. So a lot of coffee snobs will look down on coffee that’s easier to make, like K-cups or instant coffee. Why did you choose this sort of, tea bag method of making coffee?
We wanted to start with a product that my demographic especially would gravitate towards, something that’s easy, that’s cheaper than going to a cafe out and about, that’s eco-friendly because you know, my generation specifically is very into that. Something that anyone could use that you don’t need equipment [for]. You can just buy it and it’s like, you can do whatever you want with it, right?
The coffee quality, even though it’s in a sense, instant…It’s very high quality coffee in there. It’s not an instant coffee, those real ground up beans, like very, very high quality beans, and they’re sealed in a way so it doesn’t go bad. It stays fresh for quite some time. And I think that’s something that’s really cool ’cause I’m not a huge fan of instant coffee myself.
That was just a great stepping stone towards introducing things that the coffee snob could use in their Bialetti, in their, you know, really expensive espresso machine. For us we wanted to start with something that we knew everybody could use.
Right, it almost seems like you’ve made coffee less intimidating for your target audience.
1,000 percent, that is totally, exactly the way that we look at it.
Moving past coffee, how has quarantine been for you? I know you recently posted a vlog about like, a staycation, and I was wondering how quarantine has changed the way you make content.
Content wise, I mean, it’s been a little tough because I’m somebody that loves to film me doing things that I do on a day-to-day. And the problem is that my day-to-day got very boring, very fast. I really stopped doing interesting things almost immediately so that’s made things a little bit tough because I want to be vlogging my day, but I’m doing the same thing every day. Half the time, I’m laying in bed, or I’m hanging out with my friends, and I don’t really want to film that because it’s my private, sacred time, you know what I mean? It’s hanging out with my friends, the ones I’m quarantining with, not being reckless.
“Normally my life that I lived created content for me, and it was so much easier.”
But I’ve had to get creative at home and do more videos that have concepts behind them, instead of just being able to film me going on a trip. Normally my life that I lived created content for me, and it was so much easier because it was like, OK, once or twice a month I could just film a vlog of me sitting in the new setting and it would be an adventure.
I’ve been doing more stuff with fashion, like flipping clothes and stuff like that. Or outfit related videos, I’ve been having a lot of fun with that.
Can you give me an example of a time when you felt just really creatively pushed by the confines of quarantine?
Let’s say I’m doing a cooking video, I need to go get groceries for that. Well I remember in the very beginning, there was a solid month where every store was like, there was nothing in them. There was no toilet paper, if you wanted to get eggs, good luck. Every grocery store was crazy. Getting supplies for different concepts wasn’t an option.
Getting equipment, it was like I kind of have to work with what I have. And that was fun and all, but was definitely challenging because it’s weird when you’re not able to just go grab something from the store. Luckily that evened out pretty quickly and then it’s fine.
Definitely, and you know, the pre-pandemic version of you seemed to always be on the move, always super busy. I think everyone in the whole world has been forced to slow down. What was that experience like for you?
I think it’s been one of the most transformative times of my life thus far. I have found a lot of my core values and really become in touch with them through this time because I think that all the running around that I was doing was kind of like, allowing me to avoid things that I need to address about myself. Not even bad things, but I don’t know one person who doesn’t need to do a little bit of self reflection. It’s forced me to reflect on myself and like, ‘OK. Who do I want to surround myself with?’
Because now I have all the time to think about that. I have the time to think about what I want my career to look like. I’ve had to look at what has failed in my life, what has worked, and really analyze all of that. And I realized the importance of having a really good support system because I think that when you’re running around all the time, you’re always around different people.
“Wait, who do I have? Who am I talking to on a day-to-day? Who are those people?”
You’re being social constantly, there’s no shortage of human interaction. But when something like a pandemic goes around, you’re like ‘Holy crap!’ You’re kind of looking around, you’re like, ‘Wait, who do I have? Who am I talking to on a day-to-day? Who are those people?’ And it really forced me to look at that.
It’s been so incredibly good for me, but also very anxiety provoking, and I’ve had depressive episodes throughout it and it’s been tough, but I was glad to take a break.
Speaking of people you want to surround yourself with, I noticed you recently rekindled your friendship with James Charles. Can you tell me about that?
It was super cool. We haven’t talked in so long, and I don’t think we forgot about one another, but it was just like, we grew apart. It was not at all hostile or anything, it was just the way that it was, we just didn’t talk and we both had six different groups of friends. We always had very different groups of friends when it came to our core friend groups. We hung out a decent amount, but we weren’t [doing the] hanging out every day type of thing.
We sort of drifted apart, and then rekindling our friendship was super cool. It’s just fun to catch up about what we make, what’s going on, and update each other on everything that has happened.
You know, there’s some friendships that drift away and when you get to rekindle it, it’s even more fun because you get to catch each other up on everything that happened when you weren’t really speaking, and I enjoyed that.
“I actually really like having a lot of alone time and having a very small circle. I don’t know if I’m ready to be social again.”
Yeah! That’s great to hear. Do you think you would have rekindled your friendship with him, or anyone else you may have rekindled your friendships with, if you weren’t sort of forced into that break and self reflection?
I think it would have happened eventually, but I think that most people are so ready to be social again. For me it’s kind of the opposite. I’m kind of like, wait a minute. I actually really like having a lot of alone time and having a very small circle. I don’t know if I’m ready to be social again.
But I think that because a lot of other people are ready to be social again, that may be how this all started. James was a total exception but I’m having a hard time right now because I don’t know how to go out in the world anymore.
I think that’s a really common experience and just like, forgetting how to socialize or act like you did before the pandemic.
So YouTubers are sort of notorious for always being involved in drama, and always getting involved in feuds whether it’s genuine or for views. But you tend to stay out of that. Can you tell me why?
There’s nothing on this planet that I hate more. I hate it. I absolutely hate it. There is nothing fun about it for me! And as somebody who — I mean, I wouldn’t sound any different from the next guy, I mean a majority of people on this planet deal with mental health issues — but I have really bad anxiety. And for me, one of the biggest triggers of anxiety since I was younger was arguments.
I will just avoid it at all costs. If it makes my quality of life less great, what’s the point of that? So I refuse. You know, when people try to start drama about me in any way I really just try to stay out of it. It’s just all…it’s all dumb. It’s so pointless to me. We live on this planet to have fun, have fun with it. Why are we starting shit?
I let everybody else do it if they want to and I don’t judge at all, but I’m just like, I’m gonna keep this off this internet and out of my life as much as possible.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And one of my last questions, kind of going back to the pandemic and influencers, a lot of people with large followings have been criticized for continuing to party and not social distance, and live life the way they were before the pandemic struck. What is your take on all of that?
I think at the very beginning — when these things started to happen and people were starting to return to normal life prematurely — a lot of people didn’t realize the severity of it. Still, I think that it got to a point where a lot of people thought that it was over. And you know, being in that place and knowing a lot of these people…I think a lot of people didn’t realize that it was still as big of a problem as it was, but [they were] just completely ignorant.
I think the issue is when it becomes a recurring problem. And when people don’t learn from their mistakes. I’m not somebody that ever wants to judge someone for one mistakes. I make mistakes all the time. And I wouldn’t want somebody to judge me for one mistakes. But if I make the same mistake repeatedly, that’s when it’s a problem.
People do dumb things sometimes, but it’s like, how do you learn from them? How do you move forward? That’s where I think the true colors come out, is in that. It’s just very frustrating to see it continue, but at the same time it’s like, as an individual all you can do is your best and be as selfless as you possibly can.
Going back to talking about criticism in general, you’re really open about your mental health and body image issues and insecurities. But as a public figure you’re obviously the target of a lot of criticism. How do you approach it, how do you deal with that?
I mean I still struggle with it to this day. It never is easy, it’s never like I have felt I figured it out, right. But I think the key is to just not read…I’m active on social media. I’m posting on YouTube weekly, I’m on Instagram daily, I’m always on Instagram. [I’m] constantly posting to Twitter. I try to post as much as I can. And so I’m on it, right, and that is part of my job. It is my job to be present on the platform. It’s hard to find a balance, but I think the key is to not read the comments, to not scroll more than one or two times, to keep it very minimal.
“I can go down a rabbit hole. I could find my name on Reddit and read about myself all day if I wanted, and it would ruin my life. I would. I’ve done it, but the thing is, it doesn’t matter.”
I can go down a rabbit hole. I could find my name on Reddit and read about myself all day if I wanted, and it would ruin my life. It would. I’ve done it, but the thing is, it doesn’t matter. There are people that love me and support me, and those people know who I am and they know what kind of person I am. And they know I’m a human. Those are the people that I want to give my energy towards.
So I try to honestly ignore it as much as possible and just not read it. And just remember that there’s so much more to life than what is on the screen. I have such amazing people in my life, and it’s a great support system. I need to be remembering when I’m reading these shitty comments, I have so many people that have my back. [They] would be here even if this went away tomorrow, so who cares.
You know what I mean, right?
No, definitely. For my last question, it’s super bleak to think about, but say the pandemic does last another six months and social distancing is in effect for that. How do you see your content changing or evolving?
I hope to do a little bit of traveling soon, in a safe way. That’s definitely a goal of mine. I don’t know if that’s even allowed, or what the full rules of that are, but it’d be nice to figure out ways to be safe and responsible but still do the things I missed. I would love to try and do that.
But when it comes to the day-to-day, I think a lot of it’s going to stay pretty much the same for a while. Just continuing to try to make the most of my at-home life and get more creative when it comes to concepts, whether it’s about fashion or whatever. Just come up with more interesting things that I can do at home that are safe and responsible.
Those things come to me at random hours. I’ll be in the shower and it’ll just come to me, or it’ll be 4 a.m. and I’ll wake up from a nightmare. I’ll be like, wait a minute. I have a video idea because of my nightmare! That’s the most common, it’s spontaneous.
But I would love to get out of LA for a little bit, or out of California. Soon, if possible. I’m craving it.
That was it for me, but was there anything else you wanted to say?
I feel amazing, and thank you so much.
Yeah, thanks so much for answering all of these!
Have an amazing Tuesday! Oh my god, I don’t know how to hang up.
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