Everyone remembers their class goth. In my school they hung around the changing rooms during hockey class—team spirit was very un-gothy—and were somehow excused from participation, perhaps by their coughs from too many cigarettes. We didn't talk much: they scared me off with their back-of-the-classroom scowls, accented by Rimmel Black Cherries lipstick.
If we'd had YouTube goths back then, they might not have seemed so intimidating. These days the goths are out of the shadows, enthusing online about B-movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space and unboxing unwearable shoes in front of an audience of baby bats.
Welcome to the Twilight Zone of YouTube beauty vloggers, where the backcombing is bigger, the smoky eyes smokier, the videos soundtracked by dizzying synths. Where handbags are shaped like coffins, and drag makeup is daywear. Beauty hauls feature black eyeliner after black eyeliner, and nail art tutorials are for 'unisex metallic claws.'
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Goth YouTube is a surprisingly colorful place, the result of a witch's brew of cultural influences—B-movies, comic books, 1980s New Wave—resulting in vivid makeup 'for the strange and unusual,' crowned with clouds of hair dyed boot polish black (Nick Cave's mantra, "I'll dye until I die," appears to remain gospel).
Drac Makens is relatively new to YouTube, but her tutorials for death's head moth eye makeup and Marilyn Manson's 'FUCK' eyebrows have earned her over 40,000 subscribers in just a few months. Part of Makens' charm is her lack of self-awareness, and her apparent refusal to admit that any of what she's doing is strange. She'll appear with a glass of red wine in hand, announcing that it's three AM and she feels like becoming the Bride of Frankenstein. It's as though she stumbled onto this extremely public platform fully-formed, rosary beads painted neatly under one eye, and completely oblivious to the beauty guru mainstream from which she so radically strays.
"I've always been attracted to the goth subculture, I just didn't know that it was called 'goth' until I was in high school," she tells me over email. Makens has revealed relatively little of her offline life so far, apart from that her real name is Bianca, that she is Mexican, and lives in Texas. I ask if she got into goth through the internet, but she says she wasn't allowed on social media growing up, and only started experimenting at 18. "That's when I shaved off my brows, started wearing colored eyeshadows and drawing designs on my face. At that age, I felt that I had more of a right to express myself due to me being a legal adult. That was also around the time when I started watching more makeup videos."
Support is strong—fan art sits alongside with her own drawings on Makens' Instagram—but she encounters a regular stream of invasive questions about where she works and what her boyfriend looks like. "I don't like that people automatically assume that once you make videos, you're automatically obligated to share everything about your personal life," she tells me."My videos are makeup-based. It's true I have tag videos and a couple of vlogs and such. But you really don't get a deep, personal view into my life, and I would like to keep it that way."
Makens was originally known for her Tumblr, a site she found to be friendlier and a little more respectful of privacy. "Some of the worst things ever said to me in my entire life were on my YT channel," she says." And it'd be very hard to get away with hatred on Tumblr, people defend the heck out of you on that website." She has also avoided Facebook and Twitter, keeping to visual platforms like Tumblr, Instagram and YouTube. Her favorite looks so far have been the Marilyn Manson ones, or the red rosary eyeliner. She worries sometimes that her camera's quality doesn't capture the vibrancy of her makeup, which she wears everyday despite the Texas heat (pro goth tip: Buy theatrical makeup, like Makens' favored Ben Nye's Clown White foundation).
To appreciate YouTube's goths is to understand how far from the mainstream they are. Not only because they are goths, but because they are on YouTube, a culture which appears democratic but whichremains steadfastly commercial. Fame and sponsorship comes to vloggers who upload frequently, allow viewers into their lives, and are personable in video comments, but who can also do the best job of looking like the girl or boy next door. Creating a second channel to share makeup-free days and everyday life is a rite of passage: Top 'beauty gurus' who create them include Bethany Mota, Louise 'SprinkleofGlitter' Pentland, and Zoella (estimated net worth as of 2015: $3.5 million), whose second channel, More Zoella, captures "bloopers, extras and general life-ness". At their worst, mainstream vloggers are glibly commercial. More often than that, they're just boring.
Goths stand out among the Instagram-friendly eyebrows and strobed cheekbones of their YouTube peers for their their willingness to wear their hearts on their inky black sleeves. They also know how to take the piss out of themselves: In her take on the "What's in my bag?" tag, YouTuber It's Black Friday produces a jar of pickles, a bass guitar, a bunch of black roses, and what appears to be a human leg bone from her tiny coffin-shaped bag. In another video titled "How to be the most perfect goth ever," Sebastian Columbine lists the arcane rules of darkling life: "No goth ever has eyebrows," and "the only dateable people for goths are goths and vampires. Absolutely no one else, or else you're a poser…"
In another video Columbine, who has followed the MySpace tradition of taking a controversial noun as a second name, delivers a "A Message to the Parents of Goths". It's painfully sincere, so much that it has since been disowned in a caption by its creator ("this video is only set to "public" for nostalgia reasons…"), but it contains a valid message: "I think if you're gonna be cautious around goths, you should be cautious around everyone… We're not out sacrificing goats or harming virgins… You should at least give your kids a chance.. "
The most visible participants on social media can also be its most vulnerable, not least when you choose to live your baby bat years in public. Many of the goth YouTubers are unfailingly kind and grateful to their fans: Makens tries to reply to every fan mail letter while Sebastian Columbine has sent out locks of hair, memento mori-style, to followers.
Makens has also talked in several videos about how her parents don't like her style. I ask if gaining an online following has helped to change their minds, and she says they're a bit more supportive now. "They still don't agree with it 100 percent, but I don't think they ever expected me to gain a following so fast, nor did they realize that me being exactly who I am affects people in a very positive way."
Which is about as far from the South Park goth kids as it gets. It's about solidarity: Goths teaching goths, without judgement, with us Normals living vicariously through their big hair and neon green lipstick. A subculture newly networked, uniting lonely kids with clicks.