It’s only been 90 seconds, and I’ve already been influenced.

I’m now getting a light-green manicure—a Statue of Liberty tint I never would have picked out—because Emma Chamberlain offhandedly said she liked it. We’re at Polish House, Emma’s West Hollywood mani-pedi spot, and with her seal of approval, the color beckoned.

It doesn’t matter that you are in your late 20s and don’t like going to concerts because they’re too loud, it seemed to whisper. You CAN be a green-nail kind of person!

So I asked for Hint of Mint on my fingers and my toes—after double-checking with Emma to make sure that going matchy-matchy isn’t uncool. (The night before this interview, I frantically texted my little sister, age 24, to ask what I should wear. “What if the teens make fun of me?” I wrote, half joking. “They probably will,” she responded.)

500 Internal Server Error

Internal Server Error

The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request. Either the server is overloaded or there is an error in the application.

types of metallic accessories. And if anything, the more uncool something seems (visible roots, ugly shoes, the heroines of Booksmart, grandma sweaters), the more Likes it gets.

“I think the word ‘influencer’ is kind of disgusting,” Emma, who is an influencer, tells me. “Let’s use me as an example: If someone is calling me an influencer, they’re saying that my job is to influence, and I don’t think that’s true. I prefer to entertain and be a friend. I don’t want to influence.” (I look down at my nails and blame them for being so easily swayed.)

500 Internal Server Error

Internal Server Error

The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request. Either the server is overloaded or there is an error in the application.


This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

“Why do certain people connect and others don’t?” she asks. “I’m like, Why has this worked?

There’s a lot that is normal about Emma Chamberlain, things she has in common with most Youngs in America. She has a crush on Timothée Chalamet (“curly hair ruins me!”); a distaste for Keds (“they’re so not cute”); a subtle, still experimental personal style (she’s wearing an Insta-approved turtleneck with layered necklaces); and a minor infatuation with the Jonas Brothers. “I’ve just been a huge fan since, I mean, day one,” Emma gushes, recounting how starstruck she was meeting Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner at Paris Fashion Week. “I’ve been obsessed with them. So that was super cool. I don’t think I got to explain to him how much I loved him, but we didn’t have a lot of time.”

All photos shot on location at Fred Segal Sunset in Los Angeles.

Talking to Emma is easy—a no-pressure situation. But then I ask where she got her necklaces, and she politely responds they were a gift from “Vuitton.” Oh, right, this is a Cool Girl. Respect must be paid. Her beginnings as a YouTuber are canon at this point, but it’s worth repeating that her story looks and sounds a lot like those of the hundreds of thousands of other young girls who try to become vloggers from their childhood bedrooms: Emma started out with a few channels early on in high school and abandoned them when they didn’t get much traction.

But encouraged by her musician dad, she decided to try again. “It was summertime. I didn’t want to do my summer reading. I had to tap into other new territories in my brain because I was so bored. So it was like, every day, I was making videos.”

After a few more failed experiments (this time with beauty vlogging), Emma finally went viral with “We all owe the dollar store an apology.” In case you somehow missed it, think of YouTube’s high-priced-haul videos, but instead of going through a Sephora or West Elm cart, Emma enthuses over plastic garbage that costs 99 cents apiece.

“I just made that video because I was like...I don’t even know what I was doing. I don’t know what went through my head. I was super excited about it though, super pumped about it. I was like, This is actually going to be fun for me to fake through this haul, and apparently, other people were excited about it too. And it was like, All right.”

The response made Emma realize something crucial: Being her funny, awkward, easily excitable self was her lane. So she stayed in it, leaning in to harmless mockery of vegan pizza, her own zits, and more faux iterations of YouTube staples (makeup tutorials but terrible; pumpkin-spice product reviews but with choking).

Emma is, in other words, fully in on the joke—the joke being herself: someone who built her capital “B” Brand by parodying the very thing she is. “I mean, I make fun of YouTubers and I am one. I think of it as, Why not play into it? If you can’t beat them, join them.” Basically, she stopped playing the game and came up with her own—and that, I realize, is the first ingredient in the “Why her?” recipe: rejecting the standard YouTube thirst trap for a fuck-it kind of irreverence.

Others started copying her shooting style (quick zoom-ins on the face, old-school text captions that pop up for a millisecond, deliberately bad angles, lots of self-deprecation), so Emma invented even newer ones.

She dropped out of high school, moved to L.A., and wound up in an accelerated Independence 101 class. She started talking to the press and going to events, mostly because she was lonely and struggling mentally.

“It’s a bloodbath,” Emma says, point-blank, about the aesthetically obsessed culture she found herself in. At this point, we’ve left the nail salon and made our way across the street to Dayglow, a hidden shoebox of a coffee shop, where it’s just us and the store’s owner behind the bar. “Living in L.A., if you’re at an unhealthy weight, that’s normal. That’s really, really, really a mindfuck, for sure.”

Unlike certain social media stars, Emma refuses to advertise weight-loss products. “Like, your grind is your grind, and I’m not going to get in the way of that. I just think that growing up on social media gave me eating issues as a kid. I literally have struggled with that my whole life. Almost every person I’ve met has had some form of an eating disorder. I mean, I’ve had...I don’t want to trigger anyone, but so many.”

She’s spoken before about how her all-night video-editing sessions gave her extreme anxiety, but she mentions to me now that staring at herself for all those hours also led to a severe case of body dysmorphia. “I’ve been fully not at a healthy weight and I thought I was obese multiple times. It’s awful,” she says. “My whole family was telling me I looked terrible. They were like, ‘You look like you’re dying.’ I was like, ‘I think I look great.’” This is one of the reasons she’s vowed never to use Facetune or photo-manipulation software. “I refuse to do that because nobody needs to think I look like that,” she explains. “I look the way I look.”

Seconds later, she’s telling the coffee-shop owner that she’s peed in his other location millions of times and she thanks him for the service. And somewhere in the middle of that pivot, it becomes clear why this woman is light-years ahead of deciding between gold and rose gold. While Instagram is busy forecasting trends for 2020 —number one on its list: “authenticity”—Emma could’ve taught the master class when she was 15. She dreamed of becoming a YouTuber—full stop, no gateway-to-something-bigger—and discovered that “being real” was the ticket to success, long before anyone started throwing “raw” and “no filter” around like the hashtags they’ve become. This foresight = ingredient number two.

Emma is used to hearing rumors about herself. Some, like the one about a certain curly-haired boy she’s dating, are can’t-confirm-on-the-record-but-true. Others…

“People think I don’t shower,” Emma says, sipping an oat-milk latte. “I just made a joke about it on Snapchat and then they took it seriously. I was like, Okay!

When I was 18, if millions of people thought there was a chance that maybe I didn’t shower, I would have immediately booked a one-way ticket back to my parents’ home in the suburbs of Chicago and never contacted the outside world again. Emma just laughs it off.

Line, Wall, Design, Pattern, Street fashion, Electric blue, Textile, Photography, Talent show, Pattern,

And this is where the third ingredient, the true secret sauce, finally hits me. Turns out, Emma does have something all the other normal girls don’t, and it comes across best on video: She truly does not care whether or not she’s cool. Or whether people think her necklaces are cool or her turtleneck, her hair, her life, her opinions. She is DGAF incarnate, the personification of all those memes involving cartoon characters in sunglasses sweeping the horizon for nonexistent fucks to give.

This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

P.S.: Want More? Listen to Emma’s stupidly genius podcast here!

“I don’t take it too seriously,” Emma says. “It’s like, I have one life. I’m not going to waste my time being all, you know, ‘Take me seriously as a YouTuber!’ I don’t care, you know what I mean? It’s like, watch my videos—if you hate it, go watch the news or something, I don’t know. Like, have fun, but I don’t care.”

It’s the things she does care about—her personal life, her romantic life—that she sees as her next challenge. “I’d like to open up more about my relationship,” she confides. “But things change so quickly—if I say something now, who knows where my life will be in three months? I could be pregnant.” (For the record, Emma has an IUD and does not plan on getting pregnant.)

Of course, if anyone actually does know what the world will look like in three months—or even three years—it’s probably Emma. The rest of us are just following along, enjoying the deeply entertaining ride.


Photographs by Eric Ray Davidson. Fashion by Aya Kanai. Video by Janet Upadhye. 500 Internal Server Error

Internal Server Error

The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request. Either the server is overloaded or there is an error in the application.

On Emma: Faux-fur coat look: Stella McCartney jacket; Nicholas Kirkwood shoes; Sylvia Toledano earrings. Over-the-knee white boots look: Dior dress and boots. Coffee cup hat look: Vivetta blazer and shorts; Fred Segal Originals T-shirt; Dr. Martens shoes; Stella McCartney sunglasses. Untied laces look: Louis Vuitton top, skirt, boots, and earrings. Blue boots look: Valentino dress and boots. Shoes (clockwise from floor): Jimmy Choo, Fendi, Wandler, Simon Miller, Amina Muaddi, Jimmy Choo, Tory Burch (2). Pink sunglasses look: Fendi jacket, shirt, skirt, and socks; Anna Sui sunglasses.