Mainstream news stories about the likes of Shane Dawson, James Charles and David Dobrik are often met with a chorus of commenters asking, “does anyone care?” and “are we supposed to know who that is?” In short, yes.
YouTube stars are frequently dismissed for their youth, or for the youth of their biggest fans, as if fame that originated on the internet is less profound than fame from movies or television — but they are massively influential. These stars carry the weight of followers across multiple platforms and seize the attention of millions of eyeballs locked on their every move.
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It may seem like YouTubers have only recently started making headlines, and that’s somewhat true. They’ve always been active and influential, but now, they’re finally being held accountable, and wider audiences are finding out about it.
Enter drama channels — the receipt-keepers of the internet who painstakingly keep up with what allegations people have made against YouTube mega-stars and unpack who is feuding with whom. Videos include documentation, research and sometimes commentary, and some of the most popular channels
Though many were first created solely to entertain, many are now facing the pressure to serve as a sort of watchdog protecting these creators’ impressionable young audiences while trying to mobilize public opinion to put a stop to alleged bad behavior.
With hundreds of thousands of subscribers themselves, the creators behind drama channels are influencers in their own right. The world of the YouTube drama channel is frighteningly complicated, as the creator world changes as rapidly as the internet itself.
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Where did drama channels come from?
YouTubers as celebrities — with the same relationship drama and controversy as mainstream tabloid favorites — only appeared in the mid-2010s, though the platform itself came to be 16 years ago. As viewers demanded drama, drama channels provided it.
According to Vulture, “drama channels emerged to expose the unblended underbelly of the picture-perfect beauty community,” starting with beauty guru Jackie Aina’s feud with drama channel Petty Paige in 2017.
In 2020, the drama community turned calling out influencers into a sort of sport, as the collective internet converged to cancel Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star — the former accused of racism and inappropriate comments about minors, and the latter accused of sexual assault and violence.
Since YouTube lacks an effective way to address harmful creators beyond demonetizing their content and allegedly shadowbanning them, it’s up to the viewers to yank support from them when they misbehave — and it’s up to drama channels to spread the word about bad behavior.
Angelika Oles, a YouTuber with more than 550,000 subscribers who are largely between the ages of 18 and 24, spoke to In The Know about her journey to creating a successful drama channel (and a thriving makeup channel on the side.)
She said she’d been watching YouTube videos since she was “really young,” and found herself with tons of opinions about the goings-on of the creator world, so she decided to launch her own channel to talk about it. A couple of videos later she had gone viral, and now it’s her full-time job.
Oles considers the purpose of her channel to be showing what’s going on on the internet — more specifically, providing an angle that the creators themselves withhold.
“It almost seemed like it was a one-sided story, where the celebrities painted their own narrative,” she said. “If something went wrong, no one really spoke about it. So it was just really easy to throw it under the rug because bigger magazines didn’t really cover it.”
How do drama channels differ from tea channels and commentary channels?
At first, Oles dished out her opinions about current events constantly, but now she said her channel is 75 percent recaps of what happened and 25 percent analysis.
Though the true definition of a “drama channel” is ever-changing, it’s generally considered to be a YouTube page that unpacks drama first, and sometimes shares a bit of analysis. That being said, “tea channels” tend to rely more heavily on “receipts” (like social media screenshots, voice messages and court case PDF files), and commentary channels, well, comment on current events. The term “drama channel” can also be used to describe the category that both tea channels and commentary channels fall under, but always implies the discussion of rumors and facts.
Def Noodles, a YouTuber famous for his receipt gathering, is considered a drama channel because of his legendary screenshot-compiling skills and tendency to joke about the news.
Tea channels like Tea Spill are often anonymous and report the scandals-of-the-day so fans know what’s going on with their favorite creators, good or bad. It’s everything you need to know to form your own opinion, essentially.
D’Angelo Wallace, on the other hand, would be considered a commentary YouTuber, because he follows his drama recaps with in-depth analysis. In his takedown of Shane Dawson, he spent more than an hour unpacking allegations against him and explaining why the things he allegedly did were bad. He’s credited as part of the reason Shane Dawson quit uploading videos for over a year.
Wallace later removed the video from his channel after allegations of sexual misconduct against James Charles, a key player in this story, emerged — but it has since been re-uploaded.
Drama channels face drama of their own
The balance between recounting events and providing your opinion on said events have created a bit of a rift in the drama channel community.
“It’s more controversial than you think. People get really, like, up in arms about it,” Oles explained to In The Know. “I feel like if they worked together, they would be really powerful … but there’s just a little bit of conflict there because drama channels have, like, this bad connotation of being petty and being unimportant.”
She said she finds drama and tea channels to be just as important as commentary channels, but noticed that female YouTubers tend to be automatically sorted into the former group by audience members and critics alike. She also noted higher standards for female-led channels.
“When a man talks about drama he’s a commentary channel, but when a woman does it she’s a petty drama channel,” she tweeted in April 2021. “A man critiques, and a woman gossips or hates. Men are given space to grow and learn but women are supposed to just be perfect from the start. Interesting.”
Though all three channel types rely on clickbait titles and thumbnails to gain favor with YouTube’s mysterious algorithm, drama and tea channels have a worse reputation, as if it’s all “playground stuff,” Oles said.
“I don’t think that’s the case, because a lot of the time, commentary channels and drama channels talk about the same stuff,” she explained. “It’s just the way it’s spoken about. Men will make it jokey and ha-ha, hee-hee. But they won’t cover the serious stuff. And if they do, once again, it’s like, ha-ha, hee-hee, we’re on this moral high ground”
She said there’s a serious double standard for the way women and men are treated on the internet in general, especially when it comes to expressing opinions.
“It’s like, a woman with an opinion? A passionate opinion? Not allowed. And that’s why maybe I stopped expressing opinions, because it was like– it was just not worth the loss of my sanity,” she said. “ I don’t like to label my channel, because it’s just like, what’s the point? I just explain stuff. That’s it.”
Holding ultra-powerful stars accountable can take its toll on drama YouTubers
Oles’ audience demands she both entertain them and hold YouTubers accountable at the same time. Covering all those bases as a one-woman operation has Oles working from the moment she wakes up to the moment she falls asleep.
“I, for the longest time, was just the only one researching, editing, filming, and all of that stuff … it sort of just takes a mental toll on you when there’s another, you know, pedophile in the community, or there’s another someone committing a crime,” she told In The Know. “And it’s like, there’s only so many things I can cover in a week that’s going to make me want to rip my hair out.”
Oles said she knows why her audience expects her to cover serious stories — they deserve to be called out on a larger platform, and she and her cohorts must hold them accountable if the mainstream media won’t.
“I definitely lose my mind sometimes seeing the stuff that people are doing on the internet,” she said, referring to certain influencers behaving badly.
Sometimes, though, she wishes she could just cover contaminated lipstick drama, as she did in 2019 when customers claimed products from Jaclyn Hill’s makeup line contained unidentified textures and spots.
“I feel like people have so much stress in their life … most of us just want to see something petty on the internet,” Oles said. “I feel like sometimes when I post something really petty, I get a lot of comments being like, ‘I needed this to cheer up,’ or ‘I needed to see that someone else is doing something really stupid on the internet.’”
She acknowledged that the measure of accountability drama channels need to provide for powerful YouTubers has evolved over the years.
“In 2015 or 2016, when drama channels were first starting out, people were not committing crimes. Or at least, we didn’t know that they were committing crimes. That’s not what we were talking about,” she said. “Now it’s hard to say ‘spilling the tea’ and ‘talking to minors’ [as James Charles and Tony Lopez have been accused of doing] in the same video. So I feel like now it’s definitely more serious. Less entertainment, more reporting, trying to keep that opinion out of it because it is, like, a crime.”
On top of that, as an influencer herself, Oles has a relationship with a lot of the YouTubers she covers in her work.
“So I’ve had personal conversations with Gabbie Hanna. That makes it really awkward for me to then criticize her, because I know she can just DM me at any point,” Oles said, just two days after publicly feuding with Hanna.
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The personal relationships Oles has with creators can make it difficult for her to hold them accountable, but she feels like she has a duty to do so.
“I try to be nice … but when you’re messing up, there’s only so much niceness I can give you,” she said.
So what does Oles do when her YouTube-famous friends are critical of her coverage of them? She tells them that if they don’t want to be spoken about, they shouldn’t do things that are going to be spoken about.
“I find it kind of strange when people are like, ‘Stop talking about me, it’s bullying,’” she said. “It’s like, do you not realize the role that you play … you’re the main actor in this. You choose what storyline you want to present to the internet. And the storyline that you presented was interesting enough to talk about.”
Though detractors may accuse commentary channels of contributing to “cancel culture,” or a mass withdrawing of support by the disapproving public, Oles insists that she and other drama channels don’t “cancel” anyone as some kind of “powerful illuminati” — she’s just “a girl in a bedroom filming a video in front of some ring lights.”
“We didn’t force anyone to unsubscribe. We didn’t force the sponsors to step back. We didn’t force YouTube to demonetize their channel. We just brought awareness to a situation, and people did what they wanted to do with it,” she said. “I think it’s a balance of both. We bring awareness to it. People then do what they want to do with it.”
Though it’s not necessarily her goal when she makes a video, she certainly does play a role in developing the characters present on YouTube, though it’s just reporting back what they’ve done of their own volition. Because of that, her channel isn’t just for entertainment purposes anymore, and it’s possible it never will be.
“When drama channels first started, we were all, like, jokey and sunshine. And now … it’s a storm,” Oles said.
In that case, whether you’re a YouTube fan or only vaguely aware of the power social media influencers have, grab your umbrella — the forecast is calling for cloudy skies with a 100 percent chance of drama.
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