The world of YouTube can be a tough place to break into. But Lilly Singh, 26, managed to find her niche, and ran with it.
Singh’s channel, IISuperwomanII, has more than 5.8 million followers, but the spunky Indian-Canadian video star will be the first person to tell you that it’s been a tough journey.
“There’s a misconception that making YouTube videos and doing anything on the internet is easy, it’s not true. I always said I didn’t want a nine-to-five job but now I have a 24/7 job,” she said in an interview with tabloid!.
We can believe that. On Saturday, Singh did two back-to-back shows at Music Hall in Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Dubai, as part of her A Trip to Unicorn Island world tour, something she’d never done before. Next, she travels to the UK, Canada and the US to perform and ends her tour late in July.
Before she completed the Dubai leg of her mixed-bag show, the video sensation talked to us about being universally funny, working hard and finding her happy place, Unicorn Island.
How does it feel to be in Dubai and have the first show sell out?
It feels awesome! A few months ago I had posted on my Facebook saying ‘where in the world should I come on my tour’ and Dubai was, like, the first, second and third answer. I have been to Dubai about five years ago but I wasn’t making videos at that time. It’s really exciting to come back as Superwoman and the support has been absolutely overwhelming. I didn’t expect the show to sell out and to now have two shows on one day, super, super cool.
What can your fans expect from A Trip To Unicorn Island?
They can expect a lot of things. I think definitely my channel coming to life. Also things they haven’t seen, like me dancing … the comedy is going to be there, the inspiration is going to be there. I think just the production value is something they’ll be really surprised with. And most importantly, they can expect an awesome message. Obviously all my videos are very positive and very inspirational, but I think this takes it to the next level in terms of delivering a greater message. They can most importantly expect to leave the show feeling happier and more uplifted than they did when they got to the show.
Apart from being a YouTube star you’ve also released two songs with Humble the Poet. Do you see yourself having a music career?
I love doing music. I actually loved writing lyrics before I started making YouTube videos so I definitely would like to try out more music and if that results in a music career then that would be awesome. Definitely I’d say expect more collaborations with Humble and I because we work so amazing [together]. Definitely you’ll see more music from me.
Some of your most popular videos are the ‘My Parents React’ ones and those aimed at a desi [Indian] crowd. How do non-desi people react to the humour in these videos?
I think even though my parents are Indian and the characters I portray are Indian and the accent is Indian I do think it’s quite a universal concept. So I think when I talk about parents or rules or, you know, when family comes over, all those things, I think they’re universal concepts that everyone can relate to, whether you’re desi or not. That’s pretty much how they react, they react in a way where it’s like ‘hey, oh my god, you’re showing your Indian parents and my Jamaican parents, my Japanese parents are the exact same way.’ So the reaction is kind of like, wow, we’re all really different but really similar at the same time and that’s something I strive to accomplish.
You’ve had shows in India, which also sold out, and you will perform in Australia and the UK. What is it about Lilly Singh that appeals to people from all over the world?
Well, thanks! That made me feel special. Yeah, I think it’s kind of along the lines of what I just said, that my topics are relatable. They’re not things that no one can identify with. They’re like simple things like going to the movies or fighting with your friends or fighting with your parents, or relationships, and I take very common topics and situations and I exaggerate them in a very over-the-top comedic way and so I think that’s definitely one thing, the relatability of my topics and I think the next thing is that I think I appear to be a very normal person in the sense that I point out my pimples and I point out when my eyebrows are not done or whatever and I think people can identify with someone that doesn’t look perfect and looks like them because we all have our imperfections.
Where exactly is Unicorn Island and what is that all about?
So, Unicorn Island is a synonym for my happy place. And it’s wherever you want it to be. It lives within you ... within your heart and soul. What it’s all about is, it’s just a combination of all the things that makes someone happy. For example, my Unicorn Island is a place where there’s no sexism, there’s no ignorance, there’s so much Skittles and so much cotton candy ... it’s a state of mind. It’s a state of living where you decide that you deserve to be happy, and happiness is a priority in my life. It’s kind of like a very colourful, child-like synonym for a deeper state of happiness.
There are millions of wannabe YouTube stars, what was it about you that made you stand out?
Oh, that’s a really good question. I don’t know. I think I started at a time that was crucial for where I am today and initially I think I stood out because I didn’t look like everyone else. I was probably one of the first female South Asian YouTubers to do what I’m doing, so definitely the colour of my skin set me apart from everyone else. But a big thing is my consistency, you know, there’s a lot of YouTubers that kinda want that, ‘oh, I wanna become rich and famous so I’m going to post videos’, but I choose to put in work into my videos ... So I think what has really set me apart is, I’d like to say, my work ethic, in the most humble way.
You are one of the most popular desi women on YouTube. What would your advice be to aspiring desi women who want to make it big on the internet?
I wouldn’t give any specific advice to desi people because I think the advice would be the same across the board and that would be, if you wanna make it big on the internet just know that it’s an extremely cool place [but] you have to have really, really thick skin. Aside from that, there’s a misconception that making YouTube videos and doing anything on the internet is easy, it’s not true. I always said I didn’t want a nine-to-five job but now I have a 24/7 job. So it is constantly a work in progress. There’s no manual or guidebook on how to be successful. It’s just constantly working really hard and figuring it out.
Will you ever stop doing YouTube and move into TV or film? What’s the next step for you?
I would love to get into TV or film because I think those are challenges that excite me. That new experience excites me. A few times I have been on set for bigger production stuff it’s been really fun and it’s been really different. It’s been a great learning experience. Will I do that at the expense of stopping YouTube? I don’t think so. I do wanna try making YouTube videos for as long as I possibly can because that’s the community that gave me all these opportunities and that’s my foundation. So I definitely don’t want to abandon that base.
Can one really make a living off YouTube?
Well, I hope so because I’m doing it! Yes, you can. I live completely off of YouTube and all I do as an entertainer. And it’s really one of those things that the more work you put into it and the more you wanna see yourself succeed the more you will succeed. [However], someone can work super hard and still not make it big on the internet. It’s not a guarantee that if you work hard you’ll make it, but if the question is can you make a living off YouTube then yes, many people make an AMAZING living off YouTube.
Do you watch other videos on YouTube? Like what?
I watch so many videos on YouTube. If I don’t know the answer to anything I YouTube it. Some of my favourite YouTubers are Grace Helbeig, Miranda Sings, Ryan Higa, Jenna Marbles, Kingsley, Hanna Hart, Mamrie Hart ... I love all of them. And I’m lucky enough for them to be my friends as well. They’re really super cool on and offline.
What is the worst YouTube video you’ve made?
The worst YouTube video I’ve made was probably my very first video. It was [a] really awkward, serious spoken word piece where I just look super uncomfortable and you can tell I’m not in my element at all and that’s why it’s not up [on the channel] anymore! But, you know, it’s the worst and also the best because that’s where I started and of course you look at my first ten videos and I look super uncomfortable and out of my element.
What were your failed attempts when learning how to make videos?
I don’t think I had any failed attempts, I think it was just that in the beginning making videos, I wasn’t comfortable and you could really see that through the camera. I’d be looking around, I’d be constantly fixing my hair, I’d be trying to look cool at all times ... and I wasn’t really being myself and I think when I look back that’s what I regret the most. I don’t actually regret it, but I see that in myself. And now when I look at my videos I can tell I don’t care how I look, I can tell I’m being myself. Speaking how I wanna speak, I’m not trying to come across a certain way. It’s literally just me talking about something how I would talk about it if a camera wasn’t there.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
In five years from now the only place I wanna see myself is anywhere in the world with a smile on my face, as long as I’m happy. Happiness is my number one priority in life, truly I mean that. As long as I’m happy, I’m gonna be OK. In my ideal situation I would be in TV or film while still doing YouTube. That would make me really, really happy. I would love to get into movies and TV.