The Woman With 1 Billion Clicks, Jenna Marbles
A young woman with magenta-streaked hair stands in her bathroom, speaking to a webcam. In a hushed tone, she chews over a thorny problem of young adulthood: how to apply full evening makeup when full evening makeup when you’re already inebriated from drinking all day? She begins her tutorial by wielding that totem of collegiate binge drinking everywhere: a red plastic Solo Cup. One jump cut later (after a “Law and Order: S.V.U.” drinking game), she re-emerges, thoroughly intoxicated. She misapplies a gob of glue. It dangles from a false eyelash. She lines her lips with a black pencil. “It doesn’t matter what color it is, ’cause you’re gonna blend it,” she slurs, batting her eye glue. “Don’t let this scare you.” The video, titled “Drunk Makeup Tutorial,” is completely awesome to some, bewildering to others — and above all, classic Jenna Marbles, another installment from a reigning queen of YouTube. The episode has been viewed 14.6 million times. While few people older than 30 probably know who Jenna Marbles is, her popularity is unquestioned among teenage girls who live on the Internet. She has more Facebook fans than Jennifer Lawrence, more Twitter followers than Fox News and more Instagram friends than Oprah. Her weekly videos on topics as quotidian as “What Girls Do in the Bathroom in the Morning,” “My Favorite Dance Moves” and “I Hate Being a Grown Up,” place her in an elite club of more than one billion YouTube views, with more than eight million subscribers and growing. “My perspective is to think, ‘I just have a lot of Internet friends,’ ” said Jenna Marbles, 26, whose real name is Jenna Mourey (Marbles is the name of her Chihuahua). She acknowledges it is an odd kind of celebrity. She is a D.I.Y. digital entertainer who conceives of, stars in, shoots, edits and uploads her own videos — often in a single day. Her videos are a highly shareable cocktail of comedy, sex appeal, puppies and social commentary, laced with profanity. She skillfully juggles Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to build a deeply loyal connection with fans who find her eminently easy to relate to. The result is more than a million views every single day and more money than she had ever seen before in her life. She may be unique, but she is no viral-video fluke. To a younger generation who spends more time on YouTube than TV, Jenna Marbles already embodies the future of celebrity. Internet fame can come on fast. In the summer of 2010, Ms. Mourey shared a three-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, Mass., where her $800 rent was scrounged together from a patchwork of part-time gigs: bartending, blogging, go-go dancing at nightclubs and working at a tanning salon, where she remembers the singularly depressing chore of mopping up customers’ sweat. Meanwhile, her newly completed master’s degree in sports psychology gathered dust. “My life was a hot, hot, hot mess,” she said. “How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking,” was Jenna Marbles’s first viral video hit. It has been viewed more than 50 million times. YouTube » One afternoon, she uploaded a video of herself putting on makeup for her dancing job. It was called “How to Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking.” In a dim, white-paneled bedroom, Ms. Mourey sat before her computer and began: “If you were born really ugly like me, have no fear. There’s steps you can take to be good-looking. Kind of.” In a mesmerizing kind of reverse burlesque, her naked face and pale blue eyes disappeared under a flurry of foundation, false eyelashes and frosted pink lipstick. In two and a half minutes, she transformed herself from a plain girl with a bad case of bedhead to a hypercharged cartoon sexpot. “There is no cure for ugly,” she says in her flat Rochester accent, “but you can make yourself into a human optical illusion.” The video ends as she clutches her degree in a fit of mock sobbing. She uploaded the video on a Friday. Over the weekend it became so popular that it reached the true mark of viral success: she had to call her mother. “She said, ‘Mom, I made this video on the Internet and a lot of people are watching it and I swear in it,’ ” said Deborah Mourey, a marketing consultant who still lives in Rochester. Mom was not upset; she laughed, along with five million other people that first week. Since then, the formula for a Jenna Marbles video hasn’t changed much. Unlike other YouTube personalities who invest in better cameras, lighting and production values, Ms. Mourey has stuck with her original lo-fi operation. On a bright Monday this winter, Ms. Mourey allowed the rare reporter inside her rented $1.1 million Santa Monica town house. The décor could be called contemporary teenage mess. Pizza boxes and a parking ticket littered the countertop. A fruit bowl held two bananas, turned solid black. Nerf darts spilled across the floor. A lonely dart clung to a high window, just out of reach. Any chaos in her daily life, however, sits neatly out of frame. When she pulls her laptop out and records a new video at the kitchen table, viewers typically see only her and a blank wall. The process starts a day earlier, when Ms. Mourey polls her eager Facebook fans for ideas. Thousands of suggestions roll in: eat soup with a fork, wax a friend’s armpits drunk, or “dress as Barry Manilow and see how many spicey cinnamon hearts you can stuff in your face before you explode.” She considers them all, she said, but in the end, Ms. Mourey shoots what she can handle alone in her house.
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