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The Receipt-Keeper of YouTube

D’Angelo Wallace is the foremost chronicler of online celebrity, now he is achieving fame in his own right.

Photo: Munachi Osegbu for New York Magazine
Photo: Munachi Osegbu for New York Magazine

If you want to know what’s going on day to day with YouTubers, TikTok stars, Instagram celebs, or anybody else with a modicum of influence online, you’ve got two options. You could put in the work — watch their videos, scour their Instagram stories, check their Twitters (and the Twitters of their stans and the less-famous creators in their orbits), and try to parse whatever the hell niche, in-group debacle they’re enmeshed in that day; or, get thee to a drama channel, where someone like D’Angelo Wallace has put in the work for you. His videos are long, sometimes topping out at more than an hour, but that’s by design. His calling card is comprehensiveness; he comes with facts and timelines and charts, and by the end you’ll find yourself surprisingly satisfied. That’s by design, too. Wallace aims to be a one-stop-shop for internet drama explainers, and he knows that a satisfied customer will be a returning customer.

He got his start in 2018, when he was 19 and the drama community wasn’t exactly the go-to source for thoroughly researched, pseudo-academic feature films methodically canceling the problematic web star du jour. But his channel tapped into a growing interest in seeing harmful YouTubers held to account for once. And as his model of receipts-driven drama reporting has become increasingly popular, he has achieved a level of fame that rivals that of the people he critiques, to the tune of millions of new followers in the past year. He’s now notable enough to occasionally find himself at the very center of the dramas he documents, which only makes for better videos.

Wallace’s Karmageddon trilogy — about the public meltdowns of the famously divisive YouTube influencers Shane Dawson, Jeffree Star, and Tati Westbrook — helped his channel explode in popularity over the summer of 2020. The videos seamlessly mesh two concepts: the truth and what a person believes to be the truth. Too truthy, and you get a boring PSA. Too credulous, and you get Logan Paul making a mockumentary about how the Earth is flat. Wallace knows he’s done his job right when he’s perfectly balanced that scale. If you Google “What did Shane Dawson do now?” or “Who is Trisha Paytas?” you’ll find plenty of YouTubers ready and willing to answer your questions. But none do it quite like Wallace. His is an imperfect, semi-objective hybrid model that perfectly encapsulates the messiness of the world he covers. Still, he’s always dead sure of what he’s saying.

Talking with Wallace over video chat feels like watching one of his videos. He’s seated at a computer in his bedroom, talking into the mic he’s used to take down some of YouTube’s worst and dimmest. When you ask Wallace a question, he’ll give you a straight answer. It’s refreshing, a YouTuber who baits clicks with the truth. Or at the very least, what he truly believes.

Your approach is different than most other YouTubers. What do you consider yourself? A documentarian?
No. There’s too many things that I want to do in my videos. I’m definitely not objective. I will provide you an objective narrative, that way you can come to your own conclusion, but I will absolutely follow that up with my own opinion on the whole series. If I think something’s wrong or it shouldn’t have happened, I will just bluntly state it. I couldn’t necessarily get away with a documentary.

Okay, if you’re not a documentarian … maybe you’re an internet historian?
I really just feel like I would call myself a producer. I’ve never broken a story per se, but I do look at it as can I make the video about influencers partying during a pandemic? Can I make the summary video of the beauty community? I’m sure anyone can do it, but because I approach that just with the idea of future-proofing it and making it accessible to even people who aren’t interested, I think that’s why they wind up having that effect.

It feels a little like what longform, traditional magazine stories often do, which is take a topic that has already been broken, already been covered, but take a few months to create the definitive story on a matter. The story everyone wants to read.
So, I read this article about this musician named Gordon Lightfoot. He was mostly famous in the 60s through the 70s. But my obsession with this article, I had to read it over several days because this was a 9,000-word article about this guy who just went through Gordon Lightfoot’s entire discography. I’m not necessarily interested in the great voices of the 70s but from paragraph one I was hooked. We didn’t need it, we didn’t ask for it, but it was very well done. Reading this really reminded me of the energy I try to have with my videos. Even if I hit publish and everyone’s like, “Wait, what? Why did he just upload a video about this … And why is it so long?” Once they start watching they’re immediately going to be hooked because I try to maintain the same energy.

Your earliest videos were actually about art not drama. How would you describe your content when you were just getting started?
It wasn’t really what I wanted to do. It was things that you would be surprised to find out I uploaded, like how to draw in black and white on Photoshop or how to draw backgrounds. But there’s only so many of those you can make and a problem I was running into is a lot of that content already exists anyway.

When did you feel yourself starting to pivot from art commentary into drama?
That happened right around the time that I uploaded a video on Shane Dawson, this was before actually there were a bunch of these on YouTube. I just pointed some things out that I didn’t agree with. And that was the first video I made that was kind of like a hybrid art/commentary. [In the video, Wallace paints a picture of Dawson in real time on the screen, while offering his take on the infamous YouTuber.] It did so well that I realized I could just pivot fully.

What didn’t you like about Shane? 
At that time, I was only familiar with Shane Dawson’s recent content and I found it to be a bit strange how everyone was hyping it up so much, even though it had misinformation. He was doing unethical things with his giant audience. I just compiled my thoughts about those into a video and put that up.

So that would have been around the time of the Shane Dawson documentary reinvention era, when he was doing videos about YouTubers who had been cancelled. 
Definitely. He had just released the Jake Paul series.

I remember when he dropped the conspiracy theory video (falsely claiming that Chuck E. Cheese was recycling leftover pizza) and feeling just like I was screaming into a frustration void about how YouTube was promoting this video because it was a “documentary.”
Before things got more serious with Shane Dawson my biggest qualm was just how much of the stuff in there wasn’t true. And not just that, but there were a lot of witch hunts going on with the Chuck E Cheese [conspiracy] situation. It really showed me how YouTube can wind up affecting real life if we’re not careful.

Right. The Chuck E. Cheese thing was so funny because it definitely circulated online as truth. 
If you have enough subscribers, then people will not fact check you. They will take everything you say as the gospel truth.

Why do you think your videos stand out so much?
I would say the two things that set my videos apart are the length, undeniably, and also people say the research does as well. I will say it’s not necessarily a case of me always striving to have the best research or I’m always going to be 100% correct. I just am obsessed with the storytelling of it all. I want to be accurate. I want it to be very easy to follow, even for somebody who has never watched it. A lot of commentary videos, especially ones about more drama-related topics, like the beauty community, are designed for people who are already quite familiar. I think part of the reason that the views were so high on mine because I very much was like, “What if you woke up one day and you were like, ‘What’s a Shane Dawson?’ And you decided to watch a one-hour video about it? Could this be the video?”

It’s rare that I’m willing to commit a full hour and twenty minutes to a video, but you really know how to get and keep attention.
I feel like this is almost a cheat code. Instead of just hopping on every single topic right when it comes out, I actually wait a bit longer. It doesn’t always have to be happening right now. But if it’s still a good video about it, then people will sit through it.

How much YouTube do you sit through?
Before my videos go up, I’ve probably just been watching YouTube all day, every day for the past week. I’ll wake up, do my basic routine. And then I’ll start researching. I had to watch the most videos for my Shane Dawson series by far. And I don’t even have a grip of how long it took because I included so many video clips in there. With a lot of those I had to find the source material just so I could make sure they were in context. I haven’t watched a YouTube video at normal speed in months. I think they’re all at 2x speed. Sometimes if it’s really, really long, I’ll download it myself and then just play it in my editing software 4x speed.

Do you feel like the pandemic played a role in people suddenly having a very vested interest in commentary and drama? Like we all suddenly had more time for messiness online?
People definitely have more time. A lot of people don’t have a commute anymore. A lot of the people, unfortunately, might not even have as much work to do as they used to. So they want something to watch that’s not a reminder of the insanity that’s going on outside. Of course we have Netflix, of course we have Hulu, we have Amazon, but YouTube is really becoming kind of a player in the same space. You used to go there to watch people doing crazy things, but now there’s more. There may as well be seasons.

A year into the pandemic, do you still feel like internet drama is escapism?
I think people are tired of the facade at this point. Before, people were super into it. They enjoyed this bizarre larger than life world with these people who were so strange that they’re almost characters. But seeing as we are entering the second year, this has been going on for over a year, people’s opinions are much different now understandably. I would even say mine are. People have a lot less tolerance. It’s not really cute, fun or interesting that some people are out here getting away with seemingly everything while other people are trying to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet or even have funerals. Now it just seems like a reminder of how big of a divide there is between some [famous] people and other people.

What do you think it is about, let’s call them internet celebrities as an overarching category, that makes these people think they can just get away with this stuff?
I think a lot of it is just the fact that you can’t be fired. YouTube is slow to deplatform. It takes a lot before YouTube flips a switch — and I think that’s good. Just to be clear, I think it’s very good that YouTube is not ban-happy. But because of that people understand that technically there are no repercussions. They are not going to lose their channel over doing something wrong. Even if they lose subscribers, they’re not going to lose viewers if they’re trending over something. It’s just a business decision at the end of the day. They recognize that they have a lot of leeway.

These videos are fun to watch as a passive viewer in a safe bubble, but they definitely can have consequences. Shallon Lester, the former deputy editor of Star Magazine turned YouTuber, came for you after a video that you posted critiquing her content. Was that the first time a subject of one of your videos had lashed out?
The very first time I made a video and then immediately faced very real consequences was the Shallon Lester video. I basically posted a call-out because I disagreed with some of her methods. And within days she accused me of posting her address on Twitter, but she didn’t provide a screenshot because she said that would be her doxxing herself. She went on to claim that she had talked to authorities about it. It turns into this whole big thing where I had to clear my name and legitimately review my legal options. That’s the first time I realized, okay, this is not just me giving my opinion as some guy. This is something that people take seriously enough to want to retaliate. I have to make sure that a: I am correct in what I’m saying so I don’t get in trouble. And b: I’m able to defend myself in case people want to get me in trouble.

Has your work forced you to be more judicious about your online presence?
Everything I do nowadays is from a safety first perspective. There’s a lot of information I just keep to myself. There’s a lot of things that I will not post because I was editing and then I’ll see like a shipping label, that could have been my address. I’ll see somebody’s license plate … I could have doxed somebody else. I have a responsibility there now. I can deal with the comments. I can deal with the backlash. I’m going to be fine at the end of the day, but I have to be careful. I’m not dragging bystanders into that because people are just not cut out for this kind of thing.

It was a little less direct, but Jeffree Star also appeared to call you out this summer.
I think by far the biggest creator who I’ve seen upload a direct enough response to where I was positive they were talking about me was Jeffree star. He reviewed some of the claims and speculation that I made in my video about him. I honestly found that funny. He wasn’t like, “where’s my lawyer.” I guess it’s something that I should expect now because that video about him is nearing 6 million views.

Jeffree, Shallon, and I know you had some beef with “That Vegan Teacher” … is having the people you report on come after you becoming a trend?
If it is, they’re definitely not getting anything out of it. I think the reason a lot of people don’t respond after they get called out in video is because they know I’m not going to respond. The most I will do is leave a comment on their video maybe if they made a good point or maybe if they misunderstood something that I can clarify. But as far as just platforming an endless cycle of responses to my content, I think my channel is fine where it is.

Photo: Munachi Osegbu for Vulture

Do you think it’s possible to be purely objective in YouTube commentary? By the very nature of doing your work, you and other people in the space are YouTubers, you’re part of the economy, part of the cycle.
I don’t think it would be possible for me to be objective about another YouTuber just with us having the exact same job. I have some insight into their thought process in the first place. There are some YouTubers though who I would say are very, very objective. Tom Scott, for example, he’s put out a few, a couple videos criticizing other people on the platform. And it’s just like I feel like they should just be called educational videos. He’s so good at bringing the research and backing everything up. So, I would say that kind of specific content would more so be objective. But I’m perfectly fine with being labeled as opinionated.

Is it satisfying to know you’re getting under their skin?
I think that is my biggest guilty pleasure. Almost everything I say in my videos, I’m actually backing up with facts and evidence. So even if you want to get mad at it, you can’t get mad at me. You can’t get mad at screenshots. If you click into a D’Angelo Wallace video about you, you just gotta sit there and take it.

I’m curious about the long tail returns on a series like the one you did on Karmageddon last summer, three videos about the public meltdowns of Shane Dawson, Jeffree Star, and Tati Westbrook. People are still watching those, those numbers are still going up.
The beauty of a video series like that one is initially you might make a really decent amount of money, but as time goes on, you might actually wind up making double or triple that. As of right now, I’ve already made a double the amount from that series that I initially projected it at, because people keep watching it. That the whole series together, even with the demonetized Shane Dawson video, and my various sponsorships, I had my mind it would tap out around $10,000. Let’s just say I definitely under shot.

Do you have a lawyer?
I do have access to legal counsel. It’s much more of a business than ever before. Before if I went bankrupt that would have been a bit of a problem for me, for sure, but at this point, I am dealing with other people, I am employing other people. I have a team. I can’t just leave anything to fate really because at the end of the day I still need to make sure I’m supporting the people who are supporting me.

Who comprises your team?
On the main channel I’m still 100% in control of all those videos. I’ve never gotten any editing help with that or writing help. And probably won’t. I think just because those videos are very dependent on me. People know what to expect, which is my take on things and my style, More importantly, I enjoy creating that content. On my other channel it’s very much a more traditional commentary channel, where I just talk about any and everything and we have multiple videos going out a week. So, I have two editors who do an amazing job working on the content over there. They cut it down from livestreams and then I also have two moderators on staff as well because of the community building stuff that we’ve been doing recently. It’s a bigger operation [than it used to be].

In your video “Influencer-19,” you chronicled the vacations and parties and general bad behavior of internet celebrities during the pandemic, like Charli D’Amelio and her family on vacation in the Bahamas and TikTok houses in Los Angeles throwing ragers. You included a clip of Erika Costell and Tana Mongeau at a crowded party yelling, “we don’t fucking care,” at the camera that I found so chilling. How do you tackle that kind of privilege? 
It’s easy for me to see the difference in how a lot of the people I’m covering are treated versus how I would be treated. I imagine myself in scenarios. Imagine if one day I woke up and I was like, “I’m going to be an influencer.” There would be no second, third, fourth, fifth chances for me. There never have been. Even just times where I’ve made slight missteps, I personally feel like the reactions have been quite swift and extreme versus other people who just seem to float by with no repercussions at all. But it’s something I try not to think about too often actively. I just appreciate the fact that I’m here now and I do what I can now that I am.

So many of these influencers and YouTubers and TikTok stars you cover are white and extremely privileged. As a Black creator, how do you think the racial dynamic affects your work?
I do often think about why I am one of the only commentary channels at my size as a Black person. I find that strange because I am not the only good one. I feel like it’s no surprise people are less likely to listen to people of color, any sort of marginalized group. I myself have had to be very careful and guarded and do everything right, just so that people listen to me in the first place. I just hope that by getting to this position people will say, “Wait, maybe these other people are worth listening to,” and maybe they don’t have to make one-hour videos and back up every single point. Maybe your opinions can still be valid. I’ve had experiences too where people just fall into the classic racist trappings of saying, oh, I’m “angry” or I think I’m “different” or I “know everything.” Just all the implications that I can’t be educated or have opinions. The thing that literally all people have regardless of whether you’re a person of color or not.

You talked a bit in your big Shane Dawson video about how his whole shtick is just a persona. Shane Dawson, the person is different from Shane Dawson, the online persona. How do you avoid falling into that trap online?
I think that’s a bit tricky because to a certain extent, everyone online is putting forth a persona, just because it’s the only space where we have control over our image. If I’m just talking to people in real life, I might slip up, I might make a mistake. I can’t edit it out. I try to stick with things that I really believe, things that I’m really interested in. I won’t hype something up if I’m not a fan of it or I won’t talk something down if I really like it. I just started to stay true to my own opinions. I think that makes a more genuine experience.

Do you think about yourself becoming part of the story as you make these videos?
I definitely try to avoid it just because I can think of situations where I have 100% been part of the story [like Shallon Lester] and it’s not possible to be objective or super on top of your presentation. It’s usually not a bad thing because I don’t think you have to be objective if people are coming after you. I do enjoy the boundary or the barrier even I’d go so far as to say between me and the people I’m talking about just because it makes my job more fun. I don’t want to be constantly under attack. Even if some people want me to be, I just don’t platform it. And on the internet, that’s almost like it never happened.

You got candid in “Influencer-19,” talking about how your grandparents survived COVID-19. I found it a really touching decision to let millions of people into that portion of your life, something that’s still painful for you to talk about and has been painful for so many people in this country. What made you decide to go personal there?
I just wanted people to understand that this is more to me than just video clips or strange internet people. Because the reason people were so sensitive about the pandemic in the first place is because of how many of us it is directly impacting. This is a matter of life or death for many, many, many people, an untold number of people. I definitely thought even though it’s never fun to be vulnerable on the internet, it was very important for people to realize that I understand at a core level how important all of this is and why it’s such a big deal. It’s not just a trending topic. It is a matter of a pretty egregious lack of empathy.

Typically, though, it seems like you prefer to keep your own life out of your content.
I’m usually just pretty private in all things because I find that a lot of times what’s going on in my personal life has not much at all to do with what’s going on in my channel. More importantly, I see what happens when people are very open on the internet. People see it as an invitation … they feel like the things on the internet belong to them. I can understand why they think that but of course that’s not always true at all. There are a lot of things in my life that do not belong to anyone else.

What do you do when you’re not watching or making YouTube videos?
I spend a lot of time talking to my friends or family, because I think that’s important. You can start feeling a bit crazy if you don’t surround yourself with people who are actually there for you. Especially when we’re dealing with the internet, so many people that are, for lack of a better term, not there.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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