Back in 2016, a New York high-school student casually shared his senior yearbook photos on Twitter. The images quickly went viral as fans admired his incredible makeup skills and popping highlight. The teenager in the photo was James Charles, YouTube’s now-megafamous makeup artist and vlogger. His early years of internet fame led him to become the first male CoverGirl model and garnered him an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Today, Charles has 25.7 million subscribers on YouTube, 27.3 million Instagram followers, and 36 million followers on TikTok. Most of his content is makeup-focused; he shares his favorite products and films extravagant tutorials, beginning each video with his catchphrase, “Hey, sisters.” It’s all seemingly innocuous stuff — he’s even BFFs with TikTok’s wholesome D’Amelio sisters. But his journey to internet superstardom has been far from innocent: The 21-year-old has faced an extraordinary amount of controversy over the past five years.
Serious trouble has been steadily brewing for Charles in the past couple of months, David Dobrik–style, and it now appears the allegations and bad press may be affecting his career for the first time. Most recently, it was announced that Charles and cosmetics brand Morphe are cutting ties. On April 19, YouTube also confirmed that his channel is temporarily demonetized, restricting him from making money on the platform. Here’s a comprehensive timeline of each of Charles’s controversies so you can predict how much longer this guru’s reign will last.
Charles’s first taste of a backlash started after he posted racist tweets about Africa and the Ebola virus. Charles quickly deleted the tweets and issued an apology. CoverGirl also spoke out, stating that it did not support Charles’s comments, yet the makeup brand didn’t sever its ties with him.
Charles found himself in more drama after he tweeted that the movie It was “awful.” This comment caused a frenzy of backlash, and a stubborn Charles refused to back down against the hate.
While the popular singer Shawn Mendes showed off his juggling skills on Instagram Live, Charles commented, “Can you juggle me like that?” Other viewers were not happy with the YouTube star’s sexual comment, and the incident blew up on Twitter. One user tweeted that they had allegedly overheard Mendes speaking negatively about Charles at his album-release party. Mendes direct-messaged Charles to clear things up and assure him that Charles’s comments “actually make [him] laugh.” Charles shared Mendes’s message and an additional personal statement on his own Twitter.
In a video with fellow YouTubers Shane Dawson and Ryland Adams, Charles stated that Ariana Grande was the rudest celebrity he had ever met and accompanied the claim with a story of his negative interaction with the pop star. He said Grande had unfollowed him because of his controversial history after they messaged on Twitter. Grande’s fans were quick to defend the singer’s decision to unfollow Charles after learning about his problematic past.
Charles started a feud with beauty guru and founder of Makeup Geek Marlena Stella after learning she was making a documentary about the beauty industry with Netflix. Charles spoke out, claiming the documentary had been his idea. He also attacked Stella herself, claiming she was biased and had a vendetta against influencers. Stella defended herself in a tweet.
Charles uploaded a video titled “THE TRUTH… My Crush Does My Makeup” with Vlog Squad member and fellow YouTuber Jeff Wittek. In this video, Charles stated that he is not “full gay” because he has been attracted to trans men. Many called the comment out as transphobic and insensitive. Charles apologized in a tweet.
Charles received backlash for the price of tickets for his tour. Fans were particularly upset by the $500 VIP package, with some claiming it was “sister extortion.” In a tweet, Charles explained he had done everything he could to keep prices as low as possible.
While at Coachella, Charles posted a sponsored video for SugarBearHair vitamins. He later posted an apology directed toward his friend and fellow beauty YouTuber Tati Westbrook, as SugarBearHair was a direct competitor of Westbrook’s brand, Halo Beauty. Westbrook and Charles were extremely close friends at the time of the SugarBearHair ad. Charles referred to her as “mom” because he viewed Westbrook as both a mentor and family. Charles even did Westbrook’s makeup for her wedding back in 2017. The betrayal of Westbrook and her company erupted into a series of controversies for Charles that the internet accurately named “Dramageddon 2.0.”
The name Dramageddon had been coined in 2018 to define the very public and messy friendship breakup between makeup gurus Jeffree Star, Manny MUA, Gabriel Zamora, and Laura Lee. In May 2019, Dramageddon 2.0 again featured Star; this time, however, he took on different makeup YouTubers. It all started when Westbrook posted a since-deleted video outlining all the ways Charles had hurt her after the SugarBearHair incident. She said that she had not been warned about his SugarBearHair post and that Charles had never promoted her brand because, he claimed, he thought it would be inappropriate to advertise supplements to his teenage audience. Westbrook also said Charles was sexually manipulative and uses his fame against those who refused his sexual advances.
Star elevated the drama by posting a cryptic tweet: “There is a reason that Nathan banned James Charles from ever coming over to our home again. There’s a reason why I haven’t seen him since @GlamLifeGuru’s birthday in February. He is a danger to society. Everything Tati said is 100% true.” Charles posted a video titled “No More Lies” in reaction to Westbrook and Star in which he apologized for hurting Westbrook but offered receipts to prove his innocence against all the allegations. Drama continued after the video was posted, when Star tweeted (then deleted) at Charles’s younger brother, “Why is your brother a predator??”
Another controversy to come out of Charles’s Coachella weekend centered on his Coachella date, the Instagram model Gage Gomez, who was 20 years old at the time. Gomez claimed Charles had pressured him into sexual situations, even though he had told the influencer he wasn’t attracted to men. Charles spoke out in a tweet, stating that he and Gomez had been speaking for five months prior to Coachella and claiming that everything had been consensual.
After attending the 2019 Met Gala, Charles posted an Instagram praising the event for promoting “influencer representation.” He faced backlash for implying that the very wealthy and privileged influencer community was marginalized and required greater representation.
After Dramageddon 2.0 came the demise of Charles’s YouTube friend group, Sister Squad, which had been made up of himself, Emma Chamberlain, and Ethan and Grayson Dolan. Although the reason for the popular group’s demise was never revealed, many theorized it was due to Charles’s inappropriate behavior and his alleged queerbaiting toward the Dolan twins after YouTube videos such as “Grayson Dolan Rejecting James Charles for 2 minutes straight” garnered attention. This theory was further fueled by the fact that the foursome’s final collaboration had been posted in December 2018; however, Chamberlain and the Dolan twins were photographed together (without Charles) at Coachella in April 2019.
Charles posted an Instagram Story of himself and some friends singing “My Type,” by Saweetie, on New Year’s Eve. People started questioning whether the influencer had sung the lyric that included the N-word, causing #JamesCharlesIsOverParty to start trending on Twitter.
Charles participated in the “mugshot trend” on social media. Using makeup, he gave himself a bruised face and black eye and posed as though taking a mugshot. He quickly deleted the images after facing backlash for glamorizing domestic violence and criminal behavior. In a since-deleted tweet, Charles retaliated with “only I could lazily smudge on some purple eyeshadow and fake blood to recreate a dumb tik tok trend and have it twisted into an actual scandal lol.”
Star appeared on the Mom’s Basement podcast and claimed to have a phone recording of an alleged victim of Charles’s sexual abuse. Star neither played nor released the tape and stated, “At the end of the day, I’m not gonna out a victim of James Charles. If it’s real, because I don’t know if it’s real, and I’ll go into another room and play it for you.” Star’s appearance on the podcast led to the third Dramageddon installment, known as Dramageddon 3.0 and Karmageddon. This marked the moment when the world would slowly turn against Star after Westbrook uploaded another damning video — this time directed at him.
Westbrook uploaded the video “BREAKING MY SILENCE…” in which she publicly apologized to Charles and claimed she had been manipulated into making the original video by YouTubers Star and Dawson. She claimed she was being “beyond gaslit” by the two influencers into believing allegations against Charles. She ended the video with an apology: “James, I am so sorry that I allowed myself to be poisoned and weaponized against you. I’m sorry that I bought into any of their lies. Believing those lies and allowing myself to be gaslit into making that video is one of the biggest regrets of my life.”
Charles was in more hot water after attending a party at the TikTok Hype House in the middle of the pandemic. He inserted an apology into a YouTube video titled “A Day in the Life With James Charles” after being called out by various outlets, including fellow YouTuber Tyler Oakley.
Charles was forced to apologize after subtweeting Alicia Keys when it was announced that she would be starting a makeup line. He tweeted (and deleted) that “people who do not wear makeup should not be coming out with makeup brands but that’s just my opinion.”
Ethan Klein, a co-founder of streetwear brand Teddy Fresh, accused Charles of copying his designs for his new line of Sisters merchandise. Charles responded with a series of tweets denying ever copying Klein’s color-blocked designs.
Charles posted a series of Instagram stories ranting about receiving a PR package from someone who had “no business having a makeup brand.” He continued to make fun of the products and packaging by saying they were pretty much empty. It was later revealed via an Instagram comment that the brand in question was by The Hills star Lauren Conrad. She explained that the empty products sent to Charles had been an accidental mixup and claimed the two had reconciled their issues. Charles later apologized through his own Instagram account.
Charles faced backlash after defending two TikTok stars — 22-year-old Ondreaz Lopez and 19-year-old Xavier Lopez — after they faced numerous allegations of “grooming” underage boys. Charles tweeted in solidarity with the victims; however, users claimed he had defended the Lopez brothers back in June.
A 16-year-old boy claimed Charles had groomed him and pressured him into exchanging sexual photos via the Snapchat app. Charles spoke out against the allegations and claimed he had been unaware of the boy’s age at the time of the interaction. Charles continued to post on all of his platforms as though nothing had happened.
Three more males came forward to share their negative sexual experiences with Charles. A 17-year-old boy shared screenshots alleging that Charles had continued to flirt with him via Instagram message even after learning his age. A third man of an unclear age came forward to share his negative, sexually fueled conversation with Charles.
Trisha Paytas and Ethan Klein, hosts of the H3 podcast who are known for their role in the cancellation of David Dobrik, shared tweets speaking out against Chipotle for its recent partnership with Charles. Klein also tweeted against Nickelodeon for allowing Charles to win a Kids’ Choice Award. Klein tweeted, “It’s great because kids have always been his choice too.”
Charles was fired from hosting the popular YouTube reality competition show Instant Influencer. A spokesperson for the show told Variety, “We can confirm Season 2 of the YouTube originals series ‘Instant Influencer’ will take a new creative direction, including a new host.”
A 15-year-old teenage boy used TikTok to share screenshots from conversations and photos he had exchanged with Charles. After the boy started sharing their messages on his Snapchat Story, he claimed Charles had blocked him and accused him of lying about his age even though, he said, Charles had always been aware of his age.
April 1, 2021
In a new video, Charles apologizes to “two different people, both under the age of 18,” who came forward about their interactions with him, “one of them being from last year and one of them being from more recent.” Charles goes on to offer his reasoning on why the incidents took place, including “desperation,” inexperience, and a misunderstanding of power dynamics. “What I wasn’t getting before is that the excitement that comes from talking to a celebrity is literally enough to make somebody do or say something they normally wouldn’t, even if that celebrity isn’t intentionally weaponizing their fame, money, or power,” Charles says. “That’s the concept I just wasn’t getting, but I now do.”
April 8, 2021
A full week after James Charles admitted to his inappropriate conversations with minors, brands have continued to stand by him publicly. Morphe, the cosmetics company behind Charles’s infamous eyeshadow palette, released a statement to drama channel Rich Lux saying they “do not condone inappropriate online behavior of any form.” “We have been actively looking into the recent allegations against James Charles, and have suspended marketing of the Morphe X James Charles collaboration while we continue to evaluate and monitor the situation,” reads the statement.
April 9, 2021
Tana Mongeau, a longtime friend and defender of James Charles’s, disavowed her 2019 tweets defending him after influencer Gage Gomez claimed Charles tried to “manipulate” him into questioning his sexuality despite knowing Gomez is straight. “100% manipulated and begged to tweet that,” Mongeau tweeted two years later. “I was defending someone that was my friend at the time and believed them. sad to see. I later reconciled with Gage and discussed it, apologized, heard his side of the story, and now I call him one of my closest friends.”
April 15, 2021
Variety reports that Zach Hsieh, the visual artist behind the the YouTube channel ZHC, will be the new host of Instant Influencer. “We are excited to expand upon the beauty and makeup themes of the first season and introduce a more diverse cast of competitors that are artists in a variety of different mediums,” Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s global head of original content, said in a statement to Variety. “It was always our vision to incorporate different artistic points of view into the series, and we can’t wait for viewers to see all new forms of creative expression.”
April 16, 2021
Morphe and James Charles announce they are ending their partnership and will “wind down sales of the Morphe x James Charles product,” in simultaneous statements. “It is and has always been Morphe’s goal to create a positive, safe, and empowering space where all beauty lovers can freely share their artistry and passion for cosmetics, and Morphe is committed to furthering that goal,” the company said on Twitter.
In a new statement, Charles denies the numerous allegations he did not touch on in his initial apology. “As I said in that video, I can’t show change overnight, but will overtime,” it reads. “Since posting that video, many other people have come forward with a series of misleading stories and false allegations which have been reported on by many people, creators, and news outlets. My legal team has begun taking action against those that have spread misinformation and/or created completely fake stories, as this has gone too far.”
April 19, 2021
It’s gone further. YouTube has temporarily demonetized James Charles’s channel, removing him from its Partner Program, according to a report by Insider. The platform said it applied its “creator responsibility policy,” which states that if a “creator’s on- and/or off-platform behavior harms our users, community, employees, or ecosystem, we may take action to protect the community.” The company did not say how long the demonetization will last.
April 26, 2021
Kelly Rocklein, a former producer for Charles who is currently suing him for wrongful termination, among other claims, tweets, “Watching the same people who screwed me over massively end up in deep scandals isn’t news to me, it’s karmic debt.” “Won 1, going 2 for 2 because im all about law and order,” she added in another tweet, referencing a previous lawsuit against influencer Erika Costell who she sued for failure to pay wages.
May 8, 2021
Morphe discounts several James Charles products, apparently as an attempt to “wind down” sales.
That same day, TikTok user @nouvelshepard exposes a Twitter account linked in the first video uploaded to Charles’s YouTube channel. The account appeared to have been inactive since 2016, except for a September 2020 tweet saying the N-word to Jeffree Star, which may have been the result of a hack.
May 10, 2021
James Charles logs on for the first time since posting his statement on April 16 to address the lawsuit by Kelly Rocklein to get ahead of a news story he was asked to comment on. In a seven-minute video uploaded to Twitter, he says he feels “blackmailed” by “untrue” allegations. “My team is like family to me,” he says, using the No. 1 red flag for an employee. Charles continues by saying wrongful-termination suits are “unfortunately” common in the industry and “quite a headache” for “the defendant, which means myself.” “This is just perfect convenient timing as well, considering this past weekend my old Twitter account, which I have not accessed since 2016 and only has one tweet, I guess was hacked last year and the hacker publicly tweeted somebody the N-word and people actually thought that it was me,” he says, briefly addressing the controversy. He ends the video by thanking fans and urging them to stick by him. “I just want to give some sort of explanation so you guys know and, hopefully, are able to see this and what’s happening here for what it really is,” he finishes off.
May 12, 2021
Insider shares details from Kelly Rocklein’s lawsuit in a new report. Rocklein, 26, was 23 when she worked for Charles as an editor, producer, and creative director for six months. She alleges wrongful termination after she passed out at a nail salon while with Charles and suffered a concussion, as well as disability discrimination, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, and failure to pay minimum wage for overtime. Rocklein claims she worked 80 hours or more a week. She also alleges Charles called her names like “bitch” and used the “N-word” in front of her, which another source also told Insider.
Rocklein says she wished to settle, but Charles and his legal team declined in 2019, preferring private arbitration, where a third-party (paid for by Sister Sister LLC) makes a decision. The court denied arbitration, on account of a new California law, and the lawsuit moved to litigation, though Charles’s team extended the process further by appealing. They are currently awaiting a decision from the court. In response to Charles’s claim that Rocklein was blackmailing him, her attorney said Charles’s legal team tried to kill the Insider report by offering a settlement to “buy her silence.” “James made a reasonable settlement offer for an employment lawsuit, she countered with an outrageous amount of money to settle and to retract her public statements, James wasn’t willing to pay her off,” Sam Mangan, Charles’s manager, told Insider in a statement. “The offer made was to silence Kelly and to have her retract the story and it was in no way reasonable considering all the damages that she is entitled to under the law,” Rocklein’s lawyer said.