YouTube drama is messy. On any given day, anything from a breakup to a COVID party, a botched makeup launch, or the unearthing of racist old tweets could get an influencer trending. Sometimes the controversies even veer into the criminal, such as accusations of sexual assault or grooming. In the simplest version of the drama cycle: scandal breaks, people gossip, drama channels make videos, and apologies are issued — rinse and repeat. But then you have to factor in YouTubers’ inevitable updates, retractions, video deletions, and the spread of misinformation, not to mention the increasing number of voices chiming in to give their two cents. YouTube drama escalates so quickly (and is sometimes erased so quickly afterward) that you, the viewer, may be left asking yourself: What just happened?
There’s no slowing down YouTubers’ chaos, but it’s a lot easier to get the drama if you know the terms, the context, and the most prominent players. Before you jump into the world of YouTube gossip channels — otherwise known as TeaTube — here’s a glossary to get you up to speed on the biggest topics, names, and scandals that have affected the video platform thus far.
Adpocalypse: A 2017 exodus of major advertisers from YouTube when ads started showing up next to hateful, extremist, and otherwise brand-unsafe content. Led to changes in the platform’s monetization system and advertising guidelines.
Affiliate link: A commission-generating link used by influencers to send followers to their sponsors’ websites.
The Algorithm: YouTube’s mysterious recommendation machine, powered by your watch history and the likelihood that certain content will keep you on the site for longer.
Apology video: A video in which an influencer deigns to acknowledge a misdeed that got them canceled. Often lacks an actual apology.
Collab house: A mansion that houses a group of influencers, sometimes bankrolled by talent-management companies. See: Team 10 House, Hype House, Sway House (RIP), and Collab Crib.
Copyright strike: A video takedown initiated by a copyright owner against a channel for using content without permission, with a weeklong grace period to address any complaints. Three strikes within 90 days and the channel could end up terminated. Forces tea channels to think hard about when they use other channels’ content. Usually, they get around copyright by claiming fair use.
Community strike: Similar to copyright rules, you get a strike for violating YouTube’s community guidelines. Three strikes and you’re out. The platform has recently cracked down on creator-on-creator harassment, which has caused tea channels to reconsider the tone and content of their videos (kneecapping their ability to criticize influencers, much to their dismay).
Demonetization: Loss of advertising revenue that comes after a video is flagged for violating YouTube’s ad guidelines, which discourage violence, adult themes, inappropriate language, drugs, and “controversial issues.” A professional YouTuber’s worst nightmare — like going to work but not getting paid. Creators try to avoid demonetization by using vague language or blurring out words and images to comply with YouTube’s rules. But on TeaTube, breaking the rules is nearly inevitable.
Fair use: The part of copyright law that allows creators to use copyrighted material as long as they’re using it for criticism, commentary, reporting, etc. Serves as a buffer between copyright-infringement claims and tea channels.
Shadowban: The supposed suppression of creators or content in YouTube search results for unexplained reasons. Frequently alleged by YouTubers, always denied by YouTube.
Social Blade: A social-media analytics company used to track changes to influencers’ subscriber/follower counts. Viewers started using it as a scoreboard during the feud known as Dramageddon 2.0.
Termination: Banishment from YouTube. Terminated users are prohibited from using, owning, or starting any new channels.
The Major Players
Adams, Ryland: Shane Dawson’s fiancé and former host of Clevver News, a pop-culture news channel. Current co-host of The Sip, a podcast that was all about spilling tea on pop and internet culture — until Adams realized he’d have to talk about YouTube drama, which often includes himself, Dawson, and their friends. Now he’s all about attracting positivity (avoiding gossip and celebrity “bashing”).
Charles, James: The most popular beauty YouTuber, with over 25 million subscribers. In 2016, he became CoverGirl’s first CoverBoy. He was recently accused of “grooming” by a 16-year-old fan who alleged that Charles sent him nudes knowing he was underage. Charles released a statement saying he didn’t know the boy was underage and would check people’s IDs moving forward. (But he didn’t deny sending the pictures.)
Dawson, Shane: Early YouTuber known for docuseries, conspiracy videos, and (often insensitive and racist) sketches. Has not posted since June 26, 2020.
Def Noodles: Prominent YouTube commentary channel known for its exaggerated style, internet-news reporting, and satirical takes on influencer drama.
Dobrik, David: Former Vine star and popular YouTube vlogger known for pranks and extravagant giveaways. Founded the Vlog Squad, a group of friends who make daily vlogs together; former members include Gabbie Hanna and Trisha Paytas. Has faced recent scrutiny for previous racist jokes and bullying. Recently, a former member of the Vlog Squad accused him of orchestrating sexual assault.
Dragun, Nikita: YouTuber known for her makeup reviews, clickbait-y vlogs, and videos about her life as a trans woman. Always in trouble for things like throwing or attending COVID parties, Blackfishing — i.e., darkening her skin in photos to pass as Black — and making racist comments. Has been canceled a million times but keeps coming back: Deadline reports that she just signed a 360 deal with the media group Wheelhouse.
Frenemies: Ethan Klein and Trisha Paytas’s podcast, on which they troll each other and discuss the latest in YouTube culture and drama.
h3h3 Productions: A channel consisting of funny reactions to viral videos, sketches, and internet commentary, made by married couple Ethan and Hila Klein. The two also host a successful podcast called The H3 Podcast.
Hanna, Gabbie: Vine star turned YouTube commentator known for storytime videos, rants about her critics, and her semi-successful, memeable music career. Often claims to have been shadowbanned by YouTube.
Hill, Jaclyn: A beauty guru best known for her tutorials, reviews, and eponymous makeup brand. Her botched launch for her cosmetics line was a huge topic in the YouTube drama community and led to a mass refund (not recall) of her lipsticks after customers posted pictures of holes, hair, and lumps in their products.
Hollywood Fix: The TMZ-inspired brainchild of Fletcher Greene, the go-to paparazzo for the biggest Gen-Z influencers. Greene typically finds TikTokers and YouTubers in L.A., interviews them on the street, and posts it to YouTube.
Keem, Daniel: Also known as Keemstar. The controversial, brash YouTuber whose DramaAlert was a forerunner of the YouTube drama genre. Co-hosts the commentary podcast Mom’s Basement, on which he interviews popular influencers and discusses internet drama with e-sports entrepreneur and gamer FaZe Banks and commentator Colossal Is Crazy.
Mongeau, Tana: The closest Gen Z has to a tabloid star. Known for her “storytime” YouTube videos — in which she describes outrageous, possibly dubious life experiences — her short-lived relationships with fellow influencers such as Bella Thorne and Jake Paul, racism, partying, and finding herself in an endless string of controversy.
Paytas, Trisha: Vlogger known for her car mukbangs, storytimes, and knack for starting feuds with people including Gabbie Hanna, Jeffree Star, Shane Dawson, and the Vlog Squad. She has received backlash for videos in which she has claimed to be transgender and to have multiple personalities, as well as videos in which she did racial caricatures. She recently sparked new drama after calling out Star for bullying her and Dawson for supporting him.
The Paul Brothers: Jake and Logan, who turned their success on Vine into separate YouTube empires. Popular for their sensational vlogs, pranks, and sibling rivalry. Jake, the younger one, is known for starting Team 10 and such hits as “It’s Everyday Bro,” fake-marrying Tana Mongeau, and getting raided by the FBI. Logan, the older one, is known for his infamous “suicide forest” video on YouTube, in which he documented his encounter with a dead body in Japan, and his podcast Impaulsive. Both Paul brothers have begun a pivot into professional boxing.
Spill: Tea channel long thought to be a single person but revealed to be a team of creators working for a media company. Considered to be the perfect example of how brands are encroaching on the lucrative and mostly DIY commentary-channel community.
Star, Jeffree: Former MySpace musician turned YouTube beauty guru and one of the platform’s highest-paid stars. Was seemingly beyond reproach despite a long history of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism — until Karmageddon. Star was recently accused of sexual assault and using hush money to silence victims; he has yet to publicly comment on the allegations but denied them through his lawyer.
Wallace, D’Angelo: YouTuber known for his feature-length analyses of the antics of other, more controversial YouTubers.
Westbrook, Tati: The older-sister figure of the YouTube beauty community, who gained popularity for her daily uploads and high-low discussions of both luxury and drugstore beauty products. Saw her reputation tarnished considerably by Dramageddon 2.0.
The Key Events
Dramageddon: Also referred to as Dramageddon 1.0. Sparked in 2018 when the beauty guru Gabriel Zamora posted a photo of himself with Manny “Manny MUA” Gutierrez, Nikita Dragun, and Laura Lee, with a caption referring to their former friend and fellow influencer Jeffree Star: “b—- is bitter because without him we’re doing better.” Star’s stans came for Zamora, and Zamora, referring to comments Star had once made on MySpace, replied, “Imagine stanning a racist? I could never.” Star’s stans then hit back by resurfacing a bunch of racist tweets from Zamora, Gutierrez, Dragun, and Lee. All four lost subscribers; many bad apologies were issued. Star, somehow, emerged relatively unscathed.
Dramageddon 2.0: Sparked in 2019 when James Charles posted spon-con for Sugar Bear Hair, a gummy-vitamin company that was a direct competitor to his longtime mentor Tati Westbrook’s brand, Halo Beauty. A betrayed Westbrook took to Instagram to express her feelings. In a since-deleted video, “Bye Sister,” she criticized Charles’s disloyalty and claimed he exhibited predatory behavior toward young, straight men. Jeffree Star butted in to call Westbrook’s video “100% true” and also deem Charles a predator. Charles lost 3 million subscribers while Westbrook gained 5 million. Charles then uploaded “No More Lies,” in which he brought receipts — including texts with Westbrook and Star — to clear his name. Westbrook and Star backed off of their claims, with Westbrook claiming that she didn’t intend for Charles to receive hate; Star released a video titled “Never Doing This Again” (a promise he did not keep). YouTube would remove exact subscriber counts from channels’ displays after onlookers started using Westbrooks’s and Charles’s subscriber numbers as a scorecard for the feud.
Dramageddon 3.0: Also known as Karmageddon. The Ur-baroque YouTube feud. Sparked in 2020 by former Jeffree Star collaborators Kameron Lester and Tab, who accused the guru of making manipulative, racist, and abusive comments, all of which Star denied. Lester also accused Shane Dawson of being manipulative, a claim to which Dawson did not respond. Star then sent Lester a voice memo berating him and insulting his appearance, which was picked up by drama channels.
The drama channels Ashlye Kyle, Sanders Kennedy, and The Viewer’s Voice, inspired by Lester’s decision to speak out, uploaded videos about the hosts’ own relationships to Star (see: “Jeffree Star’s Payroll”), which included receiving PR packages from his makeup company and getting exclusive scoops from him. Soon after, Dawson released a Notes-app rant, “Welcome to the Circus,” in which he denounced YouTube’s beauty community. Unsurprisingly, he received a lot of backlash for the note, leading people to resurface his past racist videos and pedophilia jokes. He apologized for his old content with a video called “Taking Accountability.”
Tati Westbrook butted in to release a video, “BREAKING MY SILENCE…,” in which she claimed that Star and Dawson had instigated her 2019 James Charles takedown because they stood to gain from Charles’s downfall. She also suggested that Star sowed fear in the YouTube community by claiming to have “dirt on everyone.” Dawson called Westbrook a liar in an infamous Instagram Live session, but that did not stop the cosmetics line Morphe — which carried Star and Dawson’s makeup — from ending its professional relationship with both of them. Dawson has not posted since uploading “Taking Accountability.” All of this happened over the course of four weeks last June and July, and those four weeks felt like a year.
Jeffree Star’s Payroll: Not an actual payroll but, instead, people who maintained good relations with Jeffree Star as highlighted by a slew of drama channels in 2020. Benefits include access to exclusive, if not suspiciously motivated, gossip about the beauty community and, in some cases, PR packages from Star’s cosmetics line.
TanaCon: Convention put on in 2018 by Tana Mongeau to rival VidCon, the decade-old online video-and-influencer conference, after she was snubbed by its organizers. Mongeau claimed she could set up the whole thing — panels, a venue for 5,000 people, concerts, meet-and-greets, gift bags, and more — in a month! Obviously, it was a disaster. Thousands of her fans got stuck waiting outside the Anaheim Marriott Suites in California, dehydrated, sunburned, and disappointed. Subject of a popular Shane Dawson docuseries.
More From This Series
- Glimpsing Behind the Curtain of YouTube’s Anonymous Tea Channels
- Tiffany Ferguson Reacts to Her Video That Won Over the Elusive YouTube Algorithm
- Does It Actually Matter Who’s Behind an Anonymous Commentary Channel?