The influencer industry is an ideal ground for battles; there's endless potential for he said/she said drama. By and large, it can bypass the mainstream media circuit. But over the last 24 hours, one particular spat between two prominent US beauty influencers has taken over social media feeds. It has opened up the debate about sponsored content and brand loyalty versus genuine audience connection and interaction - with fans of both chiming in to offer their two cents in the debate.
Who is James Charles?
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When beauty vlogger and 19-year-old Coverboy star James Charles landed an invite to the exclusive Met Gala, it was, understandably, all over his profiles. He's relatively new to the industry, having gained a substantial following in the US in the last three years for his advocating gender fluidity and beauty in whatever form is right for the individual. He has over 14 million YouTube subscribers alone and is considered by some to be a role model - so wields a powerful influence over his followers, who are younger, more in the 13 to 15 age bracket.
Who is Tati Westbrook?
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Beauty blogger Tati Westbrook is considered on US shores a veteran of the beauty blogging industry; at 37-years-old she has been in the business a lot longer than Charles and was an early advocate and friend to the teen. She considered herself and her husband parental figures and mentors to Charles who was trying to find his footing. Regularly pushing his products on her channel, she urged her 6 million followers to follow the youngster as he showcased the varying sides to his personality. The numbers quickly grew but Westbrook and Charles remained friends throughout with Charles openly saying that Westbrook had made his career.
On the surface, it appeared to be about vitamins.
In late April, Charles used his Instagram platform to promote Sleep Vitamins by a brand named Sugarbear. The problem is that Sugarbear is a competing beauty brand to Tati's own company. Tati is the founder of a vitamin beauty brand called Halo Beauty. Right after the incident, people felt James betrayed Tati by doing a promo for a rival company, given how close the two were. He apparently did this even after Westbrook said that the move would hurt her professionally as well as personally.
Though she never mentioned Charles' name, she made a video where she was moved to tears talking about how hurt she felt, seemingly referring to James's betrayal. James did apologise for the incident, and uploaded the apology to his Instagram stories, saying that his post was an oversight.
Westbrook responded by uploading a 43-minute video to YouTube called, Bye Sister. Sister – what James calls his subscribers. In the video, Tati said that there was no way she could continue being friends with James and said she tried to be a voice of reason for him - pointing out that the damage between them is because of more than just vitamins. She also detailed her reasons for her general unhappiness with his behaviour throughout their friendship - and very eloquently. She cited much of his alleged behaviour and comments had made her uncomfortable and that she and her husband had felt taken advantage of - and deeply hurt - by his actions.
Charles responded with a shorter 8-minute video, offering an apology to Westbrook, her husband and fans for his behaviour. The teen was visibly upset and remorseful throughout the clip - and bearing in mind he is a great deal younger than Westbrook - many still felt his response was more damage control than genuine remorse. Westbrook hasn't responded to his apology and the debate continues; Westbrook has gained significant followers where Charles has lost that number - but it's worth watching both videos above and making your own conclusions as you will.
Can there ever be true loyalty in a fast-moving industry when followers and brand identity hold so much weight when it comes to securing lucrative contracts? It's what fans of both Westbrook and Charles continue to talk about - but it appears that each knows where they stand on the issue...
Main photograph: @YouTube