May 7, 2017


Future Asian & Pacific History Month: Lilly Singh's YouTube Universe

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People's Choice Awards
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People's Choice Awards

Fuse is celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History before our eyes. Today we're celebrating Lilly Singh, the Canadian YouTube superstar.

Singh was raised in Toronto by parents from Punjab, India; she is "a proud Sikh." Last month she published How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, knowledge the 28-year-old has been accumulating since launching her YouTube channel IISuperwomanII six and a half years ago. She's now creeping up on 11.5 million subscribers and 1.9 billion views.

“Spent thousands of dollars on tuition, graduated and got a degree. I make YouTube videos now,” goes her winking bio. In 2015, she was Forbes' No. 8 highest-paid YouTube star with $2.5 million. Last year she hit No. 3 with $7.5 million, behind only Roman Atwood and PewDiePie.

With clockwork consistency and luminous positivity, Singh—whose degree was a BA in psychology from Toronto's York University—has created video after video after video exploring a cornucopia of subjects and styles. Many of her most-streamed have youth-skewing subjects like "How I Clean My Room" and "Types of Teachers at School." Her biggest ever, with 22.5 million views, is 2013's "How Girls Get Ready." 3.4 million have watched "Types of Poop (Don't be shy. We all do it!)."

Singh's clips often confront depression, racism, sexism and beauty standards. Her #GirlLove campaign in 2015 declared that "it's time to break the cycle of girl-on-girl hate." She got public figures including Michelle Obama, Mila Kunis and Zendaya involved. One of IISuperwomanII's biggest hits is a recurring series where she plays fictional Indian parents, Paramjeet and Manjeet, reacting to things. She once told the U.K.'s Daily Mail:

"I know one of the reasons I first started making YouTube videos was because no one looks like me. There is no other South Asian girl doing what I do and I think it’s important to be represented so I definitely hope that’s the case and I hope people see my videos and think, 'We should do the same thing.' ... I’m a South Asian female that talks about relationships and periods and dating and all these things. I always say that when I first started, my videos were very veered towards Indian people. Now they’re way more universal but my biggest supporters are often Indians, and my biggest critics are often Indians."

Singh's die-hards, Team Super, supported her so far as to enable A Trip to Unicorn Island, a live performance tour around the world, which last year became a documentary film on YouTube Red. The year before, her acceptance speech for the Streamy Award for Best First Person Series gave a "huge shout-out" to YouTube and its parent company Google "for not being scared to put a brown girl on a billboard.” She elaborated on social media:

"During my short time in this industry, I’ve always felt that I’ve been at a natural disadvantage. Not only am I female but my skin is brown and those characteristics don’t always make up the 'ideal' candidate. But things are changing and will continue to change. Years from now no one will look at a billboard featuring a woman of colour and think it’s odd. ... Thank you for being progressive and putting not only my face on huge buildings, but my very visibly Indian parent characters as well. Thank you for leading by example and acknowledging that people will relate to my content regardless of their skin colour. Thank you for not defining me by my ethnicity and rather investing into my unique abilities so fearlessly."

Singh has uploaded celeb encounters with DrakeWill Smith, veteran Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan, Indian director/producer Rohit Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Ariana Grande. She runs a SuperwomanVlogs channel, which has given direct daily missives to fans since December 2011. (Today's clip, "The Time I Learned Portuguese," is day 844.) She gears it toward viewers who think "[I'm] never upset and [I'm] the constantly perfect, spiritual person. I'm like, dude, no, watch my vlog channel and watch me cry over like seven things." And she raps and sings, and one watch of the 11-minute "Voices" video—a five-part supersong that sees Singh embodying vastly different musical personae—instantly shows how deep her talent runs there.

There's also the Unicorn Island app and the Bawse lipstick, the cameo in Bad Moms and the voice part in Ice Age: Collision Course—it's an authenticity-built empire, without a doubt, one that's still growing, and entirely in Superwoman's hands.

Tune in to Fuse and come back to every day for profiles, videos, galleries and more on the individuals around the world who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History. Join the conversation with #FutureHistory and find Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.