YouTube followers: 4,254,224
Tyler Oakley has immaculately coiffed (sometimes lavender) hair, black glasses, and a perfectly sculpted half-smile that millions of YouTube fans find transfixing. Oakley, a Michigan transplant to L.A., calls himself a “professional fangirl.” He makes pop-culture and “this is my crazy life” YouTube videos seemingly pitched at teenage girls and gay boys. When he began uploading in 2007, Oakley’s videos were much more serious in tone, tackling issues like hate speech in the harsh monochrome of a PSA. “Back then, I was a little shit,” he says. But the early, more earnest videos got him followers. After the unexpected success of a bracing hate-speech critique in April 2008, his next big viral video was a tongue-in-cheek tirade “against” gay marriage. Now, as an established star, his content is goofier. He almost always speaks in a lisped version of sassy drag queen, “gurl, you shady!” dialect these days.
The silliness is getting him paid, and Oakley is comfortable with overt product placement in his videos. Since making his media brand his full-time job in 2013, he has regularly partnered with companies like Pepsi, Taco Bell, and Naturebox, mentioning their products on-camera. He also conducted red-carpet interviews at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards. But the new success hasn’t only benefited his bank account. He recently asked fans to raise $150,000 for the Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis-intervention services to LGBTQ youth, as a way to celebrate his 25th birthday. When the campaign closed on March 31, they had raised $525,754. Oakley is aware that outsiders may not understand his basic appeal, but that’s okay, because “his people” do. “I know what I’m up to,” he explains, a half-smile flickering across his mouth.