Why Lilly Singh is the superhero YouTube needs
As a child, Lilly Singh bought a simple, silver Superwoman ring, an emblazoned S. She still wears it every day, and when it was time to name her online presence, Superwoman felt like the only appropriate thing.
“I used to call myself Superwoman because I felt like the name gave me strength,” said Singh in her popular Draw My Life video, explaining that believing she was a superhero for her own life got her through a severe depression while in college. Part of her recovery was going online and sharing her voice with the world, creating YouTube videos for a budding crowd that she felt needed the same support and inspiration she did.
“You’re in a boxing room with a 10-foot giant named life, and he’s going to knock you out,” she explains. “I am so thankful every single day that I chose to get back up for another round.”
Her fanbase listened—and grew. Now, just six years later, Singh counts Selena Gomez and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson among her friends, but she’s still shocked at her own level of fame.
“I get tweets that are like ‘my favorite celebrities are Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, and Superwoman,’” laughed Singh, who goes by iiSuperwomanii on YouTube, in a phone call with the Daily Dot. “Like, what? How did I get in this tweet!?”
“You’re in a boxing room with a 10-foot giant named life, and he’s going to knock you out.”
Singh might be surprised, but Variety reports that digital stars today are more influential to the millennial and Gen Z fans than their mainstream counterparts. With 8.7 million YouTube subscribers, Singh is one of YouTube’s brightest stars.
“I think the perception of the word ‘celebrity’ is changing a lot,” she said. “When I first started in 2010, I would never imagine that celebrities that I grew up watching would ever work with me. Now we have so many traditional celebrities coming to digital, that’s a testament to the fact that the mediums are balancing out.”
The 27-year-old holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in psychology from York University, and grew up as a tomboy in Ontario, Canada. She was raised Sikh and connected with her punjabi heritage on trips back to India, where her parents were born. On Singh’s main channel, she posts comedy and comedy only. She makes jokes about relatable situations for young people, from dating woes to school drama. She also players characters like “Paramjeet” and “Manjeet,” her fictional parents. “The number one rule I have is I don’t want anyone who watches the videos on my main channel have to care about who I am,” she said. “They don’t have to care about Lilly; they just want to laugh. I do very few Q&As; I do very few challenges. It’s about comedy.”
She also runs a daily vlog channel for another 1.3 million subscribers, where the content ranges from behind-the-scenes shots from a photoshoot to what passes for a “lazy” day at home cheering on the Raptors and taking naps in between meetings and video filming.
“When I started to develop a fanbase, a lot of my superfans wanted to know more about the person behind the comedy,” Singh said. “It could be super glamorous, or it could be super not glamorous.”
Singh added a level of glam recently, partnering with Smashbox Cosmetics for her own signature lipstick color, Bawse.
“I don’t know much about makeup in terms of application, but I love it,” she said. “I’ve always had a signature red lip, so when I had the conversation with Smashbox, it just made sense. I’m a weird person, I do weird things, and they let me be myself.”
This year Singh played host to YouTube’s advertiser-focused Brandcast event, sharing the stage with the likes of Big Bird as she promoted the platform and her community of creators. She dots billboards promoting YouTube and was one of the first creators to have her work featured as part of YouTube Red, the platform’s subscription service for ad-free and original content. A Trip to Unicorn Island, Singh’s documentary of her world tour, premiered on the platform in February.
Singh says she committed to her film being on YouTube instead of another platform because of her long history and trust with the company. “I’m skeptical about starting that relationship with another digital platform,” Singh laughed. “It’s like dating; I don’t want to go on a first date again. I’m married with YouTube. I can deal with the annotations, that’s fine; I can get over this.”
“I learned a long time ago the best way for me to fight racism is to be as successful as I can be.”
Singh stands out as one of the most prominent creators of Indian heritage in the Americas, though she doesn’t let it define her or her success.
“I learned a long time ago the best way for me to fight racism is to be as successful as I can be,” said Singh. “I don’t have to talk in all my videos about the hurdles of having colored skin. I can just work really hard and get on billboards. I don’t view myself as that Indian girl on YouTube. I view myself as that girl on YouTube who happens to have brown skin.”
While she doesn’t let it define her, Singh also recognizes that her fellow female creators have uphill battles to fight both online and off.
“I think culturally women deal with sexism across the board, whether I’m walking down the street getting catcalls or getting catcalls on YouTube comments,” she said. “The great thing about women on YouTube is we’re super strong. We deal with harsh comments and face them head on. I don’t know female creators who shy away from that stuff.”
On the whole, Singh doesn’t shy away from much. While she continues to make videos and broker brand deals, Singh is also lending her voice to characters in the upcoming film Ice Age: Collision Course. Her plate is full, and she loves it that way.
“I feel most comfortable when I’m doing a million things,” she said. “When I’m hustling, that’s my comfort zone. I thrive in that.”
Illustration by Tiffany Pai
A former YouTube reporter for the Daily Dot, Rae Votta has more than a decade of experience in the digital and entertainment industries. Her work has appeared on AOL, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, Logo, VH1, Current TV, Billboard, and NYMag. She joined Netflix in 2016.