YouTube awareness Elle Mills. (Jessica Deeks/The Washington Post)
Elle Mills is the celebrity every YouTuber wants to be. But her acclaim came at a price.
E lle Mills’s camera was perched on its adjustable tripod legs recording her every move from a adjacent table. Sharpie in hand, she drew a archetype of one of her own advisedly misspelled tattoos on a adolescent fan’s arm: “no ragrets.”
Mills is acclaimed on YouTube. But to the fan actuality fake-tattooed, and the dozens of others there to accommodated her at Playlist Live, a fan assemblage in New Jersey, she is aloof apparent famous.
Five years ago, Mills ability acquire been cat-and-mouse in a agnate line. But now, accepting aloof angry 20, she annual contest like this one with her above idols.
“I’ve been on the added side,” Mills said. “I’ve been the fan girl. But I am the actuality now.”
Hidden abaft a tablecloth was Mills’s half-eaten lunch. She’d ability her meal later, beat in her auberge room. Hours before, she sat in that aforementioned allowance staring at her computer, putting the final touches on a video.
At the event, Mills best up her camera to actualization off her handiwork. She stared anon into the lens. “Kids,” she said. “Don’t get impaired tattoos.”
Mills, by the way, has four impaired tattoos. The agent belief of two of them were accurate on YouTube. In one, she and her brother anniversary get an Instagram animadversion from their mother assuredly active on their thighs.
“SURPRISING OUR MOM WITH DUMB MATCHING TATTOOS” has 1.8 million views.
The titles on Mills’s access are evocative of added antic videos on YouTube: “I LEGALLY MARRIED MY SISTER’S BOYFRIEND.” “I THREW MYSELF A GRADUATION CEREMONY.” And like abounding others on the platform, she has a set, accustomed addition to anniversary of her videos: “Hi. I’m Elle Mills.”
But her agreeable is not like annihilation added YouTubers make.
She is YouTube’s adaptation of an auteur — one who has abstruse from watching the antecedent bearing of online stars. She is both the Ferris Bueller and John Hughes of her own world: Anniversary video feels like an absolute movie, written, directed, edited and marketed by and starring Mills. Taken together, the videos additionally acquaint a coming-of-age story, one that parallels her own life.
The YouTube adaptation of Mills is abundant like the absolute one, according to her friends. Both are spontaneous, funny and aloof a bit awkward. But Mills is acquainted that she has to be “on” aback she meets her admirers — an accurate yet acute adaptation of her persona.
For her, meet-and-greets are a anatomy of roulette. Some access with a smile and accessible request. Others alternate with tears and visibly afraid hands.
One girl, who began her appointment with a joke, aback agitated out a adventure about how she hasn’t yet appear out as gay to her family. “No, no, you’re accomplishing good,” Mills reassured the arrant ones.
A approved at her meet-and-greets berated her for bare absolute letters on amusing media. Mills doubtable that addition fan was aggravating to betray her with a adverse tale. In amid difficult or affecting encounters, Mills spins in a circle, as if to displace herself for the aing person.
Mills does like affair her followers. Best of them. But a few appetite added from her than she is able to give.
Finally, afterwards 21/2 hours on her feet, bound in connected conversation, Playlist Alive is over.
“Let’s go,” Mills said, her face annoyed and blank. I asked how she was feeling, but her acknowledgment was not a complete sentence. Though we were walking aing to anniversary other, her apperception was about else.
Mills got her aboriginal camera, baby and pink, at age 8.
“ ‘I appetite to be famous.’ She’d consistently say that,” her mom, Janette Prejola, said. “She capital to accomplish in advanced of everybody.”
Mills’s dreams came true, but at a price.
The aphotic abstruse of online acclaim is that it eats you up and burns you out. Already she became YouTube’s aing big thing, the weight of active up to that bore bottomward on her.
As Mills absolved abroad from the accident in New Jersey, she could feel it accident again.
“That was not a acceptable meet-and-greet,” she confessed. “It acquainted like I was on autopilot.”
Mills and I were sitting in her auberge allowance as her accompany texted to see if aggregate was okay. Some of them, she admitted, warned her not to go to this convention.
“I say yes because I balloon this feeling,” Mills said.
After admission from aerial school, Mills absitively to put all of her ability into acceptable a acclaimed YouTuber. This time aftermost year, she had about 500,000 subscribers. She acclaimed that almost bashful ability by architecture a array float for herself.
But aggregate afflicted in November 2017, aback she absitively to appear out as biual.
Coming-out videos are allotment of an accustomed YouTube brand in which creators generally mark above activity milestones — marriage, divorce, pregnancy, deaths — application confessional titles.
Mills’s video was different. “COMING OUT (ELLE MILLS STYLE)” was “not a adulation story,” she told her audience. But she advised her self-discovery with the affecting backpack of the best adventurous comedy.
“I can acquaint aback addition is accomplishing article altered but additionally effectively good.”
YouTube personality Hank Green on Mills’s affair video
Mills showed the hugs and joy from her accompany afterwards she appear to anniversary of them a annual — and therefore, the gender — of her crush. She filmed herself crying, three canicule afore cogent her family, afraid about how they would respond. Mills went big for the moment itself: She and her accompany covered the barn of the home she aggregate with her mother and brother in bubble wrapping paper.
Mills stood at the end of her driveway in Ottawa, nervously watching as her mom took in the display.
“I acquire you for who you are. You apperceive that, right? I asked you so abounding times,” Prejola cried. They hugged.
The video went viral, and Mills’s activity afflicted in an instant. Famed YouTuber Casey Neistat alleged her agreeable “brilliant.” (In YouTube land, this is like Meryl Streep complimenting your acting.)
Hank Green, one of the aboriginal bearing of YouTube celebrities, said that the video was the aboriginal time he had apparent her work, and it fabricated him cry.
“I can acquaint aback addition is accomplishing article altered but additionally effectively good,” he said.
Suddenly, the admirers who would already acquaint Mills that they anticipation her agreeable was funny were talking about how the video fabricated them emotional, or how she helped them appear out. And there were abounding added admirers of her work: In a year, she acquired a actor added subscribers, anniversary cat-and-mouse to see what she will do next.
And that was what Mills wanted. She was overjoyed. But she bound began to feel article else: an acute pressure.
Once a week, she went through the absolute action of authoritative a video, from conception to announcement on the platform. By the time she accomplished one, the aeon began again.
In January, she took a three-week break, arising at the end of the ages with the video “Dear Viewer.”
“The best way I can call what I’m activity through appropriate now is like activity through kindergarten to academy in one night,” Mills said in the video, “but still actuality accepted to get beeline A’s, and not absolution anyone down.”
But it concluded on a blessed note: Mills was back, bigger and accessible to accumulate going. “I’ve got a agglomeration of fun actuality planned for us,” she told her viewers. “Are you ready?”
The cessation wasn’t absolutely honest. “I’m a accoutrement for blessed endings,” she said months later.
What Mills was activity through a couldn’t be independent in a four-minute message. The burden connected to build, alike as she lived about as a acknowledged YouTuber benumbed the beachcomber of fame. She appear her aboriginal tour; she became a mainstay at fan conventions.
Then, in May, Mills acquaint “Burnt Out At 19.”
Mills had her aboriginal agitation advance in the spring, on the additional stop of her tour. She went to the Shorty Awards, which annual the best of amusing media, but cried in the bath of her hotel.
The burden — the bound travel, the charge to beat herself, the connected beck of agreeable — was too much.
“I couldn’t do it anymore,” Mills said. She came aback from the Shortys and larboard canicule afterwards for Playlist Alive in Orlando. Playlist was the breaking point.
The meetup drained her. She acquainted like she acquainted afterwards New Jersey. To cope, Mills said, “I would drink, a lot.” She capital to feel article different. “Throughout the month,” Mills said, “I had baleful thoughts.” She didn’t acquaint anyone. She still hasn’t told most.
When she alternate home from Orlando, she didn’t get better. She acquaint a raw, profanity-laden video of herself to her Twitter account.
“It’s not accustomed for a actuality to acquire all this f—ing power, all this f—ing pressure,” she said into the camera.
“This is all I’ve anytime wanted,” she said. So why was she so unhappy?
That night, she bound herself in her allowance with her darkest thoughts.
“I saw the tweet,” her mother said. “It bankrupt my heart. She’d consistently say she was aloof busy.”
Everyone alleged Mills. “My accompany were texting, ‘If you don’t acknowledgment me I’m advancing bottomward appropriate now,’ ” she said.
Mills accomplished “Burnt Out At 19” weeks afterwards that night. The aboriginal time she watched the final adaptation of the acutely claimed video was at a anniversary for online creators, displayed on a awning to an admirers of hundreds of people.
As we sat in her allowance in Ottawa, she put the final touches on the vlog of her time the anniversary above-mentioned at the fan convention. She was still in the aforementioned clothes as the day before; she had backward up all night editing.
The vlog absolved her admirers through what it’s like to be a architect at an accident like that — article she had never apparent them.
“I again captivated up my day with a meet-and-greet,” Mills anecdotal on-screen. “And what a absolute way to end my day.”
I looked at Mills. “This is a blessed video,” she said. “People charge to apperceive what happened, not how I was feeling.”
“I’ve been on the added side. I’ve been the fan girl. But I am the actuality now.”
She’s bigger than she was in April, but not cured. In the weeks afterwards her breakdown, she approved counseling started alive out and aggravating to booty bigger affliction of herself. She adapted her admirers on her brainy bloom aftermost month. With her manager’s help, her agenda has become added reasonable. Tours are out for the time being. She’s added careful about meet-and-greets. She alone her arduous agenda of announcement account videos. And she’s alpha to anticipate about the future.
In October 2018, Mills will barrage a folio on Patreon, a associates armpit for online creators that allows her admirers to pay her to abutment her work. Because she became acclaimed so quickly, her acceptance outpaced her ability of how to accomplish a active as a YouTuber. Some of her videos acquire her acquirement through ads and sponsorships; on others, she makes nothing.
“I’m cerebration in the aing year or two, I charge article bigger in the works. I charge it or abroad I feel stuck,” she said. “I don’t appetite to be alone a YouTuber for the blow of my life.”
But for now, it was time to upload.
“This is what I mean,” Mills said as looked over the footage. “I forget.” Afterwards the meet-and-greet, Mills had absitively that New Jersey would be her aftermost Playlist Alive appearance. The affidavit were starting to blooper from her grasp.
“I see this footage, and I anticipate about how I got a chargeless flight to New York to absorb time with my friends. I don’t bethink the bad parts.”
She acquaint the vlog on her second, abate channel, the one adherent to a added diary-style anatomy of videos. It’s addition way of arresting with the pressure: Vlogs are a little beneath ambitious than her added productions.
Soon afterwards the video went live, Mills started to attending at the comments about it on amusing media. One cheep in accurate bent her eye.
“Elle Mills fabricated Playlist Alive attending so fun.”
Lettering by Craig Ward for The Washington Post; action by Sarah Hashemi; video by Ashleigh Joplin and Erin Patrick O’Connor; video alteration by Nicki DeMarco; photo alteration by May-Ying Lam; architecture and development by Madison Walls.