Minutes into my call with influencer Rowi Singh, she has me cackling through the phone line. Because boy, there is a lot of tea to be spilt over Australia’s influencer industry. Thanks to the likes of Celeb Spellcheck, an anonymous celebrity call-out account that spotlights the faux pas of influencers, we’ve been privy to cringe content and sponsorship stuff-ups. It’s not just insider intel either; front-page stories involving certain Kmart dishes, and racist jokes made by beloved media figures moved beyond the Instagram-sphere and into cultural conversations.
‘Chaotic and unhinged’ is how Singh summarises the current state of Australia’s influencer scene. “They’ve been providing entertainment!” she says, referring to the onslaught of unflattering coverage that Aussie influencers receive. “My issue is that what is reported on and what is considered ‘the Australian influencer industry’ is not the Australian influencer industry. [They’re] the cream at the top and people haven't really delved into the actual meaty part of it.”
“The unfortunate thing is that [we get grouped with] those select people who misstep or say really problematic things, or are just representing us poorly. We get grouped into this very white, Australian influence scape and there's so much more to it [than] ‘look at this person being beautiful and look at them fuck up’,” she says.
It’s why many influencers choose to don ‘content creator’ or ‘digital creative’ labels attempting to distance themselves from the baggage that comes with influencing. “I've just decided I'm gonna own it because being an influencer is powerful when it's done right,” Singh says.
Singh would know what that power looks like — in just five years, she’s garnered a loyal following of 350,000 Instagram followers and has worked with brands like Fenty, Mac Cosmetics, and Netflix. This year, she launched a jewellery collection with Mountain and Moon, and has recently dropped a podcast series with Atelier called It’s A Creators World where she speaks candidly and generously about the highs and lows of influencer culture.
In high school, Singh tells us creativity wasn’t really encouraged, noting that the prescriptive approach to art didn’t work for her. Paired with her constantly changing postcode (she lived in the US and in Singapore), an intrinsic part of her identity was unconsciously buried deep. This all changed in university when she discovered the artistry of makeup and how it could serve as a vehicle for expression.
It was lonely, a little bit. It was very new territory and I was navigating it very much by myself ... I had different barriers I had to cross.
“I started to reconnect with my culture, because growing up I had a very fragmented relationship with my Indian brown self. I was able to rediscover this aspect of myself that I really love, and it was just like [a] reckoning with this whole other identity,” she says. “Then other people started consuming [my content] and were relating to the experience of being a brown woman disconnected from a culture.”
But the reality for Singh was much more complex than a single pleasant paragraph on inclusivity might fool you to believe. I ask her what it was like being an Indian woman starting out online. “It was lonely, a little bit. It was very new territory and I was navigating it very much by myself," recalled Singh.
"I didn't have anyone else in the same position I was. Obviously, there were other influencers I would talk to, but it was never the same. I had different barriers I had to cross… whether it [was] just being uncomfortable on a shoot, or being overlooked for an opportunity that was clearly made for me. It was shitty — it was. It sucked.”
While she was speaking in the past tense, it's hard to gauge whether much has improved in the influencer space in the last five-or-so years. In It’s A Creator’s World, Singh talks about having to work 10 times harder than her white counterparts to just get a seat at the table.
Influencer fatigue is a good thing.
“We're getting there but there's just so much work to be done,” she says. “A lot of it is performative and superficial, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; I don't think performative representation is bad. I think as long as it's happening and it sort of evolves into something a little bit more meaningful. that’s good. It’s just not happening fast enough.”
On top of the lack of diversity, there’s growing apprehension and wariness towards content creators — commonly referred to as 'influencer fatigue’. “I think that people have developed distrust because the type of influencer content we're being served seems very rudimentary; like we're on a cycle [that] all feels the same.”
But instead of fretting about the foundations of her career, Singh is embracing this change. “Influencer fatigue is a good thing. I think it can be scary for people in my position, but I think it's good because it means that the industry needs to evolve for the better, so everyone is creating better content,” she says.
One way in which she is changing the narrative is by being transparent about the different aspects of influencer culture. With many declaring that “social media is fake” and ridiculing the absurd lengths that influencers go to for photos, Singh is peeling back the sealed section of Instagram culture, starting with the gripe that everything is curated.
“Everything I post is going to be curated even if it's off the cuff. I'm still deciding whether to post it or not, that's curation — but I can be transparent with the fact that this is the type of art that I create.”
Her unapologetic, vivacious and loud approach to art and content is what draws in thousands of her followers, day in and day out. Many of whom have unintentionally entered into a parasocial relationship with Singh. It’s something she shrugs off with a laugh. “This is the creator economy — [everyone is] giving and receiving content.”
Atelier and Rowi Singh are offering one entrepreneur in the beauty, health or wellness space a fund valued at $100,000. Find out more here.