The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has been swift and merciless. Most universities and schools have closed for the remainder of the school year, stores have temporarily shuttered, and restaurants are laying off staff in favour of pick-up and delivery-only services as the world self-isolates to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has, as of publication, affected over 30,000 people in the United States alone. For YouTubers, though, it’s just another day in the life. Or rather, it’s just another “Day In The Life Video (Quarantine Edition!).”
As much as anyone else, digital creators have quickly had to adapt to a new world, but it’s becoming clear that those who have built careers out of online entertainment are uniquely positioned to financially weather the coronavirus storm. Almost two weeks into the virus’s official “pandemic” status, a search for “quarantine vlog” on YouTube already produces an endless scroll of options, with the most popular racking up hundreds of thousands of views. As viewers sit at home waiting for normal life to resume, YouTubers are stepping up their game in order to keep their audience — and themselves — entertained.
“Everything that I would normally vlog about or film in my life has currently been put on hold until further notice because of the pandemic,” 20-year-old Ella Snyder, a student and model with 115K subscribers on her YouTube channel, told Refinery29 over email. “School is closed, and modelling jobs are being cancelled, and on top of that, I'm currently quarantined with my boyfriend and his family in Los Angeles. I realised pretty quickly that my YouTube videos could provide a source of entertainment for both myself and my viewers, so I've started a quarantine vlog.”
In Snyder’s video, she announces her last-minute escape from New York City. Handkerchief over her mouth, she takes a car to the airport, hops on a “pretty empty” flight, and lands in LAX. But 21-year-old DeNae Nichole is staying put.
I realized pretty quickly that my YouTube videos could provide a source of entertainment for both myself and my viewers.
“I make vlogs that give an authentic look into what it’s like living in NYC at a young age,” the lifestyle vlogger with 18K subscribers told Refinery29 over email. “But the last time I went out[side] there was absolutely nothing.”
Nichole doesn’t want to focus on the “emptiness of the city,” but she also wants to provide a realistic portrayal of what life during quarantine is like — missing friends, only leaving the house for essential errands, and video-chatting family members without any clear idea of when this will be over. Seemingly in response to that, a burgeoning genre of popular quarantine videos prioritises aesthetic, emphasising self-care, nice lighting, and productivity. They take an at times questionable glass-half-full approach to the pandemic.
“We sometimes drift away from it on purpose, but nothing can replace our precious daily lives,” the description of South Korean YouTuber haegreendal’s recent quarantine video, featuring serene shots of laundry folding and cooking, reads. “The virus is reminding us to realise how important our ordinary life is.”
Another YouTuber, 29-year-old Aileen Xu who goes by the username Lavendaire, has always created content for her one million subscribers about personal growth. She’s been vocal about the virus on Instagram these past few weeks but is now having to act fast on YouTube as coronavirus upends her contracts with brands. In her recent video, “15 Self Care Ideas for Coronavirus Quarantine,” she advertises ways to “turn your coronavirus self-quarantine into a self-care staycation.” The video is sponsored by Skillshare.
“Originally, it was going to be a video on how to have a productive spring break,” Xu told Refinery29 over the phone. “When you work with brands [the videos are] submitted months before. Then the pandemic happened and I was like, ‘I have to change the topic.’”
She even had to outright cancel a contract with another brand, with which she was going to make a video sharing investing tips. Given the current state of the world economy, Xu backed out. (“I was like, ‘I cannot do this.’”)
Videos that prioritise normalcy — or at least, optimistic methods of coping — provide a sense of order and calm for anxious nerves, and can be a nice escape, but as Nichole points out, they’re not representative of everyone’s experience.
“A lot of young people, including myself, have lost our jobs because of this,” she continued. “I really want to be there for those viewers who feel like a rug has been pulled from underneath them.”
It’s understandable that with emotions running high, some of the videos that have sprouted from the pandemic have received negative responses.
“I've actually had a lot of backlash,” Snyder explained. “A lot of people couldn't fathom how I could be so risky to travel in a time like this. But I think that it's important to be with your loved ones right now, and I think that it's clear that I took many precautions in coming [to Los Angeles].” In her video, Snyder opts out of visiting a friend when she learns of the friend’s possible exposure to a coronavirus case. Currently, she and her boyfriend are in the midst of their two-week quarantine following their flight from NYC.
Estee LaLonde, a 29-year-old London-based creator with 1.15 million subscribers who has been making beauty and lifestyle videos for almost a decade, is putting control of her channel into the hands of her audience. She asked in the description of her last video what kind of content they wanted to see during this time, and the answer was clear: escapism.
“I had an overwhelming response from my viewers that they are desperate for an escape and a distraction from the news,” she told Refinery29 over email. “My audience has always been keen on my ‘at home vlogs,’ so now more than ever they are wanting to see how I am spending my time at home alone in self-isolation.”
Regardless of the approach, these videos are as much a saving grace for the creators as they are for the viewers. Nichole and Snyder are more seriously considering careers as YouTubers and influencers now that their primary sources of income are on hold.
“With an impending recession and frequent cancellation of modelling gigs due to the virus, YouTube may soon become my thing,” Snyder commented.
“I’ve always worked with kids outside of doing YouTube, and right now I’ve been put on leave from everything until this blows over,” Nichole said. “So this might be the time to start ‘branding myself,’ as the YouTube gurus would say.”
LaLonde, who already made the transition to full-time YouTuber some time ago, is using the forced pause to reevaluate her own work.
“I’m in a lucky financial position because of the work I have already completed over the past year. I am now able to live off of those projects for a bit of time and continue to create free content to release on the Internet,” she explained. “I’m going to focus on getting back to my roots of why I started making YouTube videos in the first place: connection. In a way I am finding myself getting more creative than I have been in months.”
The World Health Organization says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.