Lilly Singh: How a 28-year old Canadian rapped and vlogged her way into the Youtuber millionaire's club

From initially making videos to help her depression, to now appearing on videos with Michelle Obama and James Franco, to becoming the highest-paid female YouTuber of 2016, Singh's empire keeps growing

Maya Oppenheim
Thursday 28 January 2016 11:22 GMT
Singh has even appeared in YouTube videos with James Franco and Seth Rogen and made it onto the staple all-American late night talk show Jimmy Fallon
Singh has even appeared in YouTube videos with James Franco and Seth Rogen and made it onto the staple all-American late night talk show Jimmy Fallon (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Waking up each morning and singing, dancing and talking at your bedroom webcam might not tally with traditional notions of a hard day’s graft but it does undoubtedly require a certain kind of stamina. For YouTubers who record great swathes of their lives for public consumption, there is a relentless and almost inhuman pressure to stay “on brand” at all times.

Lilly Singh is a classic example of this. Known by her moniker of “Superwoman”, the YouTube star who was the highest-paid female YouTuber of 2016 and earned $7.5 million, works all the hours of the day to build her empire. For Singh, bad days do not happen - or if they do they must be gleefully disguised.

Since launching her “Superwoman” channel back in 2010, the Canadian-Indian YouTuber has got herself 10 million subscribers and over 1.5 billion views. Toronto-raised but now LA-based, Singh is less happy clappy than the garden variety of YouTuber and has become known for her comic and educational videos whose titles include everything from “Sh*t Punjabi Mothers Say” to "Getting school by Michelle Obama" and feature the First Lady.

She started making videos to help her depression

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Singh grew up in Scarborough, named after North Yorkshire's very own town, in Toronto. She initially started making YouTube videos to help her with her depression. While she had been busy toiling away at her undergraduate degree in Psychology and pondering a career in counseling, she decided to try her hand at YouTube. Hits quickly started flowing in and her mood lifted.

While, at first her parents were not entirely sure about her sacking off her Psychology Masters for an untraditional career path, as Singh’s success grew they encouraged it and got more used to it.

She relishes in talking about taboo topics such as "poop" and periods

Known for her animated, sparky persona, Singh speaks fast and exudes efficiency. She often performs in, scripts, directs, edits, and of course thinks up her videos. She also has many faces, dressing up in myriad characters in single videos.

Her videos have a resonance with young women as she explores themes such as "Why bras are horrible" and "if boys got their periods". In a video watched 3 million times, Singh also talks about defecation. She says there are different types of “poop” such as the “weight-loss poop”.

She also uses her Punjabi heritage as a source of inspiration for her videos and has been known to do impressions of her parents. In one video titled “The difference between brown and white girls”, she skips between herself in a “blonde wig” and no wig on the phone to a friend.

“Oh my god I got so drunk last night I had fourteen tequila shots,” she says in a blonde wig. “Girl I got so drunk last night I had an entire Smirnoff ice,” she says with no wig.

“Girl I can’t I’m busy on Saturday my cousins getting married,” she says in the blonde wig. “No I can’t I’m busy this month my cousins getting married,” she says while wigless.

She is keen to keep expanding her empire

Becoming the third highest-paid YouTube star of 2016 involves more than spilling your guts on camera. As you would imagine it involves a lot of business acumen or “hustling” as Singh prefers to call it. From releasing a red lipstick named “Bawse“, to releasing her first feature film, to doing the typical YouTuber thing of releasing a book next year to doing tours, Singh is expanding her empire. She has even appeared in YouTube videos with James Franco and Seth Rogen and made it onto the staple all-American late night talk show The Tonight Show featuring Jimmy Fallon.

In fact, Singh has even looked at her ethnicity from a business perspective.

“And from a business point of view, when I discovered YouTube, I saw that there were no South Asian females doing it, so I thought it was a great opportunity in a business sense to create a niche market,” she told BuzzFeed last year.

Youtuber PewDiePie threatens to delete his YouTube channel

She sometimes struggles to perpetually keep up experiences

But being a YouTuber is not all-singing, all-dancing fun, there is a more difficult side to it. Singh has previously said that the toughest challenge about her job is the psychology of it.

“I would say that’s the biggest challenge of my job, not making the videos or being creative,” she told VanCityBuzz. “I tweeted this the other day that my job is 10 per cent being creative and being Superwoman and 90 per cent dealing with the psychology of it all.”

“It’s definitely hard to have a bad day. Even for the show. This is my 27th show and I have had some bad days during that time. I’ve been really upset during some of those shows. But you really have to separate personal from business. It’s super hard to do and I have no answer, I have no magic secret on how to do that but all I know is that before every show, something I do is say ‘you’re not Lilly anymore. You’re going on stage as Superwoman for these two hours. You are a performer’”.

And how does Singh do for all of this? She keeps a vision board (a what?) above her bed which includes photos of her role models alongside an image of Los Angeles. The Rock and Selena Gomez both feature.

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