At the start of the month, a makeup launch broke the internet and sold out of over a million products in under an hour. Alex Casey and Jihee Junn dissect the YouTube documentary series that led to its success.
First off, who is Jeffree Star? Who is Shane Dawson?
Jeffree Star is an internet celebrity-turned-beauty YouTuber who is the founder and owner of makeup company Jeffree Star Cosmetics. He first rose to fame in the mid-2000s on social networking platform MySpace (God rest its soul) before pursuing a short career in music. In 2014, he started JSC and began posting on YouTube to promote his brand. Currently, his channel has over 16 million subscribers and his business is estimated to sell more than US$100 million worth of products annually.
Shane Dawson is also YouTuber – one of the first YouTube celebrities, in fact, having joined the platform in 2008 when he was just 19. In the beginning, he mostly posted comedy videos (skits, parodies etc.) before moving onto vlogs, food videos, and investigations into conspiracies, like do they recycle the pizza at Chuck E. Cheese? Currently, his channel has over 23 million subscribers and he’s estimated to be worth US$12 million.
While in many ways, the two couldn’t get any more different (the former an androgynous, tattooed up millionaire living in a pink mansion with a penchant for designer handbags, the latter a self-deprecating hermit who regularly bemoans his comparatively diminished YouTube stardom), they also share a lot of similarities which go some way to explain their surprisingly touching and close friendship. Both are YouTubers in their thirties living in California with their long-term partners who almost entirely owe their success to the internet. Naturally, their long-running careers online have meant they’ve also been subject to a long list of controversies and multiple #cancellations over the years. They’re kinda problematic, to say the least. / Jihee Junn
What should I watch to get to know more about them?
To get better acquainted with the opulence and excess of Jeffree Star, one of the beauty community’s richest and most controversial sons, you could watch this video where he slices a Chanel bag in half, or this video where he takes you on a tour of his absolutely mental pink vault stuffed with Hermes and diamonds and all Gucci everything, or this video where he apologises at length for saying some extremely racist shit back in the Myspace days. I’m not saying he’s great, I’m just saying he exists. What is good, however, is his liquid lipstick.
As for Shane Dawson, his recent reinvention as a pseudo-investigative journalist is a fascinating pivot for someone who used to make atrocious skits and have extremely emo hair. His yawning multi-part documentaries have become event viewing, exploring the unseen sides of Youtube personalities such as prankster Jake Paul, Twitch star Eugenia Cooney and the disastrous event that was Tanacon. Beloved by so many in the community, Dawson’s access to these online powerhouses who are extremely particular and private when it comes to any media outside of their control, is completely unprecedented.
Which leads us nicely to his latest series with Jeffree Star, first conceived of during this revelatory five-part special they made together last year. / Alex Casey
What is this new series?
During their five-part special titled The Secret World of Jeffree Star, the pair discussed the possibility of collaborating on a makeup palette. Fast forward to today and that’s become a reality with the release of the Conspiracy collection earlier this month, which includes two eyeshadow palettes, six liquid lipsticks, pig-shaped hand mirrors, and more.
This series, The Beautiful Life of Jeffree Star, essentially documents its creation from start to finish, going behind the scenes to show everything from business negotiations with Morphe executives (Morphe is the official retailer of JSC) to the meticulous process of picking eyeshadow colours and names (‘Ranch’, ‘Diet Root Beer’, ‘Pig-ment’ to name a few). / JJ
Why is it good?
I have never seen anything that better untangles, re-tangles and then sets on fire the fucked up rat king of money, power, influence and eyeshadow at this particular point in time in the hell world, whether they are doing it consciously or not. Inviting the viewer to the table for every brutally honest conversation (at least they appear honest) about the beauty industry, many of the moments feel revelatory. Take when Jeffree reveals the cost price of James Charles’ made in China Morphe palette (roughly $4), or how Nikki Tutorials got rinsed by Too Faced (when I say rinsed, I mean she still made $50,000 – boo hoo and big wah).
Basically, if you’ve ever wondered why certain makeup costs the amount that it does, or what your favourite influencers get paid for putting their name and face to a product, this will answer all your questions and probably leave you will a whole new set to ponder. Likewise, if you know nothing of the Youtube world and the huge power players within it, this series is a crash course that will mean you never “pfft” at another beauty influencer fluttering their eyelashes at you ever again. This is big business and high stakes, complete with crime, a marriage proposal and even an unexpected death. / AC
I’ve been a big fan of Shane Dawson’s shift to longer-form videos in recent years with The Secret World of Jeffree Star clearly the breakout success. Part of that, I think, is because not only did it help humanise Jeffree’s hard, abrasive public persona, but it also gave us a glimpse into his entrepreneurial side – a side we so rarely see under all those extensions, nails and pink Lamborghinis.
The Beautiful World of Jeffree Star builds on that, diving deeper into the juggernaut business that is JSC. Episode two stands out as the most fascinating of the series as all sorts of numbers (mostly in seven digits) get tossed around on camera – supposedly a first in the makeup world. For example, a JSC executive estimates that the cost of making one Blood Sugar palette is about $20 which is then sold at a retail price of $52. In contrast, he estimates that many palettes sold at major chains cost just $3-$6 to make which are then sold retail for $48, highlighting that while the cost of goods for JSC products are much higher due to the number of details (i.e. custom-designed boxes and latches for each new collection) and formulas involved (i.e. the more ‘pearlescent’ a shade, the more expensive it is), its markup is considerably lower than other brands out there. “Theoretically… [Blood Sugar] should be selling for $75-$80,” he says, which is kind of mind-blowing if you think about it.
Other than the juicy business side of things, the series is also great as it shows us the process of picking, naming, testing and refining eyeshadow and lipstick shades – the fun part, essentially. Watching Shane brainstorm eyeshadow names like ‘My Pills’ and picking out a soft, dusty, light pink from a Pantone swatch like a kid in a candy store truly is indulgence at its finest. / JJ
Why is it bad?
It’s bad because I got approximately six hours in before I realised I was watching the the smartest advertising campaign of the influencer age. Maybe any age. As Shane stroked his chin and considered which shade of acid yellow to include in the palette, my mouth started to water and my heart started racing as I realised I was physically pining to buy this stupid thing of makeup. Yes it is $100 but look at that pearl! I could start wearing bright orange on my browbone, you don’t know me!!! Coming from someone who would only ever wear a dusty taupe shade to, say, my wedding, that’s fucking marketing witchcraft of the highest order.
And I know that I am not alone. When the collection dropped online, the amount of idiots like me, hankering for that buttery, buttery shadow, crashed the Shopify platform worldwide. The Conspiracy palette sold out immediately, and the pair made $55 million in a matter of minutes. Combined with the massive merchandising deal that Shane launched with Jeffree’s other (?!) business Killer Merch in tandem, not to mention the sponsorship attached to the video and associated ad revenue, they are both making absolute bazillions off me, slack-jawed on the couch, wondering if I could pull of a green chrome liquid lipstick (I can’t). / AC
Unfortunately, the sheer amount of hype and expectation surrounding the launch of this series undoubtedly stands as its greatest downfall. For almost a year, Shane teased his followers that a series diving into the fascinating underbelly of YouTube’s beauty community was in the works. He promised tea, he promised drama, he promised shade, and – due to the fact it took so long to make – he promised brilliance.
This series, while good, is far from brilliant. Shane himself admitted that the focus of the series has shifted from its original premise (the makeup industry as a whole) to something far more self-contained (the making of the Conspiracy collection itself); which is fine, if not a bit cheeky, but when you’ve spent months touting it as one thing and then continue to do so right up until the trailer, people are obviously going to be disappointed. Several of the most talked-about scenes from the trailer – Shane reacting to Tati Westbrook ‘exposing’ James Charles, watching James’ subscriber count plunder – didn’t actually end up making the final cut. Of course, there’s still an episode left and Jeffree himself has since said it’ll cover some of the aforementioned drama, but it’s likely it’ll still lean heavily on the aftermath of the Conspiracy launch rather than any James/Tati business so don’t get your hopes up just yet.
Look, I’m not frothing for tea, but its absence certainly looms over the entire series, especially seeing as Jeffree himself was so brazenly at the centre of it all. And the fact that this whole thing basically ended up being the most ingenious influencer marketing campaign of the 21st century? Not gonna lie: it’s hard not to feel just a little hard done by.
The series does touch on some aspects of being in the beauty community, but it’s feather-light. In the fifth episode, Shane, his fiance Ryland Adams, and Ryland’s sister Morgan Adams all go to see Jeffree at his Calabasas mansion. Morgan, also a YouTuber, starts talking about the bullying and peer pressure she’d experienced on a recent trip with a bunch of beauty influencers which basically ended up with her almost getting lip injections (she cancelled in the end because she got scared). “The fact that you don’t have fake teeth, a bunch of filler, and all this crazy shit and you’re successful? They can’t fathom it,” Jeffree tells her during their ‘intervention’, which is true, and I only wish the series had pulled a little bit more on that particular thread.
Personally, I also had a massive problem with the way this series was edited. There’s a lot of chopping and changing between scenes, more so than what we’ve seen from videos by Shane and his producer Andrew Siwicki in the past (he’s the one with the beard who’s always manically laughing behind the camera). That combined with the amount of random pop music used throughout all the videos suggests an attempt to be cleverer, more professional with the way the series is presented, which is laudable, except the end product is more disorienting than impressive. But I guess you can’t fault them for trying. / JJ
What will happen next?
The final instalment of the series arrives on Youtube sometime today (Saturday 23), which will no doubt chronicle the chaotic launch day of the makeup collection that sent the internet into a spin. I can also guarantee that there will be tears, there will be Red Bulls and Shane will definitely say “oh my god” 400 times in a row before having to go an do a nervous pee. These are just cool things I know about a stranger on the internet now. Also, I will undoubtedly think about buying the palette several more times, or perhaps just a charming pig-shaped mirror. The main takeaway is: I’ve got to buy something. / AC