An Auckland teenager’s YouTube channel has taken on the mammoth task of explaining 2010-era internet to the world. Josie Adams spoke to Izzzyzzz.
Izzy* is a 19-year-old with more than 13 million views on YouTube. She lives with her aunts, like Sabrina. She has the same haircut and everything. But instead of being filled with dark potential, her magic power is understanding the chaos of the adolescent internet.
“I wouldn’t say any of my family understands what I do, but they’re supportive,” she says.
When we meet, she visually embodies the past two decades of web activity: she’s wearing Garfield earrings, face sequins, and a Kurt Cobain badge. “I pretty much grew up terminally on Tumblr,” she says.
Tumblr is a blogging platform that’s still running, but had its heyday between 2009-2013. It was anonymous, easy to use, and is often considered an originator of what some folks call “cancel culture”.
“I never saw the worst of Tumblr because I actually had quite a sheltered childhood in terms of the internet,” she says. She would have been about 10 years old during its worst years. Izzy’s mum banned her from reading popular urban legend website CreepyPasta after seeing something on the news; she can’t recall exactly what it was, but the timeline matches up with the Slenderman stabbing in the US, where two 12-year-old girls repeatedly stabbed a third saying the Slenderman – a CreepyPasta invention – told them to do it.
It was a terrifying time to be online, and while Izzy missed the most dangerous years, she logged on early enough to find threads of internet culture to pull at. Now she works full time on a YouTube channel dedicated to remembering the web we all tried to forget.
Her channel, Izzzyzzz, has almost 230,000 subscribers. She covers topics most of us will be familiar with, like Furbies and Garfield; but her most popular content is also extremely niche. One of her most-viewed videos – The Homestuck Cosplayer Who Dyed Her Skin with Sharpies – sits at just under 900,000 views.
The channel took off a year ago, when she first delved into web nostalgia. “I made a video about something that happened to me on Tumblr – I made a really bad art tutorial,” she says. “It was just so badly drawn, and it got circulated throughout Tumblr. It became a meme.” She laughs when she describes it to me, because despite the vitriol she received this isn’t a painful memory. It’s history. The video has since been deleted to protect the feelings of one of the people making fun of her art.
Off the back of this success she moved into “drama content”, a form of YouTube storytelling based around dissecting online drama. “If you grew up on the internet you saw that stuff all the time. It’s a way to grow, and it’s a way to find a community. But it wasn’t for me.”
She moved her storytelling into the past, and found her niche. “People have said I’m doing a historian thing,” she says. She’s going down wormholes of forums and screenshots and compiling them all into scripts and, ultimately, mini-documentaries. One of her videos, about the Warrior Cat fandom, is almost an hour long.
Near the end of last year, thanks to her audience size and the resultant sponsorship, it became a viable job. Even so, she laughs at the thought of YouTube as a “career option”. “It’s important for me to not make YouTube everything, because that’s not healthy.
“But it’s what I do full time.”
Izzy’s been categorised as a Tumblr historian, but she’s just as interested in other platforms: DeviantArt, 4chan, Reddit. “I really want to cover something from MySpace – I’m still on the hunt for a good MySpace story,” she says.
The problem is finding a story that’s weird enough for a video, but not too dark to handle. She has a list of potential topics, and will go all the way down the wormhole of each – Alexandria’s Genesis, Homestuck skin dye, Timmy Thick – before she starts writing or filming. Sometimes, she pulls the plug.
“Talking about serious topics is something I experimented with early on. It’s definitely not a responsibility that I think I would be able to uphold.” One of these experiments was a video about StickyDrama, a “teen drama site” that ended up doxxing underage children and leaking nudes. Ultimately, she decided against making more videos on subjects that involve serious abuse. “I try not to touch topics like that. I don’t want to pose any harm.”
“They’re interesting videos, but they’re not what I want my channel to be.”
Izzy works with brands to sponsor her work: NordVPN, a genderless jewellery brand called Vitaly, a blanket company called Warm People, and an online art class platform called WingFox. She has other suitors, but these are the current winners. “Being able to pick and choose [sponsors] is definitely a luxury,” she says. “I completely understand why people think [sponsorship] is inauthentic, but I also understand why people take deals that seem inauthentic. You’ve got to get that bread somehow.”
She makes one video a week, or one a fortnight depending on how long the videos are. She’s not thinking about the future, and stresses that there’s more web history being created now than ever before. “Things move very quickly these days,” she says. “It’s flash-in-the-pan kind of drama.”
It takes tenacity now to follow a rabbit hole or take all the right screenshots before the world’s moved on and scrubbed Kaitlin “Gun Girl” Bennett’s frat party shit or All Gas No Brakes’ employment contract from the walls of the web.
But with the right backing, maybe she could keep up with the mammoth task of archiving the weird web for years to come. Is there anyone she’d work with long term? “It would have to be Garfield himself. If Garfield sponsored me I would never take another sponsor.
“Jim Davis, hit me up.”
*Surname absent to protect her identity.
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