Melanie’s world: Irish woman’s YouTube channel is more than skin-deep
Melanie Murphy's successful lifestyle website covers everything from anxiety and depression to fashion and beauty
Melanie Murphy has her head screwed on. The 26-year-old from Dublin only started making YouTube videos two years ago, but it’s an industry she knows well. Too well, in fact, to be taken in by rookie mistakes or her own sudden celebrity status.
I catch her while she’s editing a video that will go up later that day. She’s apologetic about her apartment before we even step inside – “I’ve barely been here between travelling and staying with my dad after my break-up” – and running over what she needs to do before going to London for the weekend – “My flight is stupidly early tomorrow. I don’t even think there’s a way to get there that early. Maybe I’ll just go tonight?”
She’s going to London for Summer in the City (SitC), a UK version of VidCon, the massive YouTube convention in California that she has only just returned from. At last year’s SitC, her vlogs show her meeting some YouTubers she now counts as friends, while visiting mostly as a fan. This year, she returns to sit on four discussion panels and do a meet-and-greet with fans, though she’s still slightly nervous about the latter.
“I’m so bad at meeting people, I start interviewing them. When viewers come up to you, they’re crying and wanting a hug and a picture. Sometimes I get really worried I’ll be a let down. It’s one of those things that no one can really prepare you for,” she says.
Her channel has over 260,000 subscribers and more than 23 million video views in total. She’s averaging 1.5 million views every month, which is a big number for such a young channel. She has already turned down television work. “I would have less creative control, more hours, less money and less people seeing it, so I said no. I’d be interested in acting as a side job though,” she says.
She describes her channel as a lifestyle channel, with her videos covering everything from fashion and beauty to anxiety and depression. She’s smart and she knows who she’s speaking to. Her audience is mostly women, 18- to 24-years-old, who are “girls like me, a few years ago. Girls I feel I actually have something to say to”.
One of her first videos is still one of her most popular, and the one that drew attention to her at the beginning. It’s about her struggle with acne and how she cleared up her skin. In hindsight, she’s not that surprised it was popular.
“Things like that resonate with a lot of people just because it makes them feel normal and it makes them feel less bad about themselves. I was terrified of putting that video up, but since then I’ve talked about much more personal things . . . If you’ve been through things they’ve been through, people do attach more to you,” she says.
This was something she knew from experience, having watched hours of YouTube every day for years before deciding to start her own. “Anna [Saccone-Joly] had made a video about recovering from eating disorders and that’s what made me go to talk to a counsellor. If I hadn’t watched her video, I don’t think I would have done that. That helped me recover, and helped me share my story, so it’s a circle. It’s really important to me to put that stuff out there,” she says.
As well as sharing her eating disorder recovery story, she also has spoken about having suffered from depression in the past, being cyber-bullied, and anxiety, which is something she still has to manage. Though she says she now has ways to calm herself down, talking about it is one of the most important parts, something she tries to get across in her videos.
“It’s so important to talk. I’m never saying ‘I went through all these things and now I’m fine’ in videos. It’s more a thing that we all go through most of these things and we never talk about them. We should. When I talk to older relations about this, they know everything. They’re like “I’ve been there, I’ve done that”, but why doesn’t everyone talk about it? Why am I being told every day that I’m brave for opening up about these things?”
As well as more serious advice videos, Melanie also covers make-up and food-related videos, which are among her most requested. The demand for these kinds of videos has partly inspired her latest venture, BeYOUty.tv. She has worked with a production company to produce 54 video lectures for people to buy, offering hair and make-up tutorials, skincare and fashion advice, and recipes. Though she acknowledges these areas can sometimes be seen as somewhat trivial compared to the more serious topics, she says she has a bigger message.
“I mainly want people to watch them and feel more empowered to be their own version of beautiful rather than be the version of beautiful dictated to them that they should be. The way I see it is the things that make me feel beautiful, other people might think are mad. It’s important to be yourself and explore beauty in your own way,” she says.
Though the feedback has been largely positive so far, her biggest concern was whether people would pay for videos, when YouTube videos are free. The site, she says, is for her most “engaged subscribers” who want more, and is a substitute for the traditional merchandise YouTubers offer.
“What I do is just me, so I didn’t feel comfortable selling merchandise . . . I thought this would be better than a poster, a very overpriced poster. But I’m still getting asked for posters, I’m still getting asked for mugs, so I don’t know what to do. This is a nice alternative, though.”
She hopes the new site will offer her some more financial stability, so she can afford to take on less sponsorship if she needs to, as she’s well aware how important honesty is to keeping your audience.
“It’s very hard to say no when you’re broke, but I just felt from the start that I wanted to avoid taking sponsorships that I didn’t believe in. I don’t want to be one of those people, because I stop watching people if they’re lying, because you can tell,” she says.
“I turn down crazy stuff. I got offered €15,000 to be flown around the world, and filmed in all these amazing countries I’ve never been to, but it was an alcohol brand. I didn’t want to be attached to an alcohol brand so I said no. My family and friends were telling me I was crazy. But I didn’t want to be that person who was promoting alcohol when all my viewers were teenagers.”
With her channel growing so fast, she’s just as quickly outgrowing Ireland. Her next move is likely one over the water to London, where there is not only a bigger YouTuber community – “I feel a bit isolated here,” she says – but also far more work and opportunities arising out of YouTube.
It’s somewhat bittersweet for Melanie, however.
“I had an interview with a really big management company who can offer me a lot more work, and that just doesn’t seem to be happening here. In the UK, YouTube is an industry, whereas in Ireland, it’s still more like a little hobby. We’re five years behind London now. I don’t really want to have to move, but I feel like maybe it would be more beneficial. It’s definitely on the cards,” she says.