Since the growth of social media, many of us have used the medium to express ourselves and share our ideas, feelings, and various content. However, during that time, the way social media is used has changed. Now in addition to being a platform to share your ideas, it has also become a catalyst for success. Those of us who may have begun YouTube as teens trying to establish our identities and express our interests have grown up and learned to change with the medium by branding or re-branding ourselves in the interests of our careers.
Longtime content creator Crystal Ezeoke, formerly known as The Lovely Ify, on YouTube talked to me about her process of starting her channel and the importance of branding/re-branding on YouTube.
1. You’ve been a content creator for a long time, what spurred your interest in becoming a content creator and what keeps you from burning out?
In 2007, influencers like Michelle Phan heavily inspired me to put myself online and relate to a massive audience through beauty, fashion and lifestyle content. She wasn’t like the other beauty gurus, because she was a woman of color with a subtle geeky side to her, and I could definitely see myself doing that for black viewers in that niche. If it weren’t for the Japanese fashion and Kpop communities I was actively apart of, I’d have easily burnt out. The online friends I was making each year fueled my passion to just keep going.
2. How did you become interested in Japanese/Korean fashion, culture, subculture etc.?
For one, I was always a follower of Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Cardcaptors, and many other different series aired on WB. The magic of anime made sense for me to delve deeper into since I was always a creative. I soon got into Japanese music after discovering the artists of classic OSTs from shows like Inyuyasha and Full Metal Alchemist. I went into an ongoing spiral binge listening to various top Jpop artists and eventually was introduced to Kpop by a friend who also enjoyed anime. At this age, I literally had school and minor extracurricular activities going on, so it was easy to get carried away with Japanese and Korean pop cultures. Video games, food, language learning, fashion, beauty, you name it, I was likely putting my coins toward it!
I never admitted this before, but looking back on it, Avril Lavigne,Gwen Stefani and a few other American artists excited me with their outright adoration for Japanese and alternative subcultures. As suspicious as they are to some people today, I grew fond of their bold expressions of these cultures and wanted to do the same with my own online identity. It kept me productive, out of trouble getting pregnant at a young age like a lot of my classmates were, and I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.
3. What has been your most interesting/rewarding experience as a content creator?
Meeting followers from around the world. I never expected anyone to give a care about me back then, but when I went to local Korean grocery stores and was recognized 2-3 times in the same day, it made me feel special. It’s one thing to get a direct message from a follower, but it’s another thing to have them nearly cry in front of you for making such an impact in their lives by just being you. I remember this beautiful magical black girl stopped me and my two best friends, Tima and Miles, at Anime Expo one night and nearly cried when she finally met us. We each nearly cried ourselves. It was so touching and I felt closer to those followers I met in person.
4. What was your worst experience?
My poorly executed crowdfunding project from 2015 without a doubt. I would say a close experience to that would be publicizing my last relationship which lead to an invasion of my privacy and unwarranted judgement. But the Indiegogo campaign hit my reputation worse than I imagined it would after failing to deliver perks like I intended to. I would highly recommend others against it unless you know what you are doing and can have a plan B, C and D!
As a result, I got “dragged” for it and lost a substantial amount of followers and their trust. This lead to me going into a major funk that contributed to me taking a year and a half off social media. For those who followed me since day 1, I have never taken a hiatus for longer than maybe 1 month. To put it simply, it all felt like that single mistake ruined absolutely everything I worked so hard for before the online influencer idea became popular. Because I battled with my anxiety disorders and self-loathing behavior, I became reclusive. It was a blessing in disguise as a nightmare, but I never wish to go through that again.
5. Were you always interested in fashion, makeup, and aesthetics? What sparked that interest?
Oh goodness, yes. In the 90s, my mom was a fashion designer for a little while here in Dallas. Seeing her create stunning garnets her models wore on the runway made me want to do the same. Beauty naturally came with that territory, and I was already a girly-girl so I enjoyed whatever said “Kelly Barbie doll” to be included in my surroundings. I sought out adrenaline rushes sneaking into my mom’s makeup collection when she was away at work and beating my little face till I looked like a clown. Oh but it was so much fun!
6. You’ve recently talked about becoming disillusioned to the jpop/kpop/kawaii subculture and music scene, can you expand on this?
J-pop and J-rock were already a thing of my past after leaving the gyaru community. I hadn’t realized how much those groups generated my urge to blast some Perfume and Capsule every day.
My interests and my music tastes started to really shift after returning from South Korea and Japan. I hadn’t been into R&B and Hip Hop for over a decade, but I started dipping into K-Hip Hop, K-Rap, and K-R&B. Eventually, I went to a few local KHH events and was put off by how disconnected the artists and their fans appeared to have with black people and our culture. You know how you feel a sort of linked energy with the talent on stage at a show when they’re performing? Like you can feel their lyrics inside your soul because they totally have been there and embody everything they’re songs are about?
Well, I honestly never felt that not one time going to those concerts because it all felt like it was an act. Like it was a manufactured imitation of what already has been heavily exposed here in the states. I know I’m going to get shit for that, but it is how I felt and still feel. So of course, I shifted away entirely from Korean rap, hip-hop, and R&B and focused on the original artists from America. Some mainstream, and some underground. I finally felt a real connection again! I also felt more appreciated as a fan of these artists and more visible than I did being into kpop/jpop. I hated feeling like my opinions didn’t matter to the overall following of Kpop unless I assimilated into Korean or Japanese beauty standards. Not to say that those who do are in any way wrong, but I didn’t want to adopt that much of a culture when I still had a lot of my own culture to learn being a first generation Nigerian American. It was hard at first and I only just got rid of tons of my merch from Kpop and anime conventions, online shops and the like, but surrounding myself with the cultures I identify with brings me more positive messages than I got before.
7. Can you talk about re-branding and starting fresh for content creators who may be losing their passion for it?
Take the time you need to truly understand what it is you want. Is it money, brand deals, a large strong community, a business, etc.? After that’s established, I recommend finding a new passion of yours to make hype-worthy to your current followers and grow your brand from there. If it is something you genuinely like enough to base your brand around it, that should be easy and your followers will appreciate your passion nonetheless and want to see how you share it with them the way you have before.
But the part that you’ll hate is that rebranding is going to suck for a long time, especially for small to mid-sized channels like mine. Your stats will be out of whack, and you can expect to lose people as you experiment your way into a better position with new topics on your channel. Most days, it will even feel like you’re uploading content into a completely empty abyss. But you just have to hang in there and keep going after you find a new audience. Many will leave, but I believe more will stay if your personality was likable overall before. I don’t feel it’s necessary to bring up statistics, but I did lose a significant amount of subscribers, Instagram followers and Facebook friends after I posted my announcement of my brand’s redirection. It could have been way worse though, and I managed to stay afloat of 36,000 subscribers on YouTube thus far. Speculations are likely going to be made about you for switching it up from those who don’t know any better, but if you sincerely feel good about this change, don’t pay them no attention. They ain’t paying you!
8. How do you feel about the current direction of your channel/new content
Good! It’s always evolving as I learn more patterns from my followers, and I am actively polling them to see what I am doing right so I pour the gas on it! Sometimes, I completely go my own way just to give something a shot, which worked well for me last fall when I shared a weight gain journey video on a syrup I reviewed. Ever since, I’ve gotten several new and old followers contacting me for questions on how to improve their diet and workout routines the same way I did. It’s honestly been the most eye-opening experience for me in my career because I never thought I would be embarking on my own e-retail fashion and fitness business. That’s what happens though when you try new things! I hope to open my shop crystalcurves.com this summer for everyone to shop from. It’ll be the highlight of my year.