“Money has always been the result of what I do. It was never the reason I started.”
Lilly Singh is talking about appearing on Forbes’ Highest Paid YouTube Stars of 2015 list, days before she takes her show to Mumbai. Singh, 27 and from Toronto, uses the pseudonym IISuperwomanII when speaking to her social media following of more than 12 million people.
She earned an estimated $2.5m last year from her two YouTube channels, a 27-city world tour and her own movie, among other projects.
Her journey as a digital creator began in 2010. At the start, much of her content focused on her Indian heritage and highlighted her ethnic background. The film she has just made, A Trip To Unicorn Island, follows her journey in planning and executing her tour from a behind-the-scenes perspective.
“There were so many times I was really tired and really didn’t want a camera in my face and the camera would be there.”
Although she publishes daily vlogs on one of her channels, she insists the film-making experience was far more invasive.
“There’s a lot of really raw emotional moments that I don’t think would have been captured if I was in control of the camera.”
One of the areas the film highlights is the transition from making videos in her bedroom as a way of treating her depression, to having a global audience who visit her main channel religiously twice a week to see her latest uploads. She holds the video sharing website responsible for helping her deal with her mental illness.
“The platform got me out of a very dark period of my life so I love YouTube genuinely,” she says.
Singh’s earliest public video, as IISuperwomanII, is called How to Tie a Side Turla Bhangra Pagh (Turban). By 2013, her character had built a solid fan base predominantly among South Asian teenage girls living in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. She began making public appearances all around the world, including the London Mela.
Her videos had started to hit millions of views but when your videos emphasise one particular culture, there will inevitably be a cap on viewers. Singh decided to diversify.
“Very quickly I realised that I didn’t have to do that because in the comments people would be saying my parents are exactly the same and my parents are American or my parents are Persian or my parents are Japanese…”