GRWMs as Gen-Z Therapy by Isabella Brewer
Like many young women my age, whether we’ll admit to it now or not, I used to watch Tana Mongeau on YouTube. I had little in common with her as a person; we are both young females… and that’s about it. But back when she was a rising YouTuber and I discovered her (during my late middle-school years, circa 2015), she did something that other people and I especially resonated with: she told stories. Tana was a big part of the then-popular YouTube genre called the “Storytime YouTubers,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Over time, Tana became “YouTube famous”, later being verified across multiple social media platforms, and even branching out into many activities outside of YouTube (she now has a show on MTV, an OnlyFans controversy with Bella Thorne, her own perfume line, and a song catalog - you name it!). She eventually became unrecognizable from the person that I originally started watching and relating to, leading my brother to ask me why I ever liked her in the first place.
Tana’s pattern of outrageous, sensationalistic behavior, which she is now known for outside of YouTube, was not a secret even then. This erratic behavior which has now involved her in many controversies was present even in her earliest videos, shown especially in the way she expressed herself by capitalizing off of her high energy and ability to engage an audience; she was the queen of all caps clickbait titles. When I think back to what made me first subscribe to Tana and what made me ultimately unsubscribe from her channel, I’ve come to realize that even though her personality never changed, I eventually stopped being able to enjoy her content because of the way Tana’s circumstances changed; in her fame, she lost the authenticity and the intimacy that she once had. When Tana’s channel was smaller, she would film her videos facing her camera, sitting on the floor in front of her bed, and simply speaking about some event in her life. To the early-teenage me, who had not-so-many friends and too much time on my hands, there was something really precious about this space she created. Even when Tana was being overdramatic or unrelatable, listening to her tell a story somehow always felt like I was listening to a close friend.
This kind of “marketing” to viewers is exactly what businesspeople —influencers, companies, and brands— want to create in the social media-powered world of the 21st century; and so, when the “Storytime YouTuber” trend died, something similar but even more emblematic of our era became popular: the “Get Ready With Me” trend, commonly abbreviated as “GRWM”. It’s similar to the “Storytime” video in the way that it creates a personal connection between the viewers and creators as the creators speak candidly about some relatable topic, but it has the added element of being told mostly off-the-cuff and involves the creators simultaneously applying a makeup look throughout the video as if they are “getting ready” for some event. These qualities give this video-style a kind of confessional tone; it’s more personal because the creators show the process behind their appearance’s presentation, and it is generally unscripted, so the creators speak to the viewers honestly as if the viewers are hanging out with them and getting ready to go to some outing together afterwards. The created intimacy and relatability are precious to the creators as well, with the GRWM being less of a genre like the Storytime videos, and being more like a stress-free soapbox where the creators can personally and casually update followers about their lives. In this way, it can also be utilized as a tool by big brands such as Vogue, whose YouTube channel features a very popular series called “Beauty Secrets,” starring many different celebrities as they show viewers their signature makeup routines from their homes and give other small personal anecdotes in between those moments.
What makes the GRWM even more personal for the viewer is the wide range of GRWM niches, since the video topics don’t have to be simple anecdotes either; they can range anywhere from stories about serial killers, murder mysteries, bad movies, social events, political developments, hot-takes, and personal opinions.
The GRWM can also be inspired by specific occasions requiring special makeup looks, such as prom, a date, or going to the club. The videos can even have added gimmicks increasing the fun; in the last week, Kylie Jenner’s official YouTube channel uploaded a GRWM starring Kylie and Kendall Jenner doing their makeup while “getting drunk” (though really more like tipsy). It received a lot of attention and was in the top ten trending videos on YouTube within the first 24 hours of its upload. The power of the GRWM to connect the audience to online creators, while also simultaneously promoting the creators as businesspeople, was especially apparent to me as I watched Kylie’s video; up until that point, I personally didn’t know much about the Jenners and Kardashians (and had never wanted to either), but seeing the sisters joke around, get tipsy, and share sentimental stories about struggling with their confidence and image in high school made me view them more positively and with more interest (while also subtly advertising the Jenners’ makeup lines as they put on their own products). Conversely, I also watched the most viewed YouTube video officially labeled as a “GRWM” from the beauty brand channel Nykaa, featuring an Indian actress named Janhvi Kapoor; however, by the end of the video, I felt that I had no real concept of the brand and no great or lasting impression of Kapoor.
The video felt over-produced and impersonal with its studio lighting, professional editing (both of which Kylie’s video also had), and the more formal tone set by Kapoor, whose blunt opinions about her likes and dislikes in makeup felt increasingly abrupt and acted-out, made the video feel more like she was doing a sponsored makeup tutorial instead of a more personal and casual celebrity GRWM. Although Kylie and Kapoor are both celebrities in their own rights —with their own makeup artists, wealth, and production crews— the branding and styling of Kylie’s GRWM made it feel more personal, accessible, and relatable, even if the video budget was clearly high and highly scrutinized to the degree that Kapoor’s also was. By the end of the Jenners’ video, I had been smiling, laughing, and felt more connected to them, which is what a good GRWM should do, brand-sponsored or not.
For those reasons, I think the evolution of the GRWM probably had something to do with the evolution of makeup advertising and social media platforms; as makeup became more accessible to the everyday person, magazine makeup ads evolved to commercials, and then tutorials. Makeup then became ubiquitous with women, and self-broadcasting took off with the advent of the Internet, creating closer makeup communities and rising personalities heading them. Magazines first popularized a written, guide-like version of makeup tutorials before the invention of the Internet, and then more community-based derivatives of these makeup tutorials became popular on YouTube starting around 2007 when beauty gurus like Michelle Phan and NikkieTutorials began their video beauty channels. The GRWM genre then began somewhere amidst these trends (probably between 2007 and 2013) as a spinoff of the makeup tutorial video —the exact origin of the GRWM is mysterious, but the earliest mention I found of the term was in a 2013 entry on Urban Dictionary.
However, whereas the Beauty YouTuber era of the late 2010s had more focus on community building (connecting everyday faces to makeup tips through the beauty gurus and experimenting more together), Gen Z now has an especially interesting relationship with GRWM videos. As a tool of brand and PR-marketing for influencers and celebrities alike, the bubble of intimacy that GRWM videos create between the creator and the viewer is still personal, but also highly edited, and often with intent. Middle-school me felt a connection to Tana like that of a friendship, but how different would that have been if she had been sponsored to use certain makeup brands, like what is now so commonly seen in sponsored Instagram influencer reels? Though channels like Vogue can make these types of videos charming and easy to watch with their clean editing and smooth production, I often find myself gravitating towards smaller YouTube channels with content creators that I’ve watched for a long time. Their videos recapture some of that sense that I am hanging out with a friend again, they have a more personal authenticity, but now I am more aware that my “friend” is still a two-dimensional personality that I can pause, put on double-speed, and play whenever I want to throughout my day. This steady and familiar kind of presence has a calming effect, and I especially enjoy watching the GRWMs of my favorite YouTubers while I am at a lull in my day (e.g. during a meal or during downtime before something else). But I’ve noticed something with the smaller, less commercial YouTubers who speak on topics like political or social issues, or generally give commentary: these creators will speak about unsatisfying topics, such as racism in the news, personal mental health struggles, or even bad movies, all of which are conversations that have no satisfying or complete resolution. In these cases where the indeterminacy of the topics is magnified by the fact that the conversation is unscripted, the visual completion of their makeup look at the end of the video gives a distinct and neat resolution to what otherwise might have been an open or messy ending. It also makes the end of the video beautiful and satisfying, despite the heavy, complicated, or unresolved topics; the visual is a balm to the metaphorical. When I consider that these YouTubers generally also are “getting ready” with nowhere to go out afterward, it strengthens in my mind the idea that makeup can be fortifying and lifting; with makeup, we can create a space to be closer to each other, and put our best faces forward to step out into our world, even if we don’t leave our homes. The process of building and creating, and within a community, is its own precious satisfaction.
P.S. My favorite of these GRWM YouTubers by far is Kennie J.D., who reviews bad movies while putting on makeup in a series called “Bad Movies & a Beat”. It gives you all the fun of trashy Lifetime-esque movies without feeling guilty for actually watching them and with great humor. Plus you get to enjoy seeing it all wrapped up in her final look!