No idea what’s going on with the YouTube beauty vlogger drama? Here’s your definitive guide…

One of the biggest beauty influencers in the world has lost a record number of YouTube followers in 24 hours. Buckle up and we'll tell you why...

James Charles

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

If you’ve seen James Charles or Tati Westbrook trending and you’re over the age of 25, chances are you haven’t got a clue what’s going on and why this drama is so huge. It’s not just YouTuber drama, it’s YouTube beauty guru drama, and that my friend is always the most salacious drama of all. But who the hell are these people, what has happened and why do we care? Well, here is a full breakdown of the entire situation with all the context you need from an avid but objective viewer of far too much YouTube content.

What’s the jist of what's happened?

James Charles, a 19-year old influencer from New York, has been accused of being a bad friend, egotist and using his fame and money to manipulate straight men into romantic relationships. The accusations were made by his former mentor, fellow beauty influencer Tati Westbrook, aged 37 in a video posted to her YouTube channel.

James, who is well-known for transcending the influencer industry and moving into traditional media, has since lost near 3 million followers on YouTube, taking his subscriber count from over 16 million to currently 13.8 million. The backlash has extended beyond just the online beauty community and its followers, with well-known influencers from all avenues of content creation and celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian all disassociating themselves from him.

Who is James Charles?

James is a beauty influencer who gained popularity posting make-up looks on Instagram, before starting a YouTube channel in 2015, amassing over 16 million followers in just four years and 1.7 billion views in total. Posting make-up tutorials, challenge videos and collaborations with fellow influencers, he has worked with Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian and Iggy Azeala to name a few. Last year, he realised his first ever make-up palette with Morphe, which quickly became their best-selling eyeshadow palette of all time and received rave reviews.

Despite being most popular for his success on YouTube, he has achieved considerable notoriety in traditional media. In 2016, he was the first male spokesmodel for CoverGirl, and earlier this year his visit Birmingham to open a Morphe store brought parts of the city to a standstill after over 7,000 fans showed up to see him. Just last week, he was invited to the Met Gala as a guest of YouTube.


James Charles at the Met Gala

James Charles at the Met Gala1 of 1

James Charles at the Met Gala

Why is James Charles considered controversial?

His online success has not been without controversy. In February 2017, before going on holiday to South Africa, he tweeted a conversation between him and a friend: ‘”I can’t believe we’re going to Africa today omg what if we get Ebola?” “James we’re fine we could’ve gotten it at chipotle last year”…’. His wildly offensive comments came after West Africa has been declared Ebola free and failed to recognise that Africa is a continent not a country. Given he was traveling to South Africa, which hasn’t had a case of Ebola since 1996, his ‘joke’ was considered harmful and ignorant.

One month later, he was also accused of lying about the origins of his fame, which came from a viral picture of his high school yearbook photo that caught the attention of CoverGirl. He had told Ellen DeGeneres when appearing on The Ellen Show that he had retaken the photographs with a ring light, however later admitted he had simply edited the picture before putting it online. Despite both of these controversies, his reputation was largely intact when the latest scandal occurred.

Who is Tati Westbrook?

Tati Westbrook owns the YouTube channel @glamlifeguru and is considered a long-standing, respected member of the online beauty community having been on the platform since 2010. Before this scandal, she had around 6 million followers, however has since gained 3 million new subscribers now sitting at over 9 million. She owns Halo Beauty, a wellness company selling vitamins with her husband, James Westbrook.

What happened between Tati Westbrook and James Charles?

You may have only seen one video trending that seems to be the crux of this entire scandal, a YouTube video by Tati named ‘Bye Sister…’ in which she explains her decision to end her friendship with James. However, the story starts well before that, which is why most people haven’t got a clue what’s going on. Strap in, it’s a lot to handle on a Monday afternoon.

The rumours of a feud between the two influencers began when James posted a video endorsing Sugar Bear Hear, Tati’s main competitor for her vitamin business Halo Beauty. James posted an Instagram story claiming that their Sleep Gummies helped him sleep when he was anxious and stressed, after which Tati uploaded her own Instagram story alluding to a fall-out with James.

‘I feel really lost and in my community especially, I feel really lonely,’ she says to camera while crying, ‘Friends should support one another, that’s how it should be. I’m having one of those days where it’s just smacked in my face what’s what.’

James then posted an apology on his Instagram Stories, stating that he ‘did not think about the competition, which was a major oversight’. He said that he was not paid for the post, but implied that he felt obliged to promote Sugar Bear Hair after the brand helped him with security when he was crowded by fans at Coachella and he felt unsafe.

Amidst all of this drama wades fellow beauty influencer and friend to James Charles, Gabriel Zamora. Seeing Tati’s crying Instagram video, he posted a Snapchat video advising his fans to put their problems into perspective when they’re worrying about something given the crises that are going on around the world. ‘In the grand scheme of it all, you have to really check in with yourself and think “is this really a thing?” otherwise you’re going to end up sitting on the internet crying over vitamins when things are really going on around the world.”

After Gabriel’s Snapchat video, Tati released her ‘Bye Sister’ YouTube video, stating that she felt obliged to address her deeper problems with James publicly. When explaining why she didn’t deal with the issue privately, she said that she had heard that James was discussing their problem with gossip-sharing YouTube channels (dubbed Drama Channels) whom often expose the private affairs of influencers (yes, these channels exist, there is a whole tabloid media world we cannot fathom).

Despite this being the reason she decided to share her ‘Bye Sister…’ video that has subsequently caused James to lose over 3 million followers, it has since come out that James’ interviews with the drama channels totalled one single comment: ‘Until Tati feels comfortable and ready to talk to me in private, I don’t feel comfortable commenting about her publicly.’ It’s not yet known whether Tati knew this before she made her video.

What did Tati say in her 'Bye Sister...' video?

The 43-minute video (yes, really) that has now received almost 34 million views, details how her friendship with James began and gradually changed as he became more famous. She explains that she saw him as a son figure and that she was his mentor through his career, having him do her makeup for her wedding day and even having her husband – who has extensive experience in the entertainment industry - negotiate million-dollar deals on his behalf for free.

She then explains how she has gone out of her way to support and promote James’ career, and has not received the same treatment in return even as he surpassed her popularity on both Instagram and YouTube. Further to this, she accuses James of being a sell-out by working with Sugar Bear Hair, a brand she accuses him of not really using, and being fake by pretending that he didn’t know how his endorsement of her main competitor would embarrass her. Implying that fame and money has turned him egotistical, she says she had previously hoped James would grow and mature but now wants to end their friendship publicly to close the chapter in her life.

The crux of her accusations however, and what has caused the widespread backlash, is her implication that James sexually harasses young straight men and uses his power, fame and money to manipulate them into romantic relationships with him.

‘Oh my God, you tried to trick a straight man into thinking he’s gay yet again, and somehow you’re the victim,’ she says, talking directly to James in her video, ‘It’s really disgusting to manipulate someone’s sexuality especially when they are still emerging into adulthood and don’t quite have everything figured out. You are using your fame, your power, your money to play with people’s emotions, threatening to ruin them and embarrass them, and you’re doing that to have them behave sexually in their favour even if they’re straight.’

Tati then goes on to explain her own morals and ethics within the industry, how she wants to make a difference in the world and how much better Halo Beauty is than her competitors.

These initial accusations led to multiple cis straight men sharing screenshots of conversations with James online, where he appears to flirt with them. Zara Larsson has also shared a tweet about James, claiming he messaged her boyfriend despite knowing he was straight. Since, a narrative that James is a ‘sexual predator’ has spread online, and has ultimately caused irreparable damage to his reputation, losing the largest number of followers anyone ever has in 24 hours at over 1 million.

What was James' response?

In response, James released a video titled ‘tati’ where he apologises to her and her husband for hurting their feelings. Regarding her comments on his relationships with straight men, he says, ‘I’ve been involved with a lot of very unique and strange situations that have left people confused or upset and I’ve learned the hard way about ways that I can interact with boys that I’m interested in and ones that I should or shouldn’t be talking to. This is a conversation I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with and it’s something I should’ve been far more careful with bringing into the public eye.’

Who is defending James?

Coming to his defence again is Gabriel Zamora, who as a fellow openly-gay man explains that within the gay community, straight men often approach gay men to explore their feelings and defends James as not being a predator, but simply flirting with straight men who in turn were often attempting to use him for his fame. James has been very open about this previously, often joking about his attraction to straight men and how it’s the reason he will always be single.

His only other public defender so far is PewDiePie, who is the most followed person on YouTube at 95 million subscribers. Making a video titled ‘James Charles is cancelled’, he questions Tati’s intentions, shares insider information about the YouTube community and likens her video to an advert for Halo Beauty.

‘It feels very manipulative,’ he says, ‘she’s putting herself on a pedestal while she was clearly completely fine not outing this behaviour about James Charles essentially abusing people’s sexuality and as long as James Charles would’ve instead of promoted her vitamins she would have been fine with it she wouldn’t have made this video.’

As the only two influencers being outspoken about their discomfort with James’ fall from grace, it seems necessary that before James’ entire career falls apart we should question whether the punishment he’s receiving fits the accusations. He may be an unsupportive friend, he may have let achieving such fame and success at an early age go to his head, but does that warrant such huge damage to his reputation that will inevitably cause most of his income to be lost? When you compare his losses to similarly controversial YouTubers who are now thriving online, for example Logan Paul - who literally filmed the body of a man who had committed suicide and posted it to his majority child audience – it is wildly disproportionate.

The sexual predator allegations clearly warrant further discussion about what constitutes predatory behaviour, as the screenshots shared so far seem to show James flirting with men who then pursue some sort of relationship or friendship with him only to later reveal they’re not actually gay or bi-curious as they initially stated. According to Gabriel, there is a lot of information about these situations that wasn’t shared in Tati’s video.

From an objective perspective after viewing the screenshots circulating, it seems there are many cis straight men upset with James for flirting with them. Which to me, as part of a group that’s literally harassed by cis straight men on a daily bases – you know, women – feels quite ironic. Would they be this upset if James were a woman? Unlikely. Plus, given that the power dynamics between men are different to those between men and women, it feels as if the term ‘sexual predator’ could be being devalued in this situation.

Essentially, this situation is much more nuanced than is being considered before a whole host of fans, celebrities and James’ supposed friends have cut him off, with intricacies of the LGBT+ community and sexual power dynamics being ignored. As well as James’ own vulnerability to being used for his own fame and money, the entire scenario really isn’t being dissected enough before crash-cancelling has ensued.

So maybe we should start questioning what the real issue is here and why people are so quick to cancel James, as PewDiePie states in his video, we really must be missing something

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us