Ten years ago, Colleen Ballinger was like millions of other people worldwide who were fascinated by the still relatively new world of YouTube videos. Seeing countless odd people posting videos of themselves that reflected either amazing talents or even more amazing levels of self-delusion, she decided to start making videos of her own that spoofed the site and the universe it had spawned.
Creating a character named Miranda Sings, whom she admits has “messy hair and terrible makeup,” she started posting videos in which she sang utterly silly songs in an off-key voice, danced terribly and dispensed horrible life advice. She thought only her friends and family would find these unusual forms of creative expression worth watching, but soon she found herself riding the same wave of attention from total strangers that she found so incredible when it happened to others.
As of July 2017, she had created more than 400 YouTube videos amassing over 7.8 million subscribers, with a total of more than 1.3 billion lifetime views — building an estimated $8 million fortune on ad revenues from her videos and a successful vlog she creates under her actual name and personality. The Azusa Pacific University alum has also created and starred in the popular Netflix series “Haters Back Off,” landed a book on The New York Times bestseller list and toured the planet — including a performance Sunday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
“I was just goofing around in college, actually, because I discovered YouTube and thought it was just such an interesting bizarre platform where people could just film themselves and upload to the World Wide Web,” recalls the normally press-shy Ballinger, who agreed to be interviewed for only the second time in her career. “At the same time I was a music major in college and there were a lot of girls I went to school with who were rude and snooty to me and yet very confident. So I kind of created the character based on some of the girls I went to school with and combined it with YouTube, and I was very surprised when the videos started going viral.”
Ballinger, 31, grew up in Santa Barbara as one of four children in a family with parents who encouraged her passion for the performing arts. She has maintained strong control of her career from the start, arranging her own early appearances and publicity for the first nine months and conceiving all of her videos herself, yet writing “Haters” and some upcoming projects with one of her brothers.
She moved to New York City in 2010, but returned to the Los Angeles area two years later because most of the thriving YouTube community was based here. Through it all, she finds that her live performances are most fulfilling.
“It can be lonely making videos by myself, so I love connecting with live audiences,” she explains. “The show is a lot of everything, it’s a mess. It’s a really fun, fun show where I start off as me not in character and I change into character in front of the audience, and then it’s a hot mess of singing, dancing standup, a variety and vaudeville show for everyone with jokes for kids, and jokes for adults. It’s a lot of in your face Miranda, but it’s fun.”
Ballinger notes that the character of Miranda has evolved greatly over her decade of existence, as she originally tried to give the “haters” more of what they hated before eventually striving to make her fan base happy. She often asks her subscribers what kinds of content they most want her to produce, and she relies on the strongest-trending responses to create new ideas.
“What I found fascinating was that people would take time out of their day to write a comment about how much they didn’t like something about me,” recalls Ballinger. “That was a foreign concept to me because the internet was still kind of new. If they didn’t like my lipstick, I’d put on more, and if they didn’t like my hair I’d make it messier. If they didn’t like the way I sang, I’d sing more off key. I’d egg them on because it was fascinating to think of people just sitting around sending hate to someone they didn’t even know, who was a character.”
Ultimately, Ballinger has definitely had the last laugh with her worldwide success, but her experiences receiving ridiculous hate mail on a daily basis has given her some interesting insights into the current national mindset.
“For some reason, people in this country need someone to hate and I happened to be the punching bag for the first couple of years of my career voluntarily,” explains Ballinger. “There’s a way to please your audience without compromising your art. I think this phase of my career has been the toughest, due to how divided our country is at the moment, where things are right and wrong with no middle ground. But I’ve found already things are always changing and that keeps it fresh for me to change up my material and make sure the audience is aware of what I’m doing.” n
Colleen Ballinger performs in “Miranda Sings Live, You’re Welcome” at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets are $45. Call (818) 243-2539 or visit Alextheatre.org. To hear the full audio of this interview, with extensive extra quotes, visit https://bit.ly/2GG7pylI