It’s so hard to plead poverty in a Balenciaga hoodie.
In late 2019, Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson premiered their latest duo video series called the Beautiful World of Jeffree Star. If the last series sought to rehabilitate Stars messy image, this one went for a slightly different angle – what if Star helped Shane Dawson become, not only a beauty YouTuber, but one with his own line of makeup.
Beauty YouTube is it’s own constellation of creators – young and airbrushed, they paint faces like they’re performing for Cirque du Soleil. As in any science fiction galaxy, they also have their own twisted politics and court intrigue. It’s a matter of a moment between stars feuding over perceived slights before they return to chat on each other’s channels for hugely successful crossover videos. The YouTube apology video is an art for beauty vloggers, whose normally pristine appearance is for these moments presented as splotchy and unvarnished. For them, the odd appearance of clear skin or acne is meant to be a unicorn-like sighting — a moment of true candor.
Shane Dawson is presented as a contrast to this, and a kind of audience insert for this world of glamour and drama. But the failing of the Beautiful World of Jeffree Star is that he isn’t an outsider – not truly.
For Shane Dawson, candor is considered to be his entire career. In 2008, Dawson started his career in YouTube vlogging — a messy career that has snaked from him getting fired from Jenny Craig for uploading a video pole dancing at one of their establishments, to early YouTube sketch comedy, short-lived careers in both music and traditional media development, and now a steady following as someone who explains conspiracy theories on YouTube with the kind of bated breath traditionally reserved for Southern women gossiping in a beauty salon. His career is about his authenticity — he’s practically the template for this style of intensely candid style of media. This isn’t to be critical of Dawson — his career is put up for analysis on his own channel as well as in the two series he has run with Star. Star’s own troubled history with race (he once “joked” about throwing battery acid on a black woman to lighten her skin) and with his massive fall outs with other members of the beauty industry (most famously, long time friend and collaborator Kat Von D) is contrasted with the drama Dawson has gone through in his years in the spotlight — notably sketches where he performs in blackface and a joke years prior about him getting seminal fluid on his cat which has led to him having to report, nearly yearly, that he has not had sex with his cat.
Throughout the docuseries we’re meant to relate to Shane Dawson, especially as the series directly contrasts his schlubby, sloppy, sweaty self to the ethereal otherworldliness of Star. Star is presented as an alien creature,, completely on another plane — even with the humanizing effect of Dawson’s first docuseries and also his own past racism.
It feels mean to call Dawson a slob, but the series goes out of the way to paint hm as one — here he is getting ready to meet someone in a paint-stained shirt, here’s his nervous backsweats. The documentary revels in this humanity, in this awkwardness that has long been Dawson’s brand. It’s uncomfortably intimate – the reality shows confession booths here are literally bathrooms at Stars’ pink office. Look at the difference; the documentarians (one of whom is Dawson himself) posit. Look at this Everyman try to become an alien.
There’s probably some academic who would be able to stay what stage of capitalism is a multi-part expose about the beauty industry that is actually a seven part ad for a makeup palette. We’re told repeatedly that this is something Dawson deserves — a $20 million dollar brand deal that will set him up for life. We’re shown how much he “deserves” it, the friends he stands up for as they also step into the uncharted waters of the beauty YouTuber industry, the way he’s been “exploited” by previous merch sales, the cycle of cancel culture that continues to bring up that one time he implied he had come on his cat, his sloppy home. It only works though in contrast to Star’s own ridiculous over-spending. Dawson may present himself as a nervous poor person, but he and his now fiance are rarely seen not wearing Balenciaga logo hoodies ($900+), Gucci logo t-shirts ($590), a Balenciaga-as-a-political-ad-for-Bernie-Sanders hoodie ($720) and a Gucci pig backpack ($600). True, Star has a pink closet full of Gucci with the tags still on and a personal arcade of pinball, but the difference between Star and Dawson feels far smaller than the difference between Dawson and his average viewer.
There’s no truth to be found in the Beautiful World of Jeffree Star. There’s no questions answered here; not truly. There’s the potential for a deep dive into the biggest YouTube drama of 2019 (bye Sister) but Dawson can’t commit to covering that in any real way when the involved parties aren’t a feature of this series and Star, his collaborator in a $20 million business deal is a prominent figure. At the same time, the promised feature of this series – a look into the secretive beauty industry with its slight margins and shiny veneer — is light. Ultimately these segments are placed rather hollowly between recaps about where Dawson used to live, or his friends crisis as a burgeoning influencer, all of which feel as empty calls for you to feel bad for a man who was already a millionaire and is now even more set for life.
Perhaps one of the weirdest scenes in this ode to capitalism is a moment where Dawson finds out one of the people who are so desperately seeking his sought after palette is in the hospital and is wheeling their IV bag to the window so they can get the signal required to connect to the Morphe store. He looks to camera and promises she’ll get one. On the one hand it’s meant to show that she is deserving, but it also shows that Dawson himself is deserving of this windfall. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.