Jenna Marbles, whose real name is Jenna Mourey, with her namesake Chihuahau, Marbles, and her Italian grey-hound, Kermit, on the roof of her town house in Santa Monica, Calif., March 26th, 2013. Riffing on the ordinary in her outrageous way, Marbles has become a YouTube sensation with more than 1 billion YouTube views and more than 8 million subscribers and growing.

Stephanie Diani, New York Times

YouTube queen has more than 1 billion views

  • Article by: AMY O’LEARY
  • New York Times
  • April 23, 2013 - 8:04 PM

A young woman with magenta-streaked hair stands in her bathroom, speaking to a webcam. In a hushed tone, she chews over a thorny problem of young adulthood: how to apply full evening makeup when you’re already inebriated from drinking all day.

She misapplies a gob of glue. It dangles from a false eyelash. She lines her lips with a black pencil.

“It doesn’t matter what color it is, ’cause you’re gonna blend it,” she slurs, batting her eye glue. “Don’t let this scare you.”

The video, titled “Drunk Makeup Tutorial,” is completely awesome to some, bewildering to others — and above all, classic Jenna Marbles, another installment from a reigning queen of YouTube. The episode has been viewed 14.6 million times.

While few people older than 30 probably know who Jenna Marbles is, her popularity is unquestioned among teenage girls who live on the Internet. She has more Facebook fans than actress Jennifer Lawrence, more Twitter followers than Fox News and more Instagram friends than Oprah. Her weekly videos on topics as quotidian as “What Girls Do in the Bathroom in the Morning,” “My Favorite Dance Moves” and “I Hate Being a Grown Up” place her in an elite club with more than 1 billion YouTube views, with more than 8 million subscribers and growing.

“My perspective is to think, ‘I just have a lot of Internet friends,’ ” said the 26-year-old YouTube star, whose real name is Jenna Mourey (Marbles is the name of her Chihuahua).

She acknowledges it is an odd kind of celebrity. She is a DIY digital entertainer who conceives of, stars in, shoots, edits and uploads her own videos — often in a single day.

Her videos are a highly shareable cocktail of comedy, sex appeal, puppies and social commentary, laced with profanity. She masterfully juggles Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to build a deeply loyal connection with fans who find her eminently easy to relate to.

The result is more than a million views every day and more money than she had ever seen in her life. She is no viral-video fluke. To a younger generation that spends more time on YouTube than TV, Jenna Marbles already embodies the future of celebrity.

A hot mess

Internet fame can come on fast. In the summer of 2010, Mourey shared a three-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, Mass., scrounging her rent from bartending, blogging, go-go dancing at nightclubs and working at a tanning salon. Her newly completed master’s degree in sports psychology gathered dust.

“My life was a hot, hot, hot mess,” she said.

One afternoon, she uploaded a video of herself putting on makeup for her dancing job. It was called “How to Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking.” In a dim, white-paneled bedroom, Mourey sat before her computer and began: “If you were born really ugly like me, have no fear. There’s steps you can take to be good-looking. Kind of.”

In a mesmerizing kind of reverse burlesque, her naked face and pale blue eyes disappeared under a flurry of foundation, false eyelashes and frosted pink lipstick. In 2½ minutes, she transformed herself from a plain girl with a bad case of bedhead to a hypercharged cartoon sexpot.

“There is no cure for ugly,” she says in her flat Rochester, N.Y., accent, “but you can make yourself into a human optical illusion.”

She uploaded the video on a Friday. Over the weekend it became so popular that it reached the true mark of viral success: She had to call her mother. Deborah Mourey, a marketing consultant who still lives in Rochester, laughed, along with 5 million other people that first week.

Since then, the formula for a Jenna Marbles video hasn’t changed much. Unlike other YouTube personalities who invest in better cameras, lighting and production values, Mourey has stuck with her original lo-fi operation.

Vomiting oatmeal for views

Mourey lives in a rented $1.1 million Santa Monica, Calif., townhouse. The decor could be called contemporary teenage mess. Any chaos in her daily life, however, sits neatly out of frame. When she records a new video at the kitchen table, viewers typically see only her and a blank wall.

She does impersonations (Snooki, Gaga, Palin, Bieber). She rants (“Sluts on Halloween”). She plays off gender dynamics (“What Boys Think About During Sex”). She undermines her camera-ready good looks for the sake of comedy, say, by vomiting oatmeal or sticking her dog in her shirt for extended periods.

“It’s a very odd kind of skill we haven’t seen in entertainment before,” said Alan Van, of the blog New Media Rockstars. “Comedic blogging has mostly been a man’s domain, but she’s definitely at the top.”

Like Jenna Marbles, the pantheon of telegenic twenty-something YouTube stars has carved out a new entertainment genre, complete with its own rules and visual vocabulary. In videos that typically last five to eight minutes, they talk straight to the camera and riff through head-spinning jump cuts and exaggerated facial expressions to court shrinking attention spans and rack up views.

“I’m not completely sold that you ever have to transition to mainstream media, you know?” said Mourey, who cherishes her creative freedom. “What I get to do is have fun in my house, by myself, and put it on the Internet.”

Rich off clicks

Still, Mourey has needed to professionalize her business affairs, partly to handle the deluge of endorsement requests and fan mail — more than 50,000 messages a month. Her team recently expanded to include a personal assistant, a business manager, her mother and a soon-to-be hired chief technical officer.

Mourey would not disclose any financial details, but industry experts estimate that a star at Jenna Marbles’ level could make a comfortable six figures from ad revenues. TubeMogul, a video ad-buying platform in California, estimated that she could have earned as much as $346,827 in 2012. “I make more money than I need, ever,” is all that Mourey would say.

Teenage girls love her exactly because she seems so genuine. Her videos are catnip to them, the kind of thing they discover privately in their Facebook feed, where her profanity and tell-it-like-it-is rants on sex, boys, sports bras and makeup speak directly to her core audience, 75 percent of whom are young women and girls, mostly 13 to 17.

At first that surprised Mourey, who thought she was making videos for her peers.

“In my mind, my videos sometimes are inappropriate for a 13-year-old,” she said. “But that’s what they’re watching.”


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