For the majority of Gen Zs across the world, YouTube was a foundational part of their upbringing — like a cool, well-informed teacher or a shadow parent. And for many young girls, it was an older sister: a lot of our YouTube consumption revolved around makeup tutorials, beauty influencers and a new kind of vlogging referred to as a “GRWM” (Get Ready With Me).
Hours and hours of women and girls’ lives have been spent watching someone chat candidly to the camera while they apply contour and concealer; pushing up their brows with a spoolie as they spill the deets on their personal life as if the two of you are sitting in a room together, gabbing like close friends.
Just ask any girl under the age of 26 if she used to narrate her makeup routine while she did her makeup alone in her bedroom, and you will likely receive a mildly embarrassed “Yeah, of course,” in response. Ask any teenager if they still do it now, and you’ll get an even more embarrassed affirmative.
Which is why it makes complete sense that the trend has taken root so seemlessly within TikTok, the favoured platform of Gen Z. TikTok thrives on candid content, relatability and authentic, first-person stories.
Except they’re not always relatable: most recently, GRWM stories have been upping the ante. Last month, model Mae Van Der Weide delicately dabbed at her face with cream concealer while she recounted her experience of fentanyl addiction. “So I was addicted to fentanyl from late 2019 to mid-2020, so that was about eight months,” she says matter-of-factly while jaunty music (instantly recognisable to anyone who’s spent more than an hour on TikTok or YouTube) plays in the background. Oversharing isn’t uncouth online, so the video went down a treat, with 5.7 million views and 507,000 likes.
And two weeks ago, TikTok user @makayla.jord joined in on the trend, walking her followers through her year-long stretch in prison for fraud while she perfectly applied the wings of her eyeliner. “I know the first thing that you’re thinking, which is ‘Oh, you don’t look like a prisoner,’ and I’m not a prisoner any more, but that is what people always tend to say to me,” she says.
Despite having only 2,000 followers, Makayla’s video took off — it has 163,800 views and 9,000 likes. She’s made numerous other videos addressing her prison experience since, due to the mass of comments asking questions under her GRWM.
There’s more, too, and they read like a SNL skit about teenagers taking TikTok ‘too far’: GRWM for my nan’s funeral; GRWM to turn myself into jail; GRWM to break up with my boyfriend of three years — the list goes on.
I know what you’re thinking — but the popularity of these videos doesn’t seem to be a result of the shock value and shareability. They’re far from the shouty caps “STORYTIME: MY MUM CAME BACK TO LIFE!!” content that came as a result of the dwindling demand for YouTubers and desperate bids by scrambling vloggers. Gen Zs care about authenticity above all else, and what matters is that the content is real — even if you’ve never had a fentanyl addicition or gone to prison. Now you have an online friend who has, and they’ll tell you about it while they teach you how to put on a pair of fake lashes.
And thus, the older sister of the internet lives on.