Wengie has taken her talents from YouTube to the Cartoon Network. The Australian vlogger talks to Complex AU about developing a fanbase in the millions and her new role as the fourth Powerpuff Girl.
On April 17, 2016, Wendy Ayche (better known as Wengie) uploaded a YouTube video titled: “OMG I HIT 1 Million Subscribers!!!” Just over a year later, she’s about to hit 9 million. Those are some insane numbers for someone who had to google how to make her first video.
“I’ve always been creating things online – I made my own website on Geocities back when the internet was still dial-up. I started a blog about fashion because I love style diaries: letting people know what I’m wearing and what I’m thinking right now.
YouTube came about because people started asking for makeup tutorials on how I do my makeup. It was really hard to do in a written and photography medium. When my first tutorial took 12-14 hours to do, I thought, ‘There must be a better way’. I had heard about makeup tutorials on YouTube, but I didn’t personally watch them. So I did basic research – “how to make videos” – and started making my own.
Over time, I found the community on YouTube to be a lot more active and welcoming than the blogging community. There were more people watching YouTube, so they were more likely to leave comments and request certain videos. I soon became addicted to the community on YouTube.”
For those that don’t know Wengie, just imagine if the Care Bears, a unicorn and Stephanie from LazyTown had a lovechild. Her rainbow hair and bubblegum demeanour make her hard to miss, even on a platform as saturated as YouTube. Born in Guangzhou, China, Wengie and her parents moved to Sydney when she was five years old. Growing up, she would experience the schoolyard immigrant rite of passage: “Ew, what’s that in your lunchbox?”
“I felt a little weird when I’d come to school with my pungent Asian food. And my mum would put the weirdest filling in my sandwiches! I ended up eating meat pies for all of my primary school life, because I realized I didn’t want to keep explaining to my friends what I was having for lunch. And my mum didn’t want to deal with me coming home from school, being like: ‘Mum, who puts pork floss in a sandwich?!’”
In high school, armed with issues of Girlfriend and Dolly – bibles to the teenage Australian girl – Wengie tried to delve into the world of cosmetics, only to realize that makeup application wasn’t one size fits all.
“Every time I tried their make-up tips, I’d open my eyes and go, ‘Where did the eye shadow go?’ It disappeared into my tiny eye folds!
That’s why I started reading a lot of articles on Asian makeup – it was this new world that I’d never had growing up. I started doing videos on trends in Asia, which I think was helpful for a lot of people because there wasn’t a lot content like it at the time. I did a lot of Korean-inspired tutorials; they were leading trends back then because of the globalisation of K-pop.”
Wengie was an early adopter and advocate of Ulzzang. For the uninitiated, it’s basically Korean slang for an attractive person. However, Ulzzang has also become a way to describe a subculture of Korean (and other Asian) girls who apply numerous beauty products to achieve a particular look – one of fair skin, dyed hair, a small nose, pouty red lips, and huge eyes. Generally speaking, the end result does stretch, somewhat, beyond an Asian woman’s physiology. Is it right, then, to assume that certain Asian beauty trends are formed with the intent of appearing western?
“I’m sure a lot of Asian ideals come from the west – I think with Korea in particular. The Americans went to Korea and helped with the war, so I think American culture was really integrated into Korean culture. But I think Asians now have their own thing going on – I don’t think they’re necessarily trying to be western. It’s a very interesting topic because sometimes you don’t even know why you do things. It’s such an introspective thing.
I’m blonde, and have wanted to be blonde since I was a kid. But it wasn’t because I wanted to be white. It’s not linked to race for me – it just happened that my race didn’t have naturally occurring blonde hair. It’s funny that brunette Caucasians that want blonde hair won’t get judged the same way.”
Aside from makeup and hair tutorials, Wengie’s other early videos comprised diet and nutrition tips, travel diaries and personal vlogs. Much of the content stemmed from fan requests, with Wengie wanting to give back to the YouTube community she so adored. But as her videos grew in popularity, she found herself becoming more of an auteur, and assumed full creative control over the content and all other filmic aspects.
“I became really involved in the production process. I wanted to get better at editing, so I learned new editing techniques and effects. In the past, we would just film on the fly, but now we were scripting everything and trying everything before we filmed. I bought better cameras and lighting equipment, so we now also had a proper set, props and supplies. I found that the more I progressed down this production-learning path, the more my channel started to grow.”
These days, while Wengie’s makeup and hair are as immaculate as ever, she’s largely left beauty videos behind. Her content now focuses on DIY-crafts and pranks – genres that invite endless possibilities. A recent back-to-school video shows viewers how to make edible versions of glue sticks, crayons and pencil sharpenings. Another shows a recipe for one of the weirder internet fascinations of late – slime.
“YouTube trends come and go all the time. There’s always a new trend depending on what’s happening in the world right now. For me, I switched because I had been doing makeup for a long time. So by the time I’d done 200 makeup videos I thought, “I don’t know how to do another smoky eye!” I’m not actually a trained makeup artist, so either I had to go back and train as one, or I could do something else.
I’ve always been really crafty. I used to make my own toys, and when I was 16, I begged my parents for a sewing machine, and spent every weekend sewing my own clothes and making patterns. It felt like a very natural move for me to extend to that craft/DIY/life-hack genre.”
As you’d expect, there were makeup channel purists that bristled at this new direction.
“The new videos did well, but at first the switch left some of my audience feeling really alienated. So for the first couple of months, I got a lot of negativity, because they weren’t expecting that kind of content from me. They’d say, ‘I don’t like your content anymore, your content sucks!’”
With her videos amassing over 596 million views combined, it hardly needs to be said that Wendy’s saccharine brand won’t appeal to everyone.
“I get a lot of negativity online, but I actually like to think about it as being part of the job. Someone might not feel that great on a certain day, and you just happen to be there so they’re going to take it out on you. At first, I took it very personally. It took me six months to get over my first negative comment.
But over time, you develop this thicker skin, and you realize it’s part of the job. I get love, and I get hate, too. You just can’t get caught up in the positive or the negative. You have to be very aware of yourself and surround yourself with people that keep you grounded.”
Brushing off haters whilst putting in real work meant that Wengie’s channel absolutely thrived. And so, much to her parents’ chagrin, she decided to quit her marketing gig to focus solely on YouTube.
“I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, so I think they’d given up on me at that point. They were more annoyed when I quit accounting to go into marketing – I was one subject away from getting my CPA!
I never regretted my decision to quit my job, because I was at an age where it was now or never. I thought, ‘If I don’t do this now, I’m never going to do it. I’m going to take this chance now, before I have kids and have even more responsibilities’.
I didn’t want to get to a place where I’m like, ‘Sorry, you don’t get dinner today because mummy’s video didn’t do well!’”
It’s unlikely that Wengie’s future kids will ever go hungry, given that she’s now a millionaire. Not bad for an accounting drop out. Back in 2015, she made a video illustrating how YouTube bloggers earn money. Making money directly from YouTube’s ad revenue depends on a range of factors, including: view count, market niche, and the quality and quantity of your content. However, bloggers can also make guaranteed money from paid sponsorships and product placements. And while it’s important to note that these deals are keeping content free, it can be very hard to overlook some of the more blatant offenders (see: every music video sponsored by Beats By Dre Pill speakers). Wengie’s enduring influence in the beauty-sphere means that she gets offered every deal imaginable. However, the trick is to say “no”.
“I say no to a lot of collaborations. I actually say no more than I say yes. It's all about authenticity. It’s really important to know your brand and what you stand for. I'm always really conscious of disclosing information and providing transparency in all my videos. If you’re afraid to be transparent it’s usually a warning sign. I follow my instincts and work with brands that I love."
There’s one recent collaboration Wengie didn’t turn down; that aligns with her brand marvellously – she’s going to be the fourth Powerpuff Girl. Seriously. Cartoon Network’s upcoming five-part movie event sees Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup reunite with their long lost sister Bliss – and Wengie will be providing the vocals for audiences in Australia and New Zealand.
“I love what the Powerpuff Girls stand for. They’re very strong women, they’re very positive and give off this great confident vibe that I really hope comes through in my videos as well. I think that might have been the reason why Cartoon Network chose me. I’m always promoted girl power – go do your thing, go save the world, and go be positive!”
As someone who’s recorded hundreds of videos for the internet, this gig should have been a doozy.
“The voice recording was very different. You couldn’t express your emotions with your body or face, so it’s all voice. Sometimes when I felt like I was putting in a lot of emotion, it just sounded flat. You have to pay attention a lot to the rhythm, and the ups and downs of your voice. It was a very different and challenging process, but I had so much fun.
Also, screaming like you’re about to die is actually quite liberating.”
The new Powerpuff Girls is now airing on Cartoon Network.