The Future of YouTube Apology Videos Is Not Really Saying Sorry

In June, YouTube beauty guru Jaclyn Hill released her debut lipstick collection after having spent years dropping tutorials and collaborating on limited edition cosmetic lines with established brands. It was, in her words, “a failure. It sucked.” Fans posted photos and videos of their Jacyln Hill makeup, most of which was dotted with mold, black spots, and white hairs. Hill blamed the lab she used for the error, left social media, and that was that—until now.

On Tuesday she posted a nearly 20-minute vlog titled, “Where I’ve Been,” explaining her experience in the fallout, filmed in the classic “YouTube Apology video” format, save for her full face of makeup. In the demonetized clip, she stares directly into the camera and goes on and on about getting back into the biz and how challenging it is to be “a boss.” At one point, she very sincerely introduces what’s about to come with, “As Kurt Cobain said, I’d rather be hated for who I am than love for who I am not.” What she doesn’t do much of is actually apologize.

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I’ve forced myself through the video about three times now and while the visual definitely has all the making of a standard YouTube apology video—remorseful tone, few rough cuts suggesting a tough time editing, crocodile tears—there just isn’t a lot of actual apology. At one point nearish the beginning, she revs up with an enthusiastic, “More than anything, before I jump into anything in this video, the number one thing I want to make sure I say to you guys that has been on my mind every single day, that’s the strongest most important message is, just the biggest thank you to everybody that has reached out.” This is not an apology, or even the roundabout, thinly-veiled apology YouTube fans like myself have grown to anticipate.

Around the 8:45 minute mark, her tone hikes up (sometimes a verbal sign of disingenuousness) and says, “I just have to say I’m sorry,” while slightly shaking her head no. “It’s so important to me that you guys know how sorry I am and how embarrassed I am. This has just been shocking,” she continues.

Though she only actually apologizes once, and she didn’t title the clip “My Apology,” it’s clear what Hill is doing. This is the future of YouTube apology videos in real time—a response to recent controversy that doesn’t involve fake crying for 15 minutes. If the popular consensus is that apology videos are nothing more than teary-eyed cynicism, but the influencer has done something that requires some semblance of remorse, this might be as good as followers will get. It’s taking a bleak format, removing the fake tears and replacing them with... mostly nothing.

It’s an interesting play, nonetheless. I assume what’s next for Hill is what’s next for all beauty gurus: Regardless of whatever scam they’ve pulled, if they’ve managed to secure a few million loyal fans, those consumers will follow them into the dark. If she says she’s no longer working with the fungus lab, it’s likely they’ll believe that she’s no longer working with the fungus lab. If she says she’s reimbursed everyone who purchased her unusable product, they’ll likely believe that, too—even if other fans are going on social media to say they haven’t received payment. Everyone would be wise to approach this stuff with a little bit more skepticism.

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