How to be a YouTube star: creators give tips before Hong Kong fan concert featuring Shangrila, Matt Steffanina and more

Hong Kong YouTube stars Shangrila and Emi Wong share what it’s like to be famous vloggers and explain how they built and maintain a following ahead of this Friday’s FanFest Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 6:45pm

The girl in the video greets her viewers with a sunny “Dai gaa hou!”(“Hello everyone!”) and introduces herself in Cantonese as “Shangrila”. But the YouTuber, whose channel has more than 110,000 subscribers, is not Chinese, nor was she raised in Hong Kong, or anywhere in Asia.

On top of her elfin features, perfect complexion and ambiguous ethnicity, the 24-year-old vlogger, singer and Instagram model has a gift for learning languages, which has earned her an unusually diverse following across the world.

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Shangrila is one of YouTube’s “creators” who will be in the spotlight this Friday at FanFest, a sold-out concert event at Hong Kong’s Kitec entertainment venue that includes meet-and-greet sessions for fans to interact with popular vloggers both local and from overseas.

The YouTube star will feature on a line-up that includes mainland Chinese food YouTuber Ms Yeah, Hong Kong gamer Edward Slime, Canto-pop singer Hana Tam, local comedian Vivek Mahbubani, and Los Angeles dance choreographer Matt Steffanina, among others.

“My fans are…” Shangrila trails off during an interview, choosing her words carefully, “cheerful, funny and compassionate. I’ve always dreamed of becoming a singer, but now I have a place to express myself, post cover songs, create content and get known. YouTube has helped me feel more free and gain more confidence.”

Born in Switzerland to a Brazilian mother and Spanish father, she grew up speaking Spanish, Portuguese, French and English, and managed the impressive feat of teaching herself Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese simply because of an interest in Asian cultures. It turned out to be a savvy decision. Three years ago, she moved to Hong Kong, and, though currently better known as an Instagram model and YouTuber, she has high hopes of making it in the music business – especially in Asia.

Among a variety of makeup tutorials, language-learning tips and candid vlogs, cover versions of songs are some of Shangrila’s most requested uploads. Her most popular video, with more than 1.2 million hits, is a performance of Taiwanese singer Hebe Tien’s A Little Happiness, the theme song for the romance film Our Times sung in Mandarin.

Shangrila taught herself how to edit clips and add sound effects and animation from instructional videos on YouTube.

“Do something you like and be willing to put hard work into it” is her advice for establishing a successful channel. “You might be talented, beautiful or handsome, but that’s not enough – you need hard work and willpower.”

Post-production takes up all my free time – any minute I’m not at my office job, I’m working on my videos
Emi Wong, YouTuber

Since YouTube was launched in 2005 by three former PayPal employees, then bought by Google for US$1.65 billion just over a year later, the platform has ushered in a new type of celebrity. This year’s highest paid YouTuber, Dan Middleton, aka “DanTDM”, earned US$16.5 million in the past 12 months. For young people growing up today, a career as a vlogger is an attractive, viable and potentially lucrative option.

However, YouTube is not a get-rich-quick scheme: the platform does not allow creators to earn money from adverts through its Partner Programme until they have proved themselves by notching up 4,000 hours of viewing time in the past 12 months and attracted 1,000 subscribers.

For Emi Wong, also on the FanFest line-up, life as a full-time YouTuber has also become a reality. She became a creator to earn what she hoped would be an extra HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 (US$250 to US$380) per month, but is now preparing to leave her social media job at activewear brand Lululemon to focus on her fitness and lifestyle channel.

Her creative instructional videos take longer than her more impromptu lifestyle vlogs, but most of her time is spent editing. “Post-production takes up all my free time – any minute I’m not at my office job, I’m working on my videos,” she explains.

Wong’s audience is 85 per cent female, most of whom are university age or older. “People like to watch videos they can relate to – I’m a girl, I have a full-time job. My workout videos are usually quite short, around 10 minutes, tailored to people who can’t go to the gym for hours every day.”

Her advice to anyone looking to follow in her footsteps is to post regularly: her upload rate for the last 15 months has been two videos per week.

The 26-year-old Hongkonger is unusual among other creators in the city in that most of her videos are uploaded in English – because she says she was “too lazy” to learn to type Chinese at school. It doesn’t seem to have affected her views – she is approaching 500,000 subscribers and occasionally gets recognised in the street.

“Fans tell me things like they like my channel, that I really inspire them … and that I look skinnier in person,” she laughs. “That’s because, when they watch my videos, they think I’m more muscular and taller than I am in person.”

Unlike Wong, Shangrila refuses to disclose her real name and is wary of revealing too much about herself, especially since she was followed near her home one night. “The relationship we have with viewers is a bit strange,” she says. “You’re somewhat close friends, but some things must remain private.”

If you’re famous, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy. Money and fame bring a lot of problems

Social media has a well-documented impact on young people’s mental well-being, and youngsters’ self-esteem can be affected when they compare their own lives with the perceived glamour they see on Instagram or YouTube. However, even YouTube’s most popular creators are not immune to “burn out” and mental health problems, with users such as PewDiePie, Jake Paul, Elle Mills and Ruben Gundersen stepping forward this year to announce breaks from uploading to safeguard their health.

“When you see girls on social media looking perfect and beautiful, it’s hard not to compare yourself to them,” Shangrila says. “But if you’re famous, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy. Money and fame bring a lot of problems, as well as good things.

“I don’t want people to compare themselves to me when they’re their own person with their own qualities and strengths. I like to be an inspiration, which is fine, but I’m just a normal person who makes YouTube videos and wants to be a singer. I’m still human.”

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For Wong, finding success on the platform has been a confidence booster, with few negative side effects. “YouTube changed my life. At the start, I’d never post videos without makeup – I’d feel self-conscious. You might not want to share everything or you might want to look your best at all times, but I’m now at this point where I can look what I consider as bad, but people can relate to me and like it,” she says.

“Now I know [viewers] will still like me even if I’m not looking perfect – in fact, they might like me more. It’s made me realise I can be myself.”

YouTube FanFest Hong Kong 2018, Aug 3, 7.30pm, Rotunda 3, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, sold out