Alex Day was called “the future of music”. He had a Christmas number 4 with his hit song Forever Yours and he was bordering on reaching the celebrity status he had never craved. Then accusations came out on blogging website Tumblr about Alex’s personal life, and alleged sexual abuse of girls who watched his videos. Suddenly, his subscriber count began to drop, the comments turned nasty, and he had been branded by the Tumblr community as a rapist. Accusations against him were put on the same “masterpost” (a collection of different sources) as those against convicted paedophile Mike Lombardo and controversial former Big Brother contestant Sam Pepper.
Now, Alex Day runs a new channel, The Daily Day, which is based around mindfulness, Alex’s Buddhist beliefs and general positive energy. “Video-making is a selfish thing, I think”, Alex told Young Perspective in our exclusive interview, his first since the allegations came out in mid-2014. “I mean that with no disrespect to people who do it, because I did it. I think by necessity, if you want to do that you have to share bits about your own life.
“But as I’ve grown up and my values have changed I decided I wanted to do videos that had more value to the people watching them, instead of just letting them enjoy watching me make money!
“I realised to grow the idea properly it needed to be removed from me. So that’s why I started a separate channel for it.”
Despite the stress he admits the sex abuse scandal has caused for his family, he still manages to find the positives from being exiled from the YouTube community.
“It stopped me from doing the same stuff that I had been doing the whole time which I think is a good thing. If I continued to have a successful online life, I’d still be doing the same stuff now. I’d still be making videos once or twice a week just chatting about fun stuff that’s happened to me. I’d still have this kind of nagging feeling that it wasn’t really doing much for me or for other people really.”
Day has made it clear from early on in his online career that he is a “minimalist”, and that he doesn’t hold much value in material goods. “It felt really hypocritical to have a profession that relies on trying to get people to do that thing where they are interested in consuming online. I would say ‘the best thing you can possibly do is turn off your laptop and go for a walk and have a chat with your friend, face-to-face. But, keep watching my videos’. It’s a really stupid contradiction. For years I’d thought that. So I think in a way I used everything that had happened as an excuse. I probably could have just carried on making videos. I finally had a reason to kind of, stop bothering… Now, there were no positives!”
Alex Day suffered a particularly big backlash from users on popular platform, Tumblr, following the accusations, something one of our followers attributes to what he sees as the website’s desire to be too liberal. I put this question to Alex Day, who said: “If you end up being too excessively liberal in such an aggressive and closed-minded way, then it’s your own version of being right-wing, isn’t it? If you say ‘it hinders the discussion’, it doesn’t for the people who are saying it. They’re not having a discussion. They’ve made up their mind.
“There’s no limit to what punishment they think I’m owed… If you told someone that ‘I saw this guy, he ran out of money, he’s living on the street’, they’d say ‘it serves him right’! What’s the point where you go ‘s***, that is bad’?
Day’s friendship with YouTube star Charlie McDonnell (Charlieissocoollike) was one of the most important aspects of his online persona. However, he tells me that since the allegations came out about him, one of which, Alex points out, was from McDonnell’s PA, their relationship is now “non-existent”. While Charlie did write two blog posts detailing why himself and Alex were no longer friends and Alex did little publicly to try to reconcile, he does admit that they tried to have an honest discussion, but were unable to agree on which medium they should speak through.
“I wanted to talk about it face-to-face, or failing that over the phone… Now bear in mind, I’d just spent the last week having all my digital conversations regurgitated over Tumblr. Not even full conversations. One of the girls who wrote about it said ‘he was flirting with me, blah blah blah’, and they had screenshots of all these flirty messages I had sent, but not the bits where she flirted back!
“I remembered the things she had said and it really bugged me because I was thinking ‘you were flirting back’. Even if she thought I took advantage or ‘of course I flirted back because he has a big audience’ or whatever, make that point! Don’t be disingenuous about it. Don’t hide stuff to make your point. That’s pretty s***.
“Having had that happen, I didn’t want to send Charlie a big email of my thoughts… If he’s ever asked about it he can say ‘Alex did speak to me and he basically said’ and then a half sentence quote that sums up everything in a way that’s really unfair. I didn’t really trust that as a medium of expression.
“So I said to him I wanted to have a conversation with him over the phone or preferably face-to-face and he didn’t want to do that because he felt it would be upsetting. He said ‘I’d only be happy to do it over email’ because that makes him more comfortable. So I didn’t want to do it his way and he didn’t want to do it my way so we never had the conversation. It seems like he’s happy to have made his mind up, so that’s that really… I’m not going to pester him about it.”
When photos of Day and his ex-girlfriend Carrie Hope Fletcher at a London shopping centre surfaced online, it caused massive uproar within the YouTube community. He considers this to be one of the reasons that fellow YouTubers have “stopped hanging out” with him. “The weird thing about being a YouTuber is that you’re professionally being yourself. Your actual job is just to be you as a career. So the line between your personal life and your work life is completely blurred. Your friends are also your work colleagues. If there’s a scandal at work, you can’t just have the person not work there anymore, you just have to stop associating with them entirely, because your personal life is your work life.”
In today’s world, YouTube has taken the place of reality television in giving the public a medium to view other people’s lives. I liken Tumblr to The Sun because of the way that almost all statements can be treated as fact, leading to ‘trial by keyboard’. People appear to be joining the site in an effort to emulate the mainstream success of Justin Bieber or Five Seconds of Summer, as opposed to expressing themselves in a unique and ground-breaking way, akin to Charlie McDonnell or Alex Day himself.
“I remember saying to people a couple of years ago if I had never been YouTuber and I saw it now, and today was day one and it was my chance to make videos and start getting into it, I just wouldn’t. It doesn’t seem attractive or appealing. It seems now that it’s ‘you can do this or you can meet zany people and be part of the club and then you get to buy yourself a house’. I don’t want any of that. I don’t want to be famous and have friends with cool hair. I value my work.
“Speaking of values, it seems like the values of the community have changed very drastically from what they were when I got into it. I wouldn’t want to be part of it now even if I could be. I got into it because I wanted to be successful as a writer and a musician. The thing I’ve always wanted to do with my life is be successfully creative, mainly by writing and making music. YouTube was a fun sort of extra thing that I did and the bigger it got, the more I did it. But I never took it seriously because it was never my goal.
“I just kind of thought ‘this is fun’. It was helping my music career; I was making videos about my songs. It was helping with my writing because I had an audience to talk about when I wrote stuff. I can share with them all. I can read things out. But it was still a fun thing that I never particularly took seriously… I definitely didn’t get into it because I wanted the attention. The main thing I did every day was writing or making music. It was sort of a weird coincidence that the thing that I cared the least about was the thing I was the best at, made the most money doing and got the most people interested in me for.”
Despite many other projects in the pipeline, including an album to be released in October, more writing work to follow his debut book The Underground Storyteller and the continuation of The Daily Day, Alex admits that he is “done with vlogging”.
“If I want to share a video of me playing a song, then I’m happy to put it on there. If anyone wants to listen they can. I’m not really attached to it. I made a lot of my videos private but I left [public] the ones that I’m proud of professionally speaking that showcase my work. That was always the point… If my focus is to be a musician and a writer, I’ll put things on there to amplify those things.
“I’ve released a song every two months from my new album which will be released in October, so that’s something. If people want it then it’s there, you know? And I’m writing all the time. I’ve written about 50,000 words of various new books and I keep sort of not deciding what to stick to. But I’ve kind of got a better idea of what to do now… I’m not short of ideas.
“The problem is I didn’t choose to have the passions I do. I didn’t just think ‘what would be the most fun? Writing and music’. They’re both really hard lives to live if you aren’t successful in them. Whenever I think about doing anything else, I just think ‘yeah, but I want to be a writer and a musician.’”
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