Just a lil disclaimer before we begin: thank you to the lovely people over at Redbrick Newspaper, who made this interview a possibility for me. Make sure to click here to check out the article over at Redbrick! A couple weeks ago, I was kindly given the chance to interview Miss. Emma Blackery, YouTube sensation and a musician with guts. She was so lovely, and, well, let’s let the interview do the talkin’, shall we? (But before I begin, if you’re not much of a reader and you’d rather listen to the audio, here’s a link for ya’ll):
Here’s a statement you probably wouldn’t expect from the start of a music article: YouTubers often get a bad rep. It’s a common, snobby misconception that the faces of our internet age are ‘lacking’ talent, are ‘lucky’ to have millions of viewers ‘land in their lap’ and that any other avenues said YouTubers take after gaining celebrity status, such as writing a book or branching out into music, have somehow less ‘credibility’ than your Ed Sheeran-esque ‘homeless in a tube station’ fight for fame.
And just as any industry has their minor fads and their duds, this limited view may ring true for the odd YouTube success. However, one person who’s in the game to prove wrong the doubters, and she’s proving them wrong pretty damn well, is a certain Emma Blackery. For a start, I meet the 26-year-old on a Sunday afternoon (who says YouTubers aren’t hard-working? Probably a 9-5er who clearly doesn’t know the meaning of real graft) in her dressing room at the O2 Institute in Birmingham. Usually someone who quakes in their boots before an interview, I surprisingly felt myself completely at ease chatting away to Emma. Down to earth, no nonsense and ready to set every taboo record straight, Emma Blackery is living proof that YouTube is a credible, worthy career choice. And that’s before we even get on to talking about her music; this girl has bags of talent, too.
Emma smiles when I ask her how she handles nerves before her shows. And she gives me a straight-talking answer that might otherwise have appeared arrogant coming from anyone else, but there’s something about Emma that shows you she’s just hugely thankful to finally feel comfortable in herself now she’s in her twenties. “You know, this will sound weird- but I don’t get nervous anymore,” Emma tells me. “I’ve been touring on and off for the best part of five years and I used to be terrified. When I supported Busted a few years ago and had to do Wembley Arena for the first date, I literally prayed. I felt the most anxious and nervous I’d ever been. But now- like last night [in Manchester] there were 600-odd people chanting my name and I just wanted to get out there! It was all, ‘GO GO GO’- it’s an adrenaline rush!”
You can feel the palpable excitement emanating from this lady as she talks about her passions. When I ask her my favourite question I like to ask musicians (which is: what their favourite part of being a musician is) I watch her squirm as she ponders what to tell me. That’s when you can tell they love what they do. Never a clear-cut answer; these people are just grateful to have been given a chance to live out their dreams. “It’s creating something! I do love touring, but for me it’s that moment when you create something brand new out of a feeling you had. But at the same time, hearing hundreds of people screaming every single word you’ve written- it’s really weird, but in the most amazing, unique way.”
Sooo basically, just about every part of being a musician then? It’s no surprise that Emma feels this way about the versatile job she’s been blessed with. YouTuber, musician, memoir writer and mental health advocate are a few of the accolades she can pin to her name. And although YouTube-phobes might try to argue that such achievements ‘fall’ into these YouTube laps, such accomplishments don’t actually happen overnight whilst you’re getting your 8 hours. It’s been a journey and a half for Emma, who hopped into the virtual world of YouTube to escape the reality of a depressing full-time job in retail. “I started YouTube in 2012, back when it was very difficult to get approved making money. I wasn’t doing it for that, however- I was doing it as a distraction from waitressing. I saw other YouTubers doing it and became very much absorbed into that world.” And at what point did it all take off? “In late summer 2012 I started to pick apart the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’- yep, it was a bad, bad book series. I read it word for word with my own commentary and it took off. It was a niche to be filled, I guess.”
Niche catered for, Emma began including videos of her musical journey alongside her comedy skits that showcased her electric personality. But yet again, contrary to what the ol’ YouTube-phobes might have to say, building a following for her music did not happen in a mere 24 hours. “I was raised on Michael Jackson, Madonna, Guns and Roses and similar bands. Long before I could play guitar, write a song or even sing, I always pretended I was singing in my bedroom with a hairbrush! Then, I actually picked up my first guitar when I was 12. It was a really cheap, crappy thing- I didn’t even know how to change the strings on it- but I started to teach myself and write songs.” Emma started writing music from 13, got in local pop punk bands at the age of 18 and then went solo at 20. Emma gasps. “And now I’m 26 – this has been half my life!” An existential crisis I think we all can relate to on a daily basis.
And relatability is something that Emma Blackery has in bucket loads. It is incredibly important in the perfection-led society we all live in that those with a voice to the masses can speak up about important issues, making us mere peasants feel less alone. Something that resonates particularly with myself, and something I think should all thank Miss. Emma for, is her open discussions about her struggles with separation anxiety. A term commonly used for screaming toddlers who needily don’t want to be separated from their parents, separation anxiety actually affects adults too- and this is something not many of us know about. Emma spoke openly and emotionally with me about her struggle with the illness. “I first started to feel separation anxiety when I was about 16 or 17. My dad had been ill a few years before that, and that triggered something in me all at once. It was a horrible panic disorder; there was this anxiety whenever he didn’t answer the phone. It never even crossed my mind to look it up online- but it wasn’t even there, anyway.” Her memoir, Feelgood 101, finally sheds light on this important issue. “For me, the best upside of going through this is that I can now put my story out there and young people can realise they’re not going mad- this is a very real thing.”
Authenticity is just one of the many reasons why Emma Blackery is an utter success. Sharing her story, warts and all, alongside her comedic, open personality is exactly why she’s garnered a YouTube audience of over 1.4 million subscribers. But is it ever hard to know where the line is? When does sharing become oversharing, and is this something you should be mindful of when you’re uploading on an online platform? “It can be hard. I very much now draw the line when it involves other people in my social life, like my family.” But not every viewer respects the decisions the content creator is making. “Sometimes there’s this entitlement with viewers (although this is a minority) where they acknowledge that they pay your rent, so they expect the content that they want from you, even if you don’t feel comfortable making it. But as long as you’re open, honest and say, ‘I don’t want to make this kind of video anymore because it makes me unhappy’, people will understand. People respect honesty, so that’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
Respect is due for Miss. Blackery for not holding back in the interview. We part ways with her frank, inspiring advice for any one of us students who would love a career that somehow feels more of a pipedream at the moment. “I always said to my parents I wanted to be a singer and my dad always used to say to me, ‘you have the voice of an angel… chewing on broken glass’. I love my dad and he’s always been supportive of what I wanted to do, but it could have been very easy for me to have given up. But the fact is I didn’t come from a privileged background, I didn’t go to Sylvia Young’s Theatre School and I didn’t have a famous family- I worked for it. My dream was a pipe dream.” She smiles, pride emanating from her- and rightly so it should. “The only experience I have is that I had a pipe dream, I worked for it and I managed to make it happen. So the only thing I can say is, just fucking do it! If it doesn’t work out and you fall on your arse, you just get back on up! It’s always better to have tried something than to spend your life wishing you’d tried it.”
After a hug, a selfie and a candid chat about good old Brum (Emma was about to head out for a pre-show curry at the Taj Mahal, and had previously visited Selfridges and the Mailbox, which she calls ‘bougie’) we said our goodbyes and I was led out from backstage by Emma’s tour manager. And in the gig that evening, Emma Blackery transformed into a literal performing queen. With the voice of an angel (minus the broken glass part) and dance moves to rival Lorde, her loyal fans screamed every single word to every single song. The atmosphere was palpably electric, and ten minutes in that venue would prove every YouTube-phobe completely and utterly wrong. Emma told me her ‘dream’ would be for her fans to say that her show is the best that they’d ever been to- and from listening to the excitable conversations of fans leaving the venue, to witnessing girls in the front row sobbing, I’d say she’s accomplished yet another mean feat.
If chu wan’ listen to the audio of the interview, here ya go: