‘I think when I have a baby, I’m going to livestream the birth.’ Rosie Spaughton is sitting in the Guardian canteen with her wife Rose Ellen Dix, talking about the future of their YouTube channels – and the prospect of parenthood. Known to their one million subscribers simply as Rose and Rosie, they slouch comfortably among a growing pantheon of online celebrities, pulling in vast audiences via the omnipresent video-sharing platform. Their videos have been viewed over 142m times.
What do they do to attract such a huge following? Well, they sit in their living room in Hertford and chat. They talk about their lives, play video games, make up terrible songs on Rose’s acoustic guitar. They are warm, hilarious and unguardedly honest, especially about sex and relationships. In one recent video, they discuss their most hurtful rejections. “Oh, there was that time you tried to have a threesome and they told you to get out,” says Rosie with undisguised glee. “That could only happen to you.”
YouTube superstardom is an emerging form of celebrity, one that’s much more intimate than TV, music or the movies. Rose and Rosie don’t really broadcast to an audience, they share with a community. “YouTubers are relatable, they’re accessible,” says Rosie. “On Twitter, George Clooney doesn’t follow you or tweet you back, but we follow our fans. We talk to them, we meet them, we even know their friends.”
In a thoroughly modern way, the two have played out their entire relationship online. When they met in 2011, Rose had already started using YouTube. During her film degree, one assignment required her to make a viral video so Rose filmed herself performing a parody of Kesha’s Tik Tok track. “It got about 16,000 views in five days. For a student with, like, no previous YouTube experience that was quite good.”
At the time, Rosie was studying media and communications and working for a community radio station. When it started putting its programmes on YouTube, she realised how simple and fun it was to build an audience. As soon as the two started dating, they naturally fell into making videos together. “We were just doing it for a hobby,” says Rose. “I saw it as a creative outlet.” Rosie, though, reckons Rose used it as an excuse to meet. “Rose would say, ‘Oh, we have to see each other because, you know, the fans need a new video.’ There were, like, five people watching.”
But the audience grew, attracted by such titles as Two Coffees and an Orgasm and Musical Jealousy Drama. While many of the biggest YouTubers have a theme – PewDiePie plays games, Zoella does fashion – Rose and Rosie’s videos feel charmingly aimless, even though they’re not. The duo will talk for an hour, then edit the conversation down to a slick 10-minute routine. “A huge portion of the creative process lies in the editing,” says Rose. “It’s where you inject your style”.
Though they maintain a channel each (and an extra one for playing video games together), they always appear in each other’s – Rosie’s are more like reality TV, covering their daily lives; Rose’s work is like improvised standup, taking in relationship quizzes and moral debates. In one of their most popular uploads from last year, Is Gaydar Real?, they start out discussing the sexuality of leading Hollywood stars, but somehow end up wondering why Kristen Stewart wasn’t offered the role of gay wizard Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies. “Oh wait, she wasn’t out at the time,” says Rose. “No one wants to out themselves as Dumbledore.”
Within a year, they’d started making money via YouTube’s ad revenue-sharing model – though it wasn’t much. “Our first payment was £20,” says Rosie. “We went to Iceland and spent it on sweets and alcohol. We used to buy lots of onion rings, didn’t we? Curry and onion rings.” Rose nods, sagely. “We know how to live.” These days, although they’re not saying, they are probably earning around £175,000-£200,000 a year from YouTube advertising and merchandising.
In November 2012, they made a video entitled SuperKiss!, in which they set out to kiss on camera for as long as possible. They only managed a few seconds before bursting out laughing, but the video exploded – it has now been seen almost three million times. Of course, SuperKiss sounds salacious and was no doubt deliberately provocative. But they’re not courting a voyeuristic male audience; they estimate their viewership as 90% female, and predominately lesbian and bi – not that this was intended.
“We never put ourselves out there as LGBT role models,” says Rose. “We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. But also, we didn’t want to give ourselves that kind of responsibility. We were like, ‘Oh, let’s just be ourselves and have fun and that will normalise it.’”
In 2014, they both made videos about coming out to their parents: Rose as gay, Rosie as bisexual. Typically, the videos were truthful but also light and endearing, more comic than traumatic. Rosie’s mum reportedly initially felt that, at 15, her daughter was too young to know what she wanted, but when Rosie tried to come out to her again, three years later, her mum just accepted it with a matter-of-fact: “I know you’re bi, everyone knows.”
Rose’s story was similarly confused. She told her dad she thought she was gay and he said: “It’s natural to feel like that about your friends.” She heard it as: “It’s natural to feel up your friends” and took it as acceptance. When the two got married in 2015 – wearing beautiful, carefully coordinated white dresses – Rose was walked down the aisle by her dad, Rosie by her stepdad. “Both our families have been extremely supportive and accepting,” they said.
They acknowledge they have younger LGBT viewers, many who still haven’t come out. “A lot of people’s situations really suck,” says Rose. “They are in horrible households where they can’t possibly be themselves.” Do their videos help? “I think what we show is quite hopeful,” says Rosie. “Visibility is a huge deal. When I was growing up, I had no one. I didn’t know who Ellen DeGeneres was, I couldn’t think of one gay person on TV. Now it’s easy to get YouTube on your phone – you don’t have to be watching something gay on TV in front of your parents.”
Do they ever get messages from viewers that worry them? “Not as much now, because I’ve stopped answering so many,” says Rosie. “We got a lot of anonymous Tumblr questions,” says Rosie, “telling us about really bad situations. We’d be like ‘What do I do?’ We’d just try and give the best advice we could, but what if you told them the wrong thing?”
The two do seem to have a genuine affinity with their fans, even incorporating them into major events in their lives. When Rose decided to propose to Rosie in 2014, she uploaded a series of vlogs telling viewers. When the two got married a year later, they put their wedding video online. Some may be uncomfortable with the idea of such personal moments being packaged into a commercial YouTube channel, but Rose and Rosie see it as their thing, their modus operandi. “We don’t really have a filter,” says Rose. “We just think, ‘Look, if people want to watch because it’s us being us, then we’ll just stick with that.’ We don’t want to produce something contrived or scripted.”
They have, like the generation they grew up with, become adults in a world where no one thinks twice about sharing every moment of their lives. They also feel that their honesty has allowed a supportive community to develop. “We’ve got the best audience, because we’re very open and honest,” says Rosie. “They know everything about us, and that’s why we’ve got such a close bond.”
Things can get out of hand though. Last year, when the couple appeared at VidCon, the annual California event gathering YouTubers and their audiences from all over the world, they ended up being escorted out by security. “We just didn’t realise how many people would want to meet us,” says Rose. “It got so crazy they had to shut it down.” They nod, lost in memories of the chaos. “Of course, we vlogged it,” says Rose at last.
But there are limits. They admit to having quietly removed content after having second thoughts. They once made a drunken video around the confessional game Never Have I Ever, but Rosie had just started a new job and they didn’t think it would make the best impression. Now they’re both full-time YouTubers, a move Rose made first, quitting her job at the Apple store in Worcester. “It was a risk, but there was a point where I thought, ‘Wow, this is my career.’ I didn’t really like calling it that at the time – I mean, people still laugh at it and don’t understand it enough for it to be acceptable.”
What do their families make of their videos? “At first, my mum and dad didn’t really understand,” says Rose, whose parents are both retired. “I think they watch my videos, and I’m fine with that. You know, they just let me get on with it.”
“Your sister said your dad watches loads of them,” interjects Rosie. “He just doesn’t want to embarrass you.”
“I don’t like to talk about that,” says Rose, who admits to being squeamish about her mum watching their regular live streams. Unlike the prerecorded videos, they aren’t carefully edited: they’re Rose and Rosie with no filter, chatting with viewers and answering typically forthright questions. “I had to ask her not to watch,” says Rosie. Topics have covered everything from nude Skypeing to police shootings and, in one memorable stream, resulted in the duo singing an impromptu song called I Look Like Shit while eating bananas.
Like many other successful YouTubers, Rose and Rosie have started to develop their brand. Last year, they presented on Radio 1 and MTV. Then there’s their forthcoming live tour (accompanied by their mums), the idea for which came to them two years ago when they arranged a meet and greet for fans and ended up doing an off-the-cuff performance. “We had such a good time we thought, ‘Well, why not make it bigger?’” says Rose. “We like being on stage, we love the adrenaline. It’s fun.”
There is another important project in development. Last year, they started talking about having a baby, and through a series of videos discussed the options available. Unwittingly, they have found themselves in the middle of a fraught debate around gay parenthood. As Rosie explains: “Someone in the comments was like, ‘How dare you think about sperm donation. You should be adopting.’ As far as I’m aware, I can have children, so why should I adopt just because I’m gay?”
“Rosie and I still don’t really know how we want to do it,” adds Rose. “We’re not anti-adoption. We’ll do what works for us.”
But they’re dealing with the issue in their usual way. They’ve joked about attaining several sperm samples from a variety of sources and playing reproductive Russian roulette with them. Originally, they planned for Rose to have a baby first (“She’s older,” points out Rosie), but now Rosie is considering it. Which is how the topic of livestreaming the birth comes up.
“I want to do it,” says Rosie. “But Rose keeps saying no.”
“I always assume you’re joking,” says Rose.
“No, I’m not joking. I genuinely want to do it.”
“I don’t know. I just think, ‘If I’ve got to go through it, so should everyone else.’”
It’s an exchange that symbolises their videos and their relationship: honest feelings filtered through easy, self-deprecating humour. And while the media often gets stuck on the negatives of online culture – cyberbullying, impossible aspirational lifestyles, falling literacy rates – Rose and Rosie’s channel represents the alternative possibility: that YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, et al, provide emotional support to people who may feel isolated. What Rose and Rosie implicitly tell their hundreds of thousands of young fans is that a fun, respectful, happy relationship – gay or otherwise – is natural and attainable. Parents these days are concerned about what their teenagers are viewing online, and who is telling them about life. In this sparkly but honest corner of the internet, it’sOK, they are in safe hands.
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