Lilly Singh, also known as Superwoman, is a second-generation Indo-Canadian YouTuber who creates a wide range of content from music videos to daily vlogs but specializes in satirical, humorous videos based on mundane topics. With over 11.2 million subscribers and currently 569 videos, Singh ranks as the third highest paid YouTuber and the highest paid female YouTuber. Through her success on YouTube, Singh has released a lipstick titled “Bawse” in collaboration with Smashbox Cosmetics and will soon release a book this month. She has also starred in her own documentary “A Trip to Unicorn Island” following her world tour, collaborated with famous figures such as Michelle Obama and Bill Gates, and appeared on numerous talk shows. As a pioneer for South Asian comedians on YouTube, Singh uses her ethnicity as a marketing strategy to gather more views and a larger fan base. Some of Singh’s most popular videos focus on a comedic portrayal of her Punjabi heritage. Through YouTube’s media platform, Singh utilizes her humor and minority status to build a racially inclusive community which allows her to have a greater influence in society.
Much of Singh’s original YouTube success can be attributed to her ability to target a certain niche within the YouTube community. In an interview, Singh states that she realized that “there [weren’t] any other South Asian females doing [YouTube], and though… that gap needs to be filled.” Using this absence to her advantage, Singh specifically makes videos that revolve around her ethnicity. Due to the flexibility of YouTube, Singh uploaded videos freely without the obstructions she would have to face with mainstream media which allowed her to focus on her experiences as a minority. Some of her earliest videos include “How to tie a Side Turla Bhangra Pagh (Turban),” “How to be the Perfect Brown Person,” and “Sh*t Punjabi Mothers Say.” Through focusing her videos on a race that has not been specifically catered to before in either mainstream media or YouTube, Singh heavily appeals to the South Asian audience, particularly females who did not see many women of their ethnicity that they could relate to. By catering to a minority audience, Singh transforms what can be seen as a disadvantage, her ethnicity, into her strongest attracting feature. Since building a foundation of subscribers, Singh’s videos have expanded its berth of topics, reflecting Singh’s ability to use her agency through YouTube.
Some of Singh’s most popular videos revolve around her family dynamics where Singh highlights the extremity of stereotypes and the differences between Indian and American culture. Her series “My Parents React” is dedicated to her parents characters Manjeet and Paramjeet, played by Singh herself, reacting to mainstream media such as music videos, movie trailers, and Instagram posts. Singh portrays caricatures of her real-life parents using a strong Indian accent and overexaggerating their reaction towards topics such as dating and sex. Apart from providing entertainment, Singh’s videos work towards not only drawing awareness to South Asian stereotypes, but also normalizing South Asian culture through exposure and comedy. In “When a Brown Girl Dates a White Boy,” Singh emphasizes the major Indian stereotypes held by the white hegemonic society. Lilly brings home Adam Devine, acting as Lilly’s white boyfriend, to meet her family, all of whom Singh portray. Adam represents a white heteronormative male who, with good intentions, believes he will relate to Lilly’s family by taking a yoga class and eating at an Indian restaurant. This segment reflects the pervasive effects of stereotypes regardless of intention. The rest of the video comedically strings together exaggerated reactions from Lilly, Adam, and Lilly’s “family” over the clash between American and Indian culture, as well as the generational gap between within immigrant families. Singh humorously overstates the stereotypical Indian emphasis on education, profession, relationships, and filial piety. While Lilly is torn between her boyfriend and family, one can interpret the scene as a very serious struggle many second-generation Asian-American (or Canadian in this case) feel between the two cultures. Anyone who has brought a significant other home to meet his/her family can relate to this video, despite it being centered around Singh’s ethnicity which allows a larger audience to relate to her videos. YouTube’s platform facilitates this discussion throughout the comment section as seen when people write comments like “You haven’t seen Muslim parents,” or “This reminds me of when my boyfriend tries to speak Spanish.” Through her YouTube videos, Singh breaks down racial divides and creates a community that recognizes how relatable people are despite their differences.
Due to the accessible nature of YouTube and the global reach of her videos, Singh is redefining what it means to be influential. In 2016, Singh was named one of Time’s “30 Most Influential People on the Internet.” Since then, her channel has grown in popularity, and she has become more prominent than before. The combination of her identifiable video content and her international audience Internet sets Singh as an example particularly for her younger audience who sees a South Asian comedian successfully breaking stereotypes and listens to her message. In a time when Asians are the most underrepresented race in traditional media, Singh’s success proves that new types of media, like YouTube, are changing power dynamics in mainstream media, allowing particularly Asian minorities to make a larger impact on society.