Her name is Lilly Singh, but most know her as the YouTube star IISuperwomanII.
Since starting on the Internet five years ago, the leader of “Team Super” has amassed over six million subscribers on YouTube, nearly one million followers on Twitter, over 2.3 million followers on Facebook and over 2.1 million followers on Instagram. She also has a YouTube channel specifically for video blogs (vlogs) with over 840,000 subscribers. Altogether, her two channels on YouTube have over 830 million views.
But her stardom goes beyond just the online world. The 26-year-old Scarborough, Ontario native has been in movies like Dr. Cabbie, made a music video, done stand-up comedy and has recently embarked on her first world tour, A Trip to Unicorn Island, which includes 11 cities in North America, cities in India, Dubai and more.
We sat down with Singh after her Vancouver show on Saturday to talk her past, present and future.
This isn’t your first time in Vancouver..
No, my third time performing in Vancouver.
What’s your favourite part about it?
Vancouver is a huge milestone for me because it was the first place I had a meet and greet where people lined up around the block, and that never happened to me before. I vividly remember everything from that event, and so Vancouver is associated with me believing in Superwoman. I always remember “in Vancouver, they lined up around the building and told me I could do it!” Vancouver is so, so supportive.
What’s your favourite part of doing what you do?
Growing up, you always think ‘I want to be this.’ If you look at my grade eight slideshow of who wants to be what, everyone’s like doctor, lawyer – and I’m like “rapper!” You don’t actually think it’s going to happen though, right? So my whole childhood I said, “I want to be an entertainer. I want to be a rapper and I want to be an actress” – but growing up, that dream starts fading.
I think what I like most about what I do is that the dream came true. It’s the weirdest thing that the dream came true, but it came true because of other people. It’s not like I got signed to an agency or record label. My success is solely because my audience believes in me. So it’s a direct correlation between Team Super and me.
In terms of my show, I’ve been doing live performances for a really long time. I’ve done feature spots on comedy nights and hosted stuff, and I thought ‘huh, I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to do my own show.’ So my favourite part about what I do is that for the first time, I can control everything from the first ad you see about my show until you walk out of the theatre. I can control the lobby, the message from beginning to end, and I’ve never been able to do that. People leave feeling exactly how I hoped for them to feel, and there is no one that can interfere with that process, that’s what I like the most.
When you started what you’re doing and told your parents and family, how did they react?
I actually didn’t tell them!
When I first started making videos, I thought ‘they’re not going to care’ and it wasn’t until I gained a little bit of traction that relatives started calling asking “is your daughter online?” and then they asked “are you doing something online?” They didn’t really care until, you know, my dad really wanted me to do my masters in psychology, so at the time of applying for my masters, I thought ‘I hate this already’ and I wasn’t even accepted yet.
So I walked into my parents’ room and I said “hey, I want to try this YouTube thing full time” and they just said “okay.” I think in their brain, it was a fad, like ‘okay, she’s going to go through this phase and next year she’s going to apply for her masters.’ But they gave me the best advice ever, they said that if you want to do it, do it the best. And so for that year, I tired to it the best. And after that year, I felt I had enough success for them to say “yeah, do it.”
It was hard for them to understand, but they’ve never said no to it.
At what point did you realize that this was something that could be a lifelong career?
It was pretty late into my career, to be honest. I think it was like two years in. I had well passed a million subscribers, which was cool, but I still didn’t feel like ‘oh no, I made it.’ I think it was the first time I performed in India. It was YouTube FanFest in Mumbai. First time in Mumbai, first time going to India as Superwoman – and I remember standing on the stage and it was just crazy. The ovation was crazy.
Shahrukh Khan invited me to his house and I was like, this is too surreal, and it was just such an awakening. I thought, wow, this is definitely something. To literally go across the world to a place where you didn’t think anyone would know you, and for all of them to be chanting your name? It was a really big awakening. So that moment on stage, I was like, wow this is something.
What was the coolest collaboration you’ve done? How did you even get Madhuri Dixit to be in a video with you?
I went to India because the director of Gulaab Gang, which is Madhuri’s movie, called me to do some promo track where he wanted me to do a rap feature on it, and I said “hey, you know it would be really cool if Madhuri could be in a video” – and he didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no, he didn’t really try. It just ended up happening. Madhuri was there and I went into the room and pitched her my idea and she actually already knew who I was, which was shocking to me. She said “yeah, I’ve seen some of your videos.” I pitched her the idea, she liked it and agreed to do it. She said “I have swag.”
If you could pick two people, including one that’s not alive, to be in a video with you, who would they be?
Today, The Rock. And I feel like it will happen one day. Of course, he’s been in my vlog and we’ve met but an actual collaboration where it’s creative – definitely The Rock.
In terms of past, I’m going to say Bob Marley. He’s my all time favourite artist.
What’s this whole thing with The Rock?
We’re going to get married, what do you mean?
You met him, is this it? Is there anything else in life?
Honestly, growing up, he was my hero. Even when I was a teenager he was my hero. Even right now he’s my hero. I just have this thing about him, you know role models growing up. Number one thing on my bucket list was meeting him. After the time time we met, I was scared because people say not to meet your idol because they might not be everything you expect. He was everything and more. He was wonderful, sweet.
So I met him the first time and I thought ‘oh my god, this is going to be it.’ But no, his daughter came to my show in Boston. I hung out with her. His girlfriend came to my show, I thought I’d want to kill her but I didn’t, she was very sweet and very awesome. And then he invited me to his set the next day, and I went. It’s like we’ve become friends. It’s just this overwhelming experience where not only is he aware of my existence, he’s well beyond that. He sat down for 20 minutes, giving me things like legal advice and things he’d like to see and he even said “my goal is for us to work together.” So he’s made it his goal as well.
Talking about the industry and when you started five years ago, how has it changed? Back then, I would say it was easier to start and just put things online, and now it’s turned into an industry and it’s a business and you’ve gone from making videos to starring in movies.
Yeah, you’re definitely right. Five years ago it was way easier to start. A million subscribers was a huge deal back then. Now, people get views and subscribers so quickly; everyone is watching you.
I think the biggest difference though is five years ago it was very much the scene that YouTube is going to be this stepping stone to get somewhere else, like get to a traditional movie or things like that. Now, it’s like traditional media is balancing out with the digital space where movies will come to me and ask to help them promote. And it’s not the other way around. So I don’t think YouTube is necessarily a stepping stone anymore. I think it’s a very big platform, an industry that can hold its own and, if anything, is going to level out with traditional media.
Do you find that it’s a challenge now when anyone can just come in and a video can be trending with 10 million views as if it’s no big deal?
It’s definitely a competitive space. There’s this crazy statistic that hundreds of hours are uploaded every second onto YouTube. It’s something crazy and that’s why the need to be consistent is so important. Two videos a week and daily vlogs is what I stick to. People can choose to watch anything if you don’t post a video. It’s harder to grasp people’s attention for sure. And because the space is so innovative, you have to keep thinking of ways to do things differently.
How difficult is it doing what you do and having to battle personal issues at the same time? You go from highs to lows but when you’re at that low and have to put out a video, how do you do it?
I would say that’s the biggest challenge of my job, not making the videos or being creative. I tweeted this the other day that my job is 10% being creative and being Superwoman and 90% dealing with the psychology of it all. It’s definitely hard to have a bad day. Even for the show. This is my 27th show and I have had some bad days during that time. I’ve been really upset during some of those shows. But you really have to separate personal from business. It’s super hard to do and I have no answer, I have no magic secret on how to do that but all I know is that before every show, something I do is say “you’re not Lilly anymore. You’re going on stage as Superwoman for these two hours. You are a performer,” and you just let it go. I have this whole meditation thing I do before I get on stage so it’s really a work in progress.
After the show, I saw one girl that was crying and thought to myself how you have such a big impact on young girls and teenagers today. How does that responsibility feel on your shoulders?
I discovered the pressures of being called a role model very early in my career. I told myself a long time ago that ‘you will never try to do anything to appear to be a role model because you’ll go crazy. You will be yourself and if people want to take you on as a role model, they can.’ And an example of that is that I don’t swear in my videos, and that’s not a front. I don’t swear in real life. If people ask me, “yo, do you drink?” Yeah, I love cosmos, I’m not going to lie about it. I’m just going to be the best version of myself in hopes that people accept that. Because if I tried for the last five years to be a role model, I would’ve gone crazy by now. And something I preach is individuality, to be yourself.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has done?
Oh boy. There are a lot of things. Once in Mumbai, I was in a McDonald’s and a guy proposed. I’ve had a few proposals in my meet and greets as well. In Dubai, literally in the middle of my inspirational segment, a girl got up, walked onto the stage, put her arm around me and took a selfie – in the middle of my show. So there have been a few crazy things!
What’s next for you?
I love touring, I love performing live. In terms of other stuff, I’d love to get into TV and film, but not at the expense of YouTube. I still want to maintain my channel, two videos a week, that’s where my platform is. I would love to do that and do higher productions.
What’s your favourite part about Vancouver? What are the spots you love going to and eating at when you’re here?
There is some place called White… Spot. Is it called White Spot? I like that. There’s also an Indian restaurant that’s so good, but I don’t remember what it’s called now. It’s a really classy, fancy one – I have no idea but they have some really good food.
But more than anything, I’m a proud Torontonian. But I will say that Vancouver is one of the only places prettier than Toronto in Canada. It’s really beautiful – your skyline with the mountains. I love Toronto but I love Vancouver. It’s really, really beautiful.