Who Is Lilly Singh?
Lilly Singh has turned her lifelong love of performing into YouTube alchemy. She is known for her kooky, energetic mix of comedy sketches — which regularly feature Punjabi parents (both played by her), raps and skits that gently riff on ethnic and gender stereotypes — as well as her observational/motivational monologues and behind-the-scenes vlogs. All have helped her become a huge hit on the video-sharing platform. Her main channel, IISuperwomanII — a moniker she often adopts online — has had more than 2 billion views and has more than 12 million subscribers; her second channel, SuperwomanVlogs has more than 2.2 million subscribers.
From Traditional Sikh Upbringing to YouTube Sensation
Lilly Saini Singh was born on September 26, 1988, and raised in Scarborough, Toronto. She and her older sister, Tina — also now a YouTuber — were given a traditional Sikh upbringing by their parents, Malwinder and Sukhwinder, who had emigrated to Canada from the Punjab. Growing up, Lilly was an extrovert, who “used to be that annoying kid at parties who would be at the center of a circle to get everyone’s attention,” she revealed in a 2016 interview with AOL. Growing up, she wanted to be a Power Ranger or a rapper, but her parents steered her towards a psychology degree at Toronto’s York University, with a view to becoming a counselor.
'IISuperwomanII' vs. Depression
Singh began posting YouTube videos in 2010, while still a student, as a way of battling depression caused in part by her lack of enthusiasm for a conventional career.
“I was coming out of a really difficult time period and I wanted a way to cheer myself up and also cheer other people up,” she said in an interview with Buzzfeed. “And from a business point of view, when I discovered YouTube, I saw that there were no South Asian females doing it, so I thought it was a great opportunity,” Making other people laugh became her therapy.
Her first video received just 70 views. Success has been gradual. “Every video and every tweet has counted,” she told Marie Claire magazine. “My climb was slow. I took the stairs, not the escalator.”
Being a YouTuber has afforded Singh total control over her output. She brainstorms, scripts, stars in, shoots and edits all her comedy videos herself. As her comic sketches grew in ambition, Singh began to play multiple characters in full make-up and costume. Among her most popular videos are “How Girls Get Ready”, “Shit Punjabi Mothers Say” and “The Difference Between Brown and White Girls.”
After she graduated from York University, Singh’s parents wanted her to study for a masters’ degree — but she persuaded them to let her put her studies on hold for a year to see if she could make a living from YouTube. “So for that year, I just really, really hustled,” Singh told AOL. She made as many videos as possible — and has never looked back; by 2013 she had built a solid fanbase, predominantly teenage girls of South Asian descent living in western countries such as the U.S., Canada and the U.K. By 2014, she was collaborating with other prolific YouTubers, such as FouseyTube and Connor Franta. The following year, she moved to L.A., where she now lives, to further her career.
In interviews, she stresses that her success has come at a cost. “When I was younger, I had this fairy tale that you can have eight ours of sleep and be a healthy, balanced, person and still achieve your goals,” she told Vogue. “That hasn’t always been the case. On an average day, I will spend 90% of my waking moments working on Superwoman. I’m a huge workaholic. My hobby is Superwoman.”
Forbes made Singh the 10th best-paid YouTube star of 2017, putting her annual earnings at $10.5 million — a significant part of her income now comes from brand partnerships with the likes of Coca Cola, Pantene and Calvin Klein. Singh often now collaborates on sketches with celebrities such as Seth Rogan, James Franco, Chelsea Handler, Nick Jonas and Dwayne Johnson.
'How to Be a Bawse: a Guide to Conquering Life'
In 2015, Singh transformed her YouTube content into a stage act — a mix of singing, rapping, dancing, comedy and motivational speeches, aimed at a teen and pre-teen audience — and embarked on a 31-date world tour, which took her to countries including India, Australia, Dubai, Singapore, the U.K. and U.S. She released her first feature film, A Trip to Unicorn Island — a behind-the-scenes documentary of the tour — on the subscription only YouTube Red channel the following year. Also in 2016, she appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Today Show. Her first book, How to Be a Bawse: a Guide to Conquering Life, published in March 2017, became a New York Times bestseller. “Baswe” is “like a boss, but so epic I had to change the spelling,” she told Marie Claire magazine. “It’s someone who exudes confidence, turns heads, gets hurt efficiently, communicates effectively and hustles relentlessly.”
Singh has also made inroads into Hollywood , voicing the unicorns Misty and Bubbles in Ice Age: Collision Course; making a cameo appearance in Bad Moms alongside Mila Kunis and Jada Pinkett Smith; she has also been cast as Raven, a tabloid blogger, in HBO’s forthcoming adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.
Lilly Singh ranked No. 1 in the entertainment category of Forbes magazine’s Top Influencers List for 2017. In July that year, she was appointed UNICEF’s Global Goodwill Ambassador. Her #GirlLove social-media initiative aims to end girl-on-girl hate, and has been backed by Michelle Obama.
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