Yayyyy another interview with one of your favorite influencers… Emma Topp!!!!! I know this interview is pretty lengthy but I transcribed the entire conversation (all the responses are quotes from Emma) and I know you all will LOVE IT!!!!
In a lot of your old vlogs, your hometown and lifestyle seemed to give off that of a small town idealized community. Tell me about growing up in Virginia:
My dad used to be in the military so we would move around a little bit but this [Virginia] is the longest I've ever lived in one spot. I began middle school in Florida and I feel like everyone’s middle school experience is not that great. I first moved to Virginia in 6th grade into what feels like a very middle class neighborhood. The community was not super cut throat when it comes to college admissions but everyone is super cliquey… clones of one another. Everyone goes to the same schools and does the same things. Since I moved here in sixth grade, it was a definite culture shock because in Florida I was super carefree (maybe because I was a lot younger). Moving to Virginia, I definitely tried to fit in with the Lilly Pulitzer and Abrecrombie belt type southern culture. In the suburbs of Richmond there is a pressure to conform to the norm. My friend group has all known each other since kindergarten which is so alien to me and I pretty much know my whole town. I liked living there because it’s safe and comfortable, especially returning from college, but once you get stuck in terms of the towns operating and suburbs, you get sick of it. Give it a month and you’re like hmmm… I'm done.
On my blog I talk about meeting friends out of school. Were most of your friends in school and how did you form your friend group?
I’ve had my core same friend group at least in this area since 8th grade and it’s definitely fluctuated. That group came from a combination of class schedules, assigned seating at lunch, who was playing sports together, etc. I guess when I was in middle school everyone became friends via Google Plus... it's gone now but that was like our sh*t. Going to middle school and high school in the early 2000s, everyone was obsessed with Gossip Girl. Everyone thought they were Gossip Girl. There were these websites where everyone would spill the tea and it was vicious. I was brutally bullied. It was called Ask FM (similar to Yik Yak or Yolo where you can submit questions or comments anonymously). There was a twitter account featuring our middle school’s gossip girl and it would spotlight tea like so-and-so kissed so-and-so in the bathroom. No one held back. Anonymous death threats. People used to tell me honestly like to move back to Florida, we don’t want you here. Someone wrote to me ‘for Christmas I hope you get hit by a bus’. I remember walking into lunch with no one to sit with. That flattened out in high school once I found people I actually enjoyed. I’m not sure if it was the age or the environment but it was such an invasion of privacy and everyone was so mean... I’m not sure where it came from. Other kids from the other middle schools knew me as the kid who got bullied. It’s crazy because I went to college with 15 of my middle school bullies.
When and how in this journey did you start Youtube?
The bullying was a turning point for me and I started making videos. I had no friends and I was like: I don’t care, there’s nothing for me to lose anymore. I made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to tell anybody in my life that I have a YouTube channel until you hit a thousand subscribers because if it gets out I want to be taken seriously. It was definitely a private-me thing for 8 months. My family kind of knew about it and others would slowly find out eventually but I didn’t put it in my like Instagram bio or promote it. Once the channel got some notoriety, people began to apologize. It's interesting how once you get respected enough, people like to switch it up.
Every tween girl had dreams of being a vlogger. How did your account actually gain traction?
I grew up watching Macbarbie07 and StilaBabe09 and I started making my own videos in 7th grade. I gained subscribers steadily but it was very slow. I had done it for 6 - 9 months when I hit a thousand subscribers. I hit 10K after a year-and-a-half and I was trying to be as consistent as possible. I didn’t make money off of YouTube for the first 2 years but that was never the goal for me. At the time, AdSense didn't even exist so I had to partner with an additional mid party in order to get paid. The first video of mine that blew up (200k views which was like a million today) was an EOS lip balm diy video. That EOS lip balm trend was blowing up and I knew I had to capitalize on it so I pretty much copied another video but added my own twist. Also thrifting in high school - the thrifting my prom dress video (almost a million views which was crazy). The timing lined up because right when I was into posting about thrifting it became super trendy. The two overlapped and it was just working for me.
As you were pursuing Youtube as a teen, was it ever something you were embarrassed about?
There were those times at lunch or parties when guys would pull up my videos and be douchebags but it wasn't something I was really embarrassed about. I think honestly I had a lot more self-confidence in high school because I really didn't care about all that. I was still in the same bubble that had already bullied me so I thought, screw it, I know who I am, I know who my friends are, this doesn’t matter. I think honestly that I lost this in college because of the new environment. I’m the sort of person that (I don’t want to say keep my head down) but I don't want to cause problems or be noticed initially…I just try to blend in. I’ve noticed that in college when meeting new people, I’ve stifled my personality so I am easier to swallow. Coming to college, people immediately decide you’re a b**** before they even meet you… it’s really hard not to care when you have your name in other people’s mouths when you’re trying to walk in with a blank slate.
Can you talk about how you’ve seen youtube evolve and how you see it changing right now?
I think the viewer now has gained a lot more confidence which is great because it's a friendship relationship, but it also means that they feel the confidence to comment about anything in your life at all. It’s great because they have the freedom to have real conversations… I’ve had a lot more political conversations in my DMs recently and people are not afraid to say that they disagree with you. But in some ways, it means that some people think they are entitled to comment on any aspect of your life and take any part of your life out of context. Even though I think we should hold influencers to a certain standard (like I hold influencers I watch to a certain standard), I see so often now with cancel culture that unless you’re saying what you think everyone else wants to hear, you could definitely receive huge backlash. It’s so scary because we’ve sat here and seen huge influencers (Olivia Jade, David Dobrik, etc) have their careers halted for years if not minimum 6 months. All of a sudden all the brands pull out, all the sponsors pull out, all the money’s gone. I think it holds you accountable though because when an influencer or creator gets really big, sometimes they lose sight and get caught up in the money and the fame. It’s like when people go to LA and then if they realize that the only reason they’re there is because of the people who are watching them… it’s humbling that the viewers have the exact same power to take it all away. I think the dynamic has changed a lot. It’s scary but cool. It’s both.
Can you talk about your relationships/dating life in high school?
When I was In high school, I learned my pool of men was very small because of that Virgina suburban bubble. I only had 60+ boys that I could choose from and I always thought college would be my time. I’ll say that I hate first dates. They’re the worst. I probably went on 3 first dates in high school and it was not my thing. Growing up reading books, I’ve always imagined the best romantic relationships being something like best friends to lovers or enemies to lovers. I’d like to establish a relationship first before jumping into it, you know? I wasn’t very confident in my ability with guys growing up. I had this one kid that I still talk to now… we would kiss at parties. When it came down to actually having a relationship, he tried to deliver flowers to my house one time on Valentine's Day in high school and I was so mortified that I hugged him and told him to leave. I’m not sure if it’s the ick from other people or from myself but I’m just not a relationship girlie. I guess in middle school I did have 7 two week boyfriends. I dated around, I was crazy. I just never really thought I was ready for a relationship (I had Snapchat boys and whatever). I knew I needed to focus on getting into college and being academic. I worked on the weekends at a gym, did youtube during the week, and I was an athlete. I really had no time, it was not my agenda. I remember how fun having crushes are in high school though because there were no repercussions… changing your schedule or walking route to see your crush. Prom and homecoming were so pure and fun. When it came to college, I think it was a bit of a double-edged sword because I didn't have any experience in dating and relationships so I came into it blind (which is totally fine) but I had my first heartbreak in my freshman year of college. I came to college and I acclimated kind of rapidly. I'm someone who finds home in my friends. I found home in this one friend and we hit it off. We were thick as thieves. He had a girlfriend but I thought we were best friends… overtime we grew to be very codependent. I realized about two months in… what if like this kid and I totally freaked out. I was like what do I do?! I tried to distance myself but he would still seek me out wherever I would go. It was a very very messy situation and I would go to other parties or dates with people to see how he would react. I put his needs above my own because if he was happy I was happy. I think that was a really hard thing to go through because after he broke up with his girlfriend, I thought we were in the clear but found out he was talking to someone else. I had my Olivia Rodrigo moment. It's hard because it wasn't even just the heartbreak of having your first love completely stab you in the back but it was a loss of someone I thought was my best friend. A 2 in 1 whammy. I could have definitely learned something like this through a relationship in high school but it kind of had to happen in college. *Advice to anyone in high school: high school is supposed to be fun. Seriously. You're going to homecoming and prom. Like people, have crushes, and also have fun with other people too* I wish I could have experienced that earlier so I could have been more prepared for what happened in college. I also think that whatever happens happens for a reason so that had to happen for me at that time. I understand why influencers are private about their personal lives, especially on a smaller level with everyone at school knowing about what happened. Everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to talk about what happened. It was a difficult experience.
Were you a rebellious teen? What were your limits? Were your parents strict?
As the oldest kid in my family, I had to be the rule breaker first. I have two younger siblings and the younger one can pretty much do whatever she wants because I think us older two wore them out… she can do what she wants because she was the 3rd one to go through the gauntlet. Growing up I was pretty shy, a bookworm, and didn’t like to cause problems. I definitely stayed in a lot when I was in early high school but then combined with growing up, this environment, the culture here of starting to go out and going to parties, I started going out more. Since I was the first kid, I had to keep things super locked up and tight... I didn’t really tell my parents if I was drinking. I had to be on my guard 24/7 with my parents and I would definitely keep things from them. It’s so interesting now because I tell my mom so much. I started partying later than everyone else. A lot of people in my area are wealthy and their parents don't give a s***. I knew my own limits and I'm really glad that I explored those when I was in high school because going to college, I knew what I didn’t like, what I didn’t want to do, what I wasn’t interested in participating in, I was very clear with myself about where my limits end. I think it’s important to be self aware of what you want and not to succumb to peer pressure. Now, because I did get to explore more in highschool, I don’t really get FOMO. When I’m at home, I do not go out. College is different because that bubble is your social life, but I figured out a balance pretty early. Now that I’m older, I’m comfortable talking about things. I lost my virginity at 21 and I’m glad I set those boundaries with myself to wait. It makes me happy because I know who I am and not to make mistakes early with boundaries.
Thoughts on boy best friends: did you ever like one of yours and and how to know if a guy best friend likes you?
I have always had large friend groups where it’s a mix of guys and girls. I've personally been close with guys even growing up (like preschool) with guy best friends. There were many times with my high school friend group where I’d have a crush on a guy friend from the group for a couple weeks... I thought I was into them and then I kind of grew out of those because you realize your friendships are more valuable. I don’t remember anything happening particularly but you realize that with friendship that you’ve had for that long, it's not really worth messing up. It’s also a really fine line to draw (which I hadn’t really experienced until college) because two of my best friends are guys. They’re from home... there are never any feelings involved at all - we sleep in the same bed when traveling, we’ll go out drinking together. It’s never been a problem or issue because… I mean would I marry one of them one day? Maybe. It’s never been a thing where I've had to compromise the whole friendship because we know we're such good friends first that if something were to happen I know that it wouldn't be weird because of that strong foundation. Anyone who's like in that situation it's important you make sure your foundation with this guy is solid enough as friends that if something were to happen, it were to go poor, is it gonna be weird with the friend group? Is it gonna mess up who you hang out with? Are people gonna take sides? When friendships escalate, people's feelings get hurt and it becomes difficult because things you did as friends can be read into as things that are not so platnotic anymore. That's the line that I let people cross out a lot, like when I was a freshman with this one guy because I was like even though I’m in love with him, if he just wants to be friends, I’ll take that over nothing. At that point, I'd would have rather had him as a friend than nothing at all, you know. I was always so scared of escalating it because I feared totally losing him. That pretty much opened the gateway for him to just walk all over me, blur all the line, because god forbid I retaliate, it would make me the bad guy. It's a very hard line to draw. Everyone struggles with having a guy best friend thing. It’s like do you do it, do you not? Everyone has that problem, but I just think that make sure your friendship is strong enough first. If you were to go for it, you’d really have to think about it. Talk to your mom too. Mom are always right.
Signs a guy best friend likes you:
I feel like I’d be able to. If your best friends with this guy first, you know their manners, the way they text, what they’re up to, who they like. I have a very strong radar when I can tell. I've been also on the other side of that which sucks because when they're into you and you want to be friends it makes it weird… you're overanalyzing everything they're doing: is like that or is it like THAT. It makes you feel really weird. I had a guy best friend of mine this year kiss me… I was like no no no no. I didn’t want that. So I understand what it’s like to be on both sides of the line drawn. I just feel like if you're friends with them first, you’ll know. If one of my friends was into me now, I think I would definitely be able to tell. I’ve also had guys in the friend group that I’ve kissed before but it's not like it would change our friendship at all because we’ve been close for 10 years now. We have such a strong base that even if it was like that (which it’s not) it wouldn’t matter because we're all so solid in our friendships that if it went poorly we could move back to friends you know!
Semester At Sea: how did it happen and would you recommend it to someone else?
It’s really interesting so they sent me an email the July after my freshman year and they were like: we want to work with you. I thought it was a total scam because they're more of a West Coast puller (they don’t really pull from the east coast that much not at least in Virginia at all) so I researched it a little. I thought, omg is this even real?! It’s an absurd concept... I’d never heard of it. My parents thought I was getting a scam email and so I started talking to them. They had never taken an influencer or content creator on a full semester. I honestly was still reeling from my first heartbreak and I was really confused, trying to get my mind off it. I was feeling like I really did not want to go back into the bubble of college… so it was truly perfect timing. This came out of nowhere and was perfect. I pretty much dropped everything. I took a semester off from tech and unenrolled. I said to the school: it’s for work, drop my enrollment for this semester, I’m going! I didn’t know a single person, I had never heard of the program, I packed two bags, flew to Amsterdam, and I was off. While traveling with 300 kids from all over the world, my mind was focusing on so many things that I wasn’t even thinking about all the troubles from college. I had no Wi-Fi. I wasn't getting my Snapchat year ago todays. I had time to general, think about myself, meet new people, and have fun.
Recommend it to somewhat else...
Absolutely! It’s definitely not your traditional study abroad program and I don’t think it’s for everyone because it is so fast paced. If you’re going for a language, you don’t get a full immersion experience but definitely a taste of a lot of cultures and languages. I was always so busy and learning about myself. You would be surprised at how many types of people are willing to go live on a boat. I’ve never on a cruise so I can’t really compare it. We were served three meals a day, a room clerk who would clean the sheets, a pool with a pool bar. I was taking all my classes on the ship. A really cool part about which made it feel super home-y is that every teacher on the ship brings their family. It's a very homey feeling with kids on the boat and there's also a bunch of elderly people called lifelong learners that can come back and take classes. The parents and the kids are assigned to a bunch of kids to be their boat ‘families’ so you feel like you're being taken care of too. Very unique.
Where would you be found on a saturday night in high school:
Oh God. Probably William’s garage. He’s my best friend and his garage was the spot. We all probably had gone to a football game, absolutely had to go to Sonic after (there were no other moves like you had to go to Sonic), and we probably would have ended up at William’s house- either watching random movies in his playroom or sitting in his garage. My friend group is so weird... we talk about the most random things. More recently we’ve been into crossword puzzles so that’s fun.
Weird/favorite fashion trend during high school:
Vintage Tommy Hilfiger and mom jeans. I was huge on glasses too. All my outfits back then were crazy like fully thrifted. Also booties everyday in high school… full on ankle boots they were the best s***. Black ones with heels everyday. I don’t know how she did it… she was wearing heels to school everyday. Also Crocs and oversized Walmart shirts for game days (volleyball). Looking back, I wore a lot of questionable things.
Were/are you a procrastinator:
OMG YES! I’m a procrastinator with a violent fear of failure. I will put it off to the last minute and I was a huge overnighter person. I would paint overnight and AP homework too. I would try to not be a procrastinator with such a tight schedule because you had a certain time to do things or you didn't get them done. But with zoom and college… it’s bad.
Favorite song in high school:
When I was in high school, the Marina the Electra Heart album!!!! It was a 2012 album but that got me through. Also the Starboy album went so hard. It was ridiculous… my entire sophomore and junior year experience. So good! I love it!
Describe your first kiss in one or two words:
I can do it 3 words… Suck-And-Bow. It was actually the night before high school started. We tried to get all of our first kisses out of the way so we played suck and blow. It’s were you have to suck on a card and pass it around in a circle and keep the card on your lips… if it drops you have to kiss the person next to you. It was my friend group sitting in a circle thinking we were so crazy. I had my first kiss with one of my best friends Evan because the card dropped I was like oh i guess it's happening. I'm actually kissed two others that night because I was still playing. But it was at the night before high school started and I went to high school having had my first kiss. It was fun and nobody was stressed.
Dylan O'brien. Teen wolf was my shit. I was obsessed with him. He was the one… no so much anymore.
Biggest Youtube inspiration:
Had to be Amanda Steele. Growing up everyone said we looked alike. Her videos, I watched RELIGIOUSLY. There wasn’t as much freedom about what you could make with youtube content because it was structured. The culture of it was insane. Such an era. It’s over now but definitely an era.
We got this,