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An interview with Asian American beauty YouTuber Amy Lee

Jul. 17, 2018
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Amy Lee is the driving force behind Vagabond Youth, a YouTube channel dedicated to creating fashion, beauty, and lifestyle content. At 24, Lee has amassed over 310,000 subscribers and 130,000 Instagram followers—all of whom are drawn to her refreshingly unique style and personality.

Her Instagram bio says that she “creates online video for the sartorially curious”—but Lee’s impressive endeavors have expanded far beyond video and the sartorial. In addition to clothing hauls and outfit-of-the-week lookbooks, Lee offers her viewers a more intimate glimpse into her life with travel vlogs and her popular podcast, The AM with Amy.

A born-and-bred California girl and UCLA graduate, Amy Lee currently resides in Downtown LA, where she continues to create weekly content.

I caught up with her to discuss everything from her Korean-American identity to her way of remaining authentic in a digital era.

Lithium Magazine: Your YouTube videos have collectively garnered over 21 million views, and you've got an impressive Instagram fanbase—all this at the age of 24! How does it feel to be so successful at a young age? Were there difficulties you encountered to get where you are now, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Amy Lee: Well, thank you! That's so sweet. I think the biggest difficulty is constantly reinventing yourself or learning how to stay relevant. I've been on YouTube for about six years and the space is changing so quickly, and I'm not always sure it's for the better. It always gets harder to stay relevant with the advent of viral clickbait videos and how the algorithm just favors that type of content now. I think the best way I overcome these types of struggles is to know where my principles are, but to also give in to the wave of trends. It's about making content that is authentic, but still engaging and fun. 

Lithium: Your YouTube presence has grown so much from when you first started six years ago. Looking back through the years, what's something you wish you could have told the younger you who was just starting out—advice, warnings, reassurance, general tips?

Amy: I think the biggest thing is to stop following convention. I went to school at UCLA and did YouTube all the while, but the entire time my eyes were so set on working a corporate job and doing something with my degree. I really neglected YouTube during my second and third year, because I never thought I wanted to become a YouTuber. But through my conventional internships and by participating in a lot of campus clubs and activities, I realized my senior year that YouTube was my dream job! I feel like I wasted a lot of my college years putting it on the back-burner. I would just tell myself to stay consistent and to stray a little from the norm.

Lithium: I'm Asian-American as well, and I really love your content where you speak about your experiences as a woman of color—your hooded monolid tutorial and “Growing Up Asian-American” videos, for instance. It's really awesome to see someone embrace their identity. Do you have any words of advice for other young Asian-Am women dealing with some of the issues you touched on in your "Growing Up" video—meeting people in the dating scene who've got yellow fever, struggling under model minority pressure, etc.?

Amy: Thank you so much! That really means a lot. I think my biggest piece of advice is: if you don't have any role models, be your own. I think growing up, I always had a lot of stereotypical "role models" like Hilary Duff or Britney Spears. But now I'm at an age where I find myself not having any role models in traditional media OR on the digital landscape. For the longest time, even as a creator, I was just trying to fit myself into the boxes that were already made for me (fashion YouTuber, Asian YouTuber, etc.), copying a lot of other people’s content, even. I really struggled with finding creators and TRYING to be like creators who were vocal about social justice issues, Asian-American visibility, body positivity—the topics that really mattered to me. So one day, I was just like, "eff it. YOU be that creator then." I really look up to black creatives Donald Glover and Issa Rae for paving the way for a niche community and creating their own boxes. I aim to be like that, but for my community. Just be your own role model. Be what you see is lacking in the world.

Lithium: I admire how real you are in all your videos. For example, you've talked about your experiences with online dating, birth control implants, and overcoming failure. It can be difficult with social media to remain honest and almost vulnerable with your audience, especially sites like Instagram emphasize only showing the best parts of your life. Do you ever feel pressure to maintain a curated image? How do you balance that with staying honest and real? 

Amy: Personally, the only curated image I find a little hard to maintain is my fashion persona. It's super serious, edgy, and not that much goof—but anyone who knows me knows I'm a 1,000% goofball. That's the only image I find a bit hard to maintain, only because I have so many hilarious outtakes of me being incredibly goofy. Other than that, I think the content I put out is very much so in alignment with me and off-camera me. I'm just as, if not more, honest in real life with those very same topics.

Lithium: You're very versatile, creating content from makeup tutorials, outfit lookbooks, and morning routine videos to podcasts and personal vlogs. Out of all the content that you've created, what have been your favorite videos to make?

Amy: I'm such a clothing lover—I think lookbooks will always be my favorite videos to make. Clothes [are] definitely how I choose to express myself the most, so I find the most joy in sharing that content! The AM with Amy is also another series of mine I love to make, because it comes from the soul.

Lithium: I love keeping up with your travels on Instagram! What have been your favorite spots you've been to this year?

Amy: Definitely Vietnam and Thailand! Those have been [the] top two on my travel list since I was young. I want to go back to both!

Lithium: What's been on your radar lately? Music, books, makeup products, clothes?

Amy: [I’ve] been loving Clairo (“4EVER,” “Flaming Hot Cheetos”). [For books, I’ve] been trying to get into Malcolm Gladwell! And clothes: IAMGIA for sure.

Lithium: What are you looking forward to right now? What are your latest projects that you're excited about? 

Amy: I just moved to Downtown Los Angeles, so I'm just really excited for the change of pace and all the new content I'm now inspired to make!

We’re so excited, too! You can follow what Amy’s up to on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter