From the Small Screen to Adulthood

Words and Photos: Tomás Monteiro

14 years ago, I wrote a paper for school about YouTube as an online platform. Back then, we didn’t call it a “platform” but rather a “website” because it had no bigger purpose than entertaining us and letting us watch music videos. Since the early 2010s, YouTube has become a platform where creators (formerly known as “users”) showcase and promote their talents or just talk about any subject. It has given us access to a wider world and made us feel more global than we ever thought. Such names as Shane Dawson, Fred, iJustine, Cimorelli, Rin On The Rox, What The Buck and many others made me rush to my computer as soon as they uploaded a new video.

However, a few years later, Portugal started to have its own first wave of creators on YouTube. Doing it “just for fun”, as most of them tell us, started off with no purpose but to use it as an outlet for creative urges. We sat down with four of these people who took YouTube as their canvas and filmed themselves as they grew through their teenage years. They are all grown up now, and face-to-face with greater opportunities than they could have ever imagined. Thanks to YouTube, we are meeting Angie Costa, Fábio Lopes, Miguel Luz and Sofia Barbosa.

I first met Sofia back in 2014 at Portugal Fashion. My client told me I had to take a picture of “this important beauty guru”, but when I got outside to do it, I lensed this sweet 14-year old-girl who failed my subconscious expectation to be older than she actually was. Back then, she was one of the very few Portuguese people to reach the ten thousand subscribers milestone and, clearly, she was looked up to by many teens and young adults. She was already two years into making YouTube videos with the help of her older sisters who, to this day, still work with her. Of course, back then it wasn’t work per se, nor was it remotely similar to what most people do on the platform these days.

So for Sofia, it was a bit hard to explain to her parents why she wanted to go online and talk to people she didn’t know personally. She recalls being a loner at school, only having two real close friends who, if they skipped classes, would leave her to her headphones the entire day. Going online made her feel like she belonged somewhere else, somewhere she couldn’t physically be at that time. She found company and made other people feel accompanied by going on YouTube. And, later on, she would meet other people who actually vibed with her energy and ideas.

A few years after, in 2019, I was living in London and Fábio Lopes (also known as Conguito) and Miguel Luz were in town to see Childish Gambino performing live. We went to a pub near Shoreditch, and that was not only the first time Fábio and I actually had a longer conversation but also the first time I met Miguel.

Back then, Fábio was really focused on creating his own music magazine (JAMM) and, as he recalls, he was still looking at the world a bit naively — quite differently from now, since the pandemic took us by surprise. That afternoon, he was the “moderator” of the conversation — a skill that he later refined through years of TV and radio hosting — with such ease that it couldn’t go unnoticed by me.

This way of communicating and showing interest in his surroundings (especially if they are music-related) seem to me to be the two traits that have helped him come this far. But 10 years ago, when he made his first YouTube channel, not even imagining where it would lead him, he was feeling really frustrated with his secondary school experience. Somehow he felt dislocated from the rest of his classmates who felt fulfilled within the traditional educational system. He then started recording videos with his sister’s camera to share his take on these subjects and, class by class, year by year, his videos started to become gradually more famous in many schools. Looking back now, he was documenting his teenage years on a first-person basis, which was only possible on a platform like YouTube.

As for Miguel, he was already studying at the Fine Arts College of Lisbon, where he developed his interest in photography (pun intended). He was also touring his debut album, editing a documentary about a trip he had made with his friends and on the verge of starting his podcast — which he still hosts to this day. As a true renaissance teenager, one might say, he was already done with filming videos specifically for YouTube but he was using the platform he had built over the years to showcase his many interests.

His first videos were uploaded way back in 2008, inspired by what the characters in iCarly did. Recorded by his uncle, with no post-production and with sound effects from a Nintendo DS, his videos were showing a youngster doing random cool stuff. After quite a few videos, he filmed a One Direction parody which now has 1.3 million views and, as he says, was a turning point in terms of views on his channel.

If we keep in mind how early in their lives all three of these people went on YouTube, we might consider Angie Costa a late bloomer. It wasn’t up until her senior year that she started making videos. Like Sofia, she had a wingman by her side who not only encouraged her to do this but also lent her gear and helped her with the whole recording process. Paulo Sousa, her best friend and musician, invited her to star in a music video for one of his songs. He — as the rest of the world would notice later on — saw how natural it was for Angie to be in front of a camera and how her natural charisma would shine.

It didn’t take much time for her to be considered by Forbes as the most influential female YouTuber in Portugal, after just a few years of filming mostly vlogs. It was more or less at that time that we first met and got to talking. Angie was a contestant on Dancing With The Stars and was about to embrace new opportunities in television, but as Covid put us all under lockdown, all those good things were postponed.

When we analyse the path of these four people (and many more), we can clearly state that YouTube became a pivotal window for youth worldwide, as well as in Portugal. Back when we first noticed Portuguese YouTubers making waves, we were all reluctant to embrace them. We were an untrained audience, uncapable of seeing in the videos — which we found silly at first — their creators’ talent, which was made perfectly clear late on. They were bubbly kids being nothing less than who they were, with flaws most of us would probably try to hide. That right there became one of the most important pillars of this change — their truth. As we were untrained to recognise their talent, they were untrained to be something other than themselves. And others like them — the audience they built — connected to their natural way of being and communicating. The power of validation. As of today, we speak about representativity more than ever. We want people to feel seen and be heard and, for that, YouTube made its contribution to that change. These people started independently, but over the years they made their way into the mainstream. As Fábio told me, the people at WTF — a youth-oriented segment of NOS Communications — were the first ones to see the potential of bringing some of these creators to the forefront of their advertisement strategy. They chose them regardless of their sexual orientation, ethnicity or skin colour. They were just doing something new and fresh, and that was enough for them to be selected for this purpose. He also recalls MegaHits radio being the first radio station to introduce these new people to the mainstream. Their potential gradually became apparent and, eventually, one of them was called up to host their morning segment: Fábio himself. At that time, he was still alongside two other hosts who followed what we still call a “traditional path”. Nonetheless, they all felt equal to the audience and blended so well that it validated seeing a talented person from an online platform taking this spot. And then he was just one invitation away from becoming a digital reporter on The Voice Portugal.

Throughout these past years, it’s almost undeniable that YouTube has also become a steady source of income for many creators; or, as Sofia wouldn’t call them, influencers. For her, this term is a bit shallow, as everyone influences people, regardless of their digital numbers. It has become a business and no one can deny it. But out of this list of four, she is the only one who still makes videos for YouTube regularly. She grew from SofiaBBeauty (her former handle) to Sofia Barbosa, from makeup tutorials to vlogs, from teenage matters to young adult reflections. Once again, the simple brilliance of her longevity on this platform comes from how true she is to this day. She (and her sister) somehow managed to create this space where now she’s comfortable enough to work only with brands she identifies with and create content that reflects who she is at the time. Apart from YouTube, she also found that safe space in podcasts, and she has recently launched her own called “Na Lua”. Also hosting what is currently one of the most successful podcasts of Portugal, Miguel Luz is a creator who started on YouTube but over the years became acquainted with many forms of expression. If you take a look at his website, you can see how he manages his creative urges through different media. For him, YouTube became a safety net that allows him to explore his ideas and, more recently, to post video versions of his podcast “Janela Aberta”, which led him to do sold out live shows in some of the biggest venues in Portugal.

One of the main goals of most creators who start on YouTube is to take a leap into television or something related, and that was the case with Angie Costa who, after taking us by surprise with her natural charisma on Dancing With The Stars (cancelled due to Covid), was invited to join the cast of a soap opera. Even though this invitation caused an uproar because she was “from YouTube” and didn’t have any known prior acting experience, she is living proof that you can’t just reduce a person to her online numbers. Without a doubt, she is followed by a lot of people, but she has that unique quality that connects her to people and has also made the character she portrays so likeable and so important to the plot.

They all started off alone, making their way along unknown paths, and now they are not only references but they also have renowned professionals helping them get to new places. Because of people like this, the industry changed and started to learn new ways of communicating that also apply to other professions such as acting and music. Despite being on YouTube, these four people made it clear that they have always drawn a strict line between their private life and what they tell their audience. They do share bits from their daily life, but they never put anyone close to them in a difficult place. For instance, Angie dated another YouTuber called Windoh, with whom she made some videos, and she recalls how they both helped each other perfect their craft without ever sharing too much intimate information. She also chose to become a mother with her current partner, and she also draws a natural line between what she feels is right to share about her son and what not to share.

From a very young age, they became entrepreneurs and creatives. They recorded and edited their videos, dealt with brand deals and took care of their audience. They helped shape a new profession based on multiple skills, which they learned through their own curiosity and restlessness. Their audience grew up along with them. And, at the end of the day, they were just having (serious) fun.

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