The art of the YouTube apology video: How Laura Lee did it all wrong

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When an actor messes up, they typically have a team of managers, agents, and crisis managers to back them up with handcrafted personal statements apologizing for their actions. 

When a beauty guru messes up, they set up their tripods, get the tears going, and hit record. 

Much like break up videos, apology videos are almost a rite of passage for YouTubers. Since their content is so personal, their apologies have to be, too. As content creators’ offensive internet histories get exposed, apology videos are becoming more and more common. There’s almost a formula to them: You sob, you apologize for whatever you did wrong, you sob some more, beg for forgiveness from your fans, and then wrap it up with a teary thank-you. 

The most recent example of this tearsfest is Laura Lee, a beauty vlogger who was once just shy of 5 million subscribers, but lost 200,000 once she was exposed for racist tweets this month. A video she posted, simply titled “My Apology,” went viral for all the wrong reasons. 

Content creator Keem mocked Lee in a video that broke down the types of apology videos that YouTubers make, from gamers apologizing for a racist comment to vloggers apologizing for filming a dead body

In 2012 Lee tweeted, “tip for all black people if you pull ur pants up you can run from the police faster.” 

When fans of another rival beauty guru dug up the vile tweet, Lee went silent. She deactivated her Twitter account, deleted her old tweets, and then came back to Twitter with a lengthy Notes app apology. In the statement, she blamed the fact that she grew up as a “small town girl from Alabama” who lacked the “cultural education” that she has now. 

Five days later, she followed up with this apology video. 

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry to you guys,” she whimpers, frequently stopping mid-sentence to sob into her hands. “It hurts me so bad to disappoint you all who have supported me for many years. I know that I’m better than that person.” 

The four-minute video was dragged for being (for lack of a better word) total bullshit. One commenter called it “so funny to watch bc it’s so forced.” Another joked that it was “proof that youtubers shouldn’t be actors.”

Someone wrote fake captions over her video, and people turned her into a meme on Twitter. It even inspired parodies. 

Laura Lee is part of a group of beauty gurus who all apologized for their problematic pasts, but hers is the one getting criticized the most. 

But is there a “right” way to apologize? Crisis manager Eden Gillott Bowe says there may not be a one size fits all way to say “I’m sorry,” but there is a basic formula that best gets the point across. Like Olivia Pope in Scandal, Gillott Bowe fixes messy situations. 

“If you know you’ve done something wrong, you don’t want to hide it because the truth always finds a way of coming out,” Gillott Bowe said over the phone. “So you just want to deal with it quickly.” 

Compare Lee’s apology to that of another member of the beauty guru clique that broke apart over this past week, Gabriel Zamora. 

In contrast to Lee’s tears, Zamora opens the video by explaining that the version he’s posting is the third version he’s recorded because he was more levelheaded than in the first two. 

“I’m like, you know what? This isn’t just about my emotions,” he admits in the video.

Gillott Bowe recommends staying as calm as possible, like Zamora, while doing damage control. 

“Try not to be too reactionary and just take a moment to think about how it’s going to be perceived,” she said. “If I jump out and say this, how might it be taken the wrong way?”

With that in mind, here’s the backstory on all the beauty guru drama.  

Fellow vlogger and Lee and Zomara’s former friend Jeffree Star — who has his own history of being horrifically racist and according to the Washington Post, once joked about “throwing battery acid on a black girl’s face to lighten her skin so that her foundation matches” — was the subject of a Shane Dawson documentary series on YouTube that examined Star’s life and reputation.

The last installation of the five part series discusses the public feud Star had with his ex-friend group. Star says that “people still don’t really know what went on” that broke down the group, and that “there’s so many versions of things that never happened out there.”

In response, Zamora posted a photo of himself, Laura Lee, Manny MUA, and Nikita Dragun captioned “Bitch is bitter because without him we’re doing better,” referring to Star. Zamora topped it off in a now-deleted tweet that said, “Imagine stanning a racist? I could never.”

That kicked off a stan-led scrape through the four YouTubers’ Twitter histories, which unearthed hateful tweets from years ago. Manny MUA, Laura Lee, and Gabriel Zamora all made separate videos apologizing for their actions; Nikita Dragun addressed it on Twitter

But why does Star get a pass on his past actions, while Lee’s getting dropped from all of her brand partnerships? Fans agreed that their apology videos made all the difference. 

They felt the same way about Zamora’s apology video. Stans thought that compared to Lee’s apology, it was significantly more genuine because he walked through how he would improve. Commenters lauded Zamora’s apology as “a great example” and “like sitting with a friend.” 

Makeup fans haven’t forgiven Star entirely, though. Some wish he’d face the same consequences as Lee. 

Gillott Bowe recommends that when crafting an apology, whether to a friend in private or to an entire fanbase through a public statement, you don’t want to keep repeating “I’m sorry.” 

“You want to be sincere,” she said. “You don’t want to dwell on it. Once you say you’re sorry you don’t want to belabor it.” 

In Zamora’s video, he said, “I don’t want to give excuses … it was ignorant, it was stupid.” Instead of jumping to begging his subscribers not to call him racist, he asked them to take time to process his apology. He also linked two videos about the history of the N word and a lecture from author Ta-Nehisi Coates about “words that don’t belong to everyone.” 

Then, in typical YouTuber fashion, he moved on and exposed Lee and Manny MUA for throwing him under the bus and refusing to take accountability when their tweets were exposed.

Although that’s exactly the kind of drama YouTube subscribers want to hear, Gillott Bowe probably wouldn’t go for that cutthroat, spilling the tea approach. She’d rather her clients wrap up an apology by looking forward. 

“You talk about the future,” she said. “The things you want to change to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and then you stay positive.” 

So for future YouTubers who need to make an apology — whether it’s Tana Mongeau apologizing for calling her black friend a racial slur or Jenna Marbles apologizing for being an unprepared fish owner — here’s the formula that Gillott Bowe endorses. 

1. Open with something positive.

Gillott Bowe recommends “easing into it” by thanking people for their support.

2. Say you’re sorry and don’t drag it on.

“Focus right on the apology,” she said. Don’t try to skirt responsibility or avoid taking accountability. It’s better for all parties if you just own up to what you did wrong. 

3. End on a good note.

Gillott Bowe calls this a “compliment sandwich.” You want to close the apology with something “nice and hopeful,” like outlining the steps you’ll take to improve.

4. Don’t do it again.

She brings up a quote often misattributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“People have a tremendous capacity to forgive,” Gillott Bowe explains, “But you don’t want to keep apologizing if you’re going to end up doing shitty things again anyway.” 

Navigating the public sphere after a major scandal will probably be rocky for a while, but Gillott Bowe is sure that if an apology is genuine, the person at fault will be OK. 

“There are the kinds of people who are going to hate you no matter what you do,” she said. “But if the people in the middle could be swayed either way, those are the people you’re gearing toward.”

Or, you know, you could also just try not to be racist. 

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