By Michael Varrati
In considering the work of Meghan Camarena, a bevy of apt descriptions come to mind.
Many of her peers will tell you she’s a game changer. An inspiration. A force of nature.
But, perhaps most importantly, to hundreds of thousands subscribers, Camarena is Strawburry17.
A creative dynamo who has evolved her channel from a popular vlog/music video platform to a veritable network of original programming, Camarena has continuously displayed a creative savvy unrivaled by others in her field. Her sharp eye on changing trends and consistent drive to push boundaries has led to an innovative approach to channel construction. And with the recent relaunch (her second, the first was also covered by VideoInk here) of her brand to include new concepts and talent, Camarena is demonstrating that she has her eyes on a prize far greater than the creature comforts of YouTube.
In celebration of her channel’s latest incarnation, Camarena and the team from Strawburry17 hosted a premiere party event at Los Angeles’ historic Silent Movie Theater. A screening of the first week of new programming, the event served as a means to show off their hard work, as well as an opportunity to give back to fans.
“We chose to have two showings,” says Camarena. “One that was mainly focused on the fans, thanking them for everything, and one that was for us and the people in our lives, to show off everything we’ve been working on. I’ve been socially unavailable for the past five months, and this gave me a chance to say, ‘This is what I’ve been doing, I just haven’t been ignoring phone calls!’”
The fan screening, which featured interactive elements and improv featuring Strawburry17 hosts and Camerena’s brother David (aka DayViideo, of Gossip Boy fame), was a testament to the bond Camarena has developed with her audience, and the communal nature of YouTube. However, due to the newly instituted changes to the channel, Camarena tells me that fans who may have become too comfortable with her previous model may be feeling a little less celebratory than the vibe in the theater the night of the premiere.
“The response has been interesting. It’s not what I was expecting, I have put so much of myself into this relaunch, that I was taken aback a bit by how the audience reacted to the new content,” she says. “It’s been a little disheartening… My viewers feel very entitled to tell me what they think I should be doing and how they think I should be fixing things. I’m open to constructive criticism, but it’s a little bit too much.”
“We’re one of the first to be doing this, and it’s not something they’ve probably seen before,” she continues. “So that’s huge, and they’re probably not going to respond well, because it’s never been done. But, it’s something we’re going to stand very firm on, because I don’t want to be a people-pleasing YouTuber. I want to do things that I’m proud of… If I have to work to gain a new audience, that’s fine with me…”
But that’s not to say that the response has been entirely disheartening. “We also do know there are a lot of people who appreciate the new shift,” says Camarena. “The truth is, anyone can comment on a video saying it’s a waste of time, but we’re gaining the audience with the savvy who knows and appreciates what we’re doing…and we’re ready for them. We don’t want to stay where we were.”
As Camarena began shifting her channel into a well-curated block of programming, she knew it would initially be met with resistance. But, with an admirable clarity of vision, she asserts that it was a resistance for which she was prepared. Indeed, the young superstar tells me that it’s this initial phase of rejection from some of the old guard that will allow the new model to emerge strong and proud.
“YouTube is interesting,” she says. “In television, you get what you get, and it’s what you watch. If things do well, you get more of it, if not, you don’t. With YouTube, the audience is more organic. Some of them have been there since the beginning. They don’t want to see it turn into a big commercial or like TV. They don’t want to see it turn into a place where we no longer listen to their opinion. I think some of my viewers don’t realize I’m making the changes to my channel because of them. I’m dreaming really big, and wanting to do things on a bigger scale. If you look at my videos, this has always been the goal. I just had to work hard and educate myself to get it.”
For Camarena, as with most artists with staying power, it’s this commitment to evolution that makes her brand ever stronger. Part of the YouTube scene since 2007, Camarena had early success with music videos, only to see the audience dwindle with the introduction of Vevo. She says this brief loss had big impact on how she chose to move ahead in creating the art she always desired. It was an important lesson about not chasing trends, but rather about being true to who you are and want to be.
“I know this isn’t permanent, what I’m doing right now,” Camarena says. “I’m glad to have the opportunity. I’ve been there before, my YouTube audience was great, and it went away. So I have to make the most of the second time I have. I wanted to share it with other people. Being a YouTuber now is so much harder. It’s almost impossible to gain exposure, even if your videos are amazing, unless you’ve been around and you know the right people…your videos aren’t going to be seen. I want to be able to share my platform with people who have good ideas, but maybe don’t have the access to the audience that I have. We’re like a family. We invest in people and the future of what they want to do. It’s really cool, and I feel like that’s what YouTube was back when I got started. It was a community. We’re seeing that with collaborations now, but it was more so back then…something that was very real. I wanted to create that on my own channel and give people the opportunity to share their own ideas. That’s where that came from.”
From launch to relaunch to relaunch, Strawburry17 is always evolving, her team is ever growing, and Camarena is always looking ahead. That’s why, in closing, when I ask her if she has any plans for what’s next, I was hardly surprised that, even after such a big change in brand, the dynamo is already looking ahead to what’s bigger.
“I would love to shift into acting and bigger productions,” she says. “I would love to get into making more film content. In addition to posting new show ideas, we want to stockpile as much as we can, and then dive into pre-production, whether it be web series or whatever. I have a web series I’d like to finish next year. And a movie! The future will be big productions, more videos like you see now, possibly new hosts…I want to just keep expanding the Strawburry17 empire. We want to do what we love ourselves, and give it to other people, who hopefully find what they love, too.”