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Bretman Rock: Confessions of a YouTube Drama King

The 20-year-old social media star has plans to change the world. Just don't ask him what he's doing later.

When it comes to the Internet, theatrics thrive, and few oscillate between drag makeup tutorials and setting one’s house on fire as seamlessly as Bretman Rock.

Rock, 20, is a Filipino makeup artist-slash-personality who rose to Internet stardom by creating videos that merge his love for makeup with his flair for drama. Based in Hawaii, the YouTube star posts on his various social platforms daily, counting 4.8 million YouTube subscribers, 11.3 million Instagram followers and 2.61 million Twitter followers.

His varied — and often viral — content has so far landed him beauty collaborations with Morphe and ColourPop, a red carpet hosting gig for the 2017 Miss Universe pageant and, most recently, a partnership with Nike. He also recently appeared in videos alongside Shay Mitchell and Chelsea Handler. But, if you ask Rock, none of this was ever really planned.

“I like to wake up and not know what I’m doing,” Rock said via phone recently. “I wake up when the time is double digits — 10, 11, 12 — and I make myself a cup of coffee and think about what I’m gonna do that day. Either I’m gonna set my house on fire or I’m gonna take pictures. I’m random.”

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He kids, but last month, he did set his house, which he bought himself earlier that year, on fire. In an Instagram video from Dec. 1, Rock can be seen setting the floor of his house ablaze and mounting a stripper pole to the tune of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.” The video, which he called “a science experiment,” has nearly 20 million views and has been reshared countless times by celebrities and fans alike.

Concepts like this have earned Rock a wide audience, but it’s his personality — unfiltered, unapologetic and, depending on which video you watch, a bit reckless — that shines most. He is, as brands would say, authentic, and his followers respond well to his creations. According to ColourPop, Rock’s collection was one of the brand’s top three collaborations of 2018. ColourPop saw a “significant increase” in followers on Instagram during the launch period and on launch day, 48 percent of traffic was attributed to new users.

“I wanted to pay homage to my Filipino culture,” Rock said of the collaboration. “It was inspired by the Filipino flag, the red and the blue. I fell in love with pageantry and watching my grandma get ready. I wanted to pay homage to [that].”

Bretman Rock: Confessions of a YouTube Drama King
Bretman Rock in the campaign for his ColourPop collection. Courtesy Image

His Filipino pride is a major part of his channel, and it likely doubles as a selling point for brands. In a post-Fenty Beauty world, companies are more concerned than ever about being viewed as inclusive and diverse. Working with creators of color is one way to do so.

As an openly gay man who wears makeup and dresses in drag online, Rock is regularly subject to Internet hate. He does, though, see the stigma surrounding men in makeup lifting, particularly with YouTube’s younger audiences.

“When I first started with social media, there were a couple of us that were men in makeup,” Rock said. “I didn’t have anyone that I looked up to at a young age. Now, it’s so accessible. You just go online and see all these amazing men in makeup. We share the same passion, but we all have different goals and we come from different places. We have different stories.”

YouTube’s beauty community often resembles a reality TV show, ridden with feuds and exposés. Rock is one of the few YouTubers who has managed to stay relatively out of the controversy — no small feat for someone with such a big personality.

“I am part of the beauty industry, but at the same time, I’m not really in it like that,” he said. “No one in the beauty industry is doing what I does. I already go through a lot of drama with myself and I hate people and that’s why I don’t stay [in L.A.]. The mainland is so fake and I’m already fake and you can’t be fake twice. You can only be faker.”

Bretman Rock
Bretman Rock Elena De Santiago/WWD

Members of Rock’s family often appear in his profanity-laden videos. Previous clips feature his mother cooking Filipino adobo as Rock dances and watches, joint “getting ready with me”-style tutorials with his sister and clips of him eating food with his two-year-old niece, Cleo, who has 690,000 Instagram followers. Rock’s often contentious relationship with his sister, Mae, tends to be a point of criticism among viewers, but he chucks it up to having a different upbringing.

“Our dynamic is different from other siblings,” said Rock of his sister. “We’re always fighting but we know that we love each other and we get along. People don’t see that. If my sister didn’t want to be in my videos, she would’ve told me.”

He never banked on becoming a social media star — he used to think he “was gonna just be a witch,” which is still a possibility given his recent Millennial-approved crystal obsession — but the bulk of Rock’s business still comes from YouTube and Instagram.

Asked for his ideal career path, Rock said he plans on continuing to wear many hats — or wigs, rather.

“To be honest with you, I just don’t want to be broke,” he said. “When I think too much about it, it gives me anxiety. I started all this with no intention of anything but making videos. I didn’t start making videos because I wanted to become a radio host or whatever. I’m taking it day by day and I’m letting my dreams come to me. But I am gonna change the world. That’s all I know.”