Lilly Singh is a total Bawse
YouTube star trades viral for vulnerable in debut book
Lilly Singh is often called an overnight success, but in reality, her fairytale rise to fame is the result of what your grandma might have called old-fashioned elbow grease.
In late March, the YouTube superstar made her third appearance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Within a week, after releasing a couple new videos, Singh returned to her old high school, Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, presenting on behalf of First Books Canada, a literacy program that donated 650 copies of her new book, How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, to an auditorium full of screaming teenagers.
The following day in Toronto, while on her international 34date book tour, Singh sits in a boardroom at her Canadian publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, for media interviews. There’s a handmade pillow sewn by her mother on the chair beside her, a reminder of home wherever she travels.
Singh was 22, living in her parents’ Markham home, depressed and caught in a dead-end job when she started producing her own YouTube videos under the alias Superwoman. Her early content catered mostly to South Asian teens, but as she began to share more observations about life as a young woman, the universality of her mildly feminist messages and straight-up comedy went viral.
In a few years, Singh has amassed over 11 million subscribers and two billion views on the video platform, a sold-out international comedy tour and a role in the Mila Kunis film Bad Moms. Forbes declared her the highest-paid woman on YouTube and its third-highest earner overall, with estimated 2016 earnings of $7.5 million USD.
Singh had been offered book deals before signing with Random House for How to Be a Bawse, but didn’t feel she had enough to say.
“I didn’t want to write a book just for the sake of it,” she says. “I want it to be something that has a point of view, and a message. A lot of cool things have happened and I feel that I need to extract the lessons from those experiences. Now I feel I can offer something.”
Singh says writing the book, which took a year, allowed her to show a more vulnerable side to her fans.
How to be a Bawse caters mostly to her young 13–24 demographic, but her message to millennials is old school, with chapter titles like Don’t Overthink and Commit to Your Decisions.
“We are in this environment where we’re easily validated by social media,” says Singh.
“No one wants to go to the gym, they’d rather take a selfie at the gym. But I want to bring back the art of hard work.” (If there’s doubt that the BuzzFeed generation is open to motivational advice from books, Bawse became a national bestseller the week after its release.)
Singh tries to live up to her own advice. Yet she is also fearful of reaching a level of superstardom where her values become blurry.
Every morning she reminds herself: “This is great but don’t forget the person you want to be.”
That also meant learning how to publicly acknowledge her successes. Singh used to be embarrassed about the Forbes article, fearful of coming across as boastful. But now, in true bawse style, she says, “I own it and say I am super proud.” Sue Carter is the editor at Quill & Quire magazine.
Forbes declared Singh the highest-paid woman on YouTube and its third-highest earner overall, with estimated 2016 earnings of $7.5 million USD.