Emma Chamberlain | Because The Great Flood Promises One Hell of a Story

For Issue 184, The Tempest Issue

Photographed by

Kanya Iwana

Styled by

Mui-Hai Chu

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ZADIG & VOLTAIRE tank top and shirt and CARTIER earrings, necklace, bracelet, and ring.

If the unexamined life is not worth living, Emma Chamberlain is more alive than any of us. By Socratically probing her own idiosyncrasies and ideologies with an audience who readily congregate in the comments (earning, if they’re lucky, an off-cast crumb of Chamberlain’s clout with observations of their own), much of the multimedia entertainer’s multi-millions can be credited to ruthless introspection. 

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN jacket and pants, CELINE boots, and CARTIER watch (worn as necklace).

Of course, unlike Ancient Greece, the digital age needs more than meaningful discourse to pay attention. It helps that Emma Chamberlain is accessibly beautiful, unpretentiously smart, and, even in the grips of an unrelenting existential crisis, ready to record in the eye of her storms.
Although today, Emma Chamberlain’s video is off. Audio-only formats allow her to “speak more freely”—which, considering the entertainer famously built her brand off the back of on-camera authenticity, is somewhat ironic. YouTube was first suggested as a creative outlet from her father, a painter. Meanwhile, Chamberlain was an academically-overachieving only child who was at a vocational loss the summer of her sophomore year. By age 18, the NorCal-native had left high school early, relocating to Los Angeles in pursuit of a full-time entertainment career. Three years and a solo podcast (Anything Goes with Emma Chamberlain, which will be exclusively on Spotify in 2023), coffee company (Chamberlain coffee), and several luxury fashion ambassadorships later (Louis Vuitton, Cartier), she can’t escape her own image. 

“If I’m going to be completely honest, that part has messed with me,” she shares of the inextricability of her identity with that of the webosphere. “Obviously it’s worth it, but it is tough. I’m kind of an anxious person as it is, and it kind of makes me disassociate a little bit. I see so much of myself that I’m overstimulated, and I disconnect my own being…and since there’s every opinion in my comments section, now it’s on me to work out the truth. Do I look good? Do I look bad? Was this cringe? Was this insightful? How do I feel?”

ZADIG & VOLTAIRE tank top and shirt andCARTIER earrings, necklace, bracelet, and ring.

While vloggers and podcasters alike mine the anecdotes and expertise of others for content prompts, Chamberlain can monologue for hours on end. Her output features no recurring characters—save for Declan and Frankie, her cats—and we watch, often mesmerized, always comforted as Chamberlain participates in aggressively ordinary activities: showering, shopping, sitting in her car. Few 21-year-olds have achieved what Emma Chamberlain has, and even fewer live the way she appears to—self-sufficient, self-reflective, and also, almost entirely by herself.

“I think the reason why I maybe give less and less [about my life] is because there’s just less new things to give,” she says. “But I’ve already shared so much that I don’t have as much left… I have this space now in my mind to look at all of my values, and deconstruct them, to ask myself, ‘Okay, wait, is this the right way to be thinking about things?’”

KWK BY KAY KWOK top and skirt and CARTIER necklace and ring.

Consequently, her clips feature no diet trends-tried, no quick-tip makeup tutorials. Instead, Chamberlain unrelentingly dissects the post-adolescent existence, packaging each with learned succinction (see: ‘QUESTION EVERYTHING’). Perhaps out of habit or the allure of increasingly candid thumbnails, legions of like-minded listeners click… then comment, writing: “Am I the only one who literally talks back to [Emma] like we’re having a conversation?”

“The [creating] part is actually not that challenging,” Chamberlain explains. “As long as you’re in a good place mentally, that can be incredible. It’s the weight of everyone watching at all times that is so heavy. It is terrifying. When you’re at school, for example, you feel like your whole school is watching you when you’re walking down the hallway. It’s like that, but with everybody, and it can fuck with your head because the community of people watching you becomes everyone.”

ZADIG & VOLTAIRE dress, LOEWE shoes, and CARTIER necklace and ring.

Chamberlain’s conversational prowess rarely alludes to her age, but her comparison of global fame to high school is a rare tell. Anyone who has survived the early 20s recognizes the era as perhaps the most emotionally fraught in one’s lifetime; adulthood with training wheels—rife with self-doubt, and ripe for disorientation, and even Emma Chamberlain is not immune. Self-employed since 17, Chamberlain purchased her first house before she could legally drink. It was the achievement of a lifetime—an eclectic five-bedroom, seven-bathroom, Architectural Digest-approved and Internet catnip—and the catalyst for a long-imminent meltdown. 

“This was one of my biggest goals, and it didn’t solve all my fucking problems,” she says. “Because of course it didn’t. I don’t want to admit that arriving at this point does not solve anything. It doesn’t automatically come with fulfillment.  There’s a reason why so many people who end up in this industry end up having a really hard time psychologically. I’ve felt like I had it all, but I still feel empty. It didn’t fill a void for me. That realization can absolutely destroy people.”

An all-too familiar question of “What does it all really mean?” began picking at the edge of Chamberlain’s consciousness, soon becoming a gaping, unignorable wound. At the dawn of 2022, void unfilled, Chamberlain stepped away from YouTube for months on end. Shifting her attention to less financially “fruitful” ventures: her podcast—which, to note, now outranks some of Spotify’s most popular—and the coffee company born of Chamberlain’s well-documented caffeine connoisseurship. “It’s not about money,” she says,  on her choice to instead re-invest her profit back into the company.“I’ve never made a penny from Chamberlain Coffee. Not one penny. I don’t care. I love it. And it doesn’t matter if I’m making money from them, it doesn’t matter if it’s going to make me more famous.”

If there’s such a thing as the perfect storm for online popularity, Emma Chamberlain is a typhoon. Although, as Internet clout is increasingly easy to come by, it’s proven more and more difficult to maintain—forcing most Gen Z sensations to capitalize on their 15 minutes with hasty beauty deals or nonsensical pivots to music and movies. For her part, Chamberlain wants none of it, explicitly refusing to seek long-term relevance in realms she believes to have no business in: “Guess what? That’s not my specialty. I don’t want to take shortcuts to succeed in other areas just because I established myself in one—I just think that that’s cheating.”

Chamberlain continues, “I learned at a young age that you don’t get away with shit. You don’t just get to cheat your way and then never pay the price. And I know that, and I’ve learned that the hard way. This is why you have to be a good person because shit comes back to bite. And I think a lot of people don’t know how to be a good person.” 

ZADIG & VOLTAIRE top, skirt, and belt and CARTIER necklace, bracelets, and ring

Doing the ‘right’ thing in all areas of her life has become Emma Chamberlain’s North Star. She readily admits to feeling “used” by other creators upon arriving in LA, but understands their actions. She’s the first to empathize with her critics. She keeps her long-term relationship private, for its preservation. She wants her podcast to deconstruct the nuances of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad,’ but hopes she doesn’t inflict her own insecurities on others. “I think the reason why I beat myself up so much is because when you are in the public eye, you do feel this pressure to be the perfect person,” she admits. “And I think that that has led me to some incredible discoveries, and I have no regrets about that. But I think that I do take it too far on a personal level all the time, because I’ve developed this sort of obsession with myself, with being perfect morally, physically, emotionally.”

CELINE blouse, pants, and belt, GUCCI sunglasses, and CARTIER earring and ring.

While Chamberlain has become increasingly protective of how she’s perceived, she gives little thought to what many may claim as her biggest successes. Even birthing a series of highly meme-able red carpet interviews for Vogue at the Met Gala feels mostly “one-note” to the star, just “hanging out with a bunch of humans.” What really fires her up is a fan connecting with a recent podcast episode, or making sociological concepts digestible for her generation. When asked if she would give up a career in entertainment for academics, she notes the two aren’t mutually exclusive. “I’m really obsessed with psychology, and more now than ever, because I think we have a whole new batch of issues that we’ve never had before. I’m not saying I’m a fucking philosopher, but I definitely am intrigued by this new set of problems, and I’m experiencing them. I want to figure out a way to combine [entertainment and education]. And also if you can make something deeper fun. Why not? I think that’s a huge opportunity there.”

VALENTINO dress, CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN boots, and CARTIER earrings, necklace, and bracelet.

It would “suck ass” if Emma Chamberlain was to wake up to a drained bank account and canceled career tomorrow, but she knows her worth wouldn’t change without the world watching. Despite her capacity to outsource, the young star claims she would descend into insanity without doing her own dishes, cleaning Frankie and Declan’s litter box, or making her bed. On each of Chamberlain’s videos, fans note it appears as though she’s “the last person on Earth”—mostly, Emma Chamberlain is just comfortable in her own company. And for that reason, she has nothing to lose. “I know for a fact I could still be happy because all [the perks] don’t bring me happiness,” she says. “I enjoy it. I appreciate it. I’m so grateful for it, but I don’t need it. And I think when you don’t need something and you prove that to yourself, you’re free.”

For a number of famous personalities, separating their public and private personas is an act of self-preservation. Fans have been known to find this disappointing, that what they see on screen isn’t always what it appears to be when the cameras stop rolling. Then there’s Emma Chamberlain, who knows none such distinction. Whereas most talent requires significant coaxing to expand beyond a ‘yes,’ ‘no’, or ‘I feel so blessed,’ Chamberlain appears surprised to hear any interjection—so accustomed to the company of a camera. As our time approaches an end, her publicist messages us directly to cut Chamberlain off after one last question. But with Emma Chamberlain, there’s no such thing. Instead, she leaves me with two: “What is the point of life? That’s what I’m dealing with…who are you when all this is gone? Because that’s all we are as human beings. I guess the point is to be the best person you can be… you know?”

PRADA dress and CARTIER earrings, necklace, watch, and rings.

Photographed by Kanya Iwana
Styled by Mui-Hai Chu
Written by Beatrice Hazlehurst
Hair: Sami Knight at A-Frame Agency
Makeup: Alexandra French at A-Frame Agency
Nails: Thuy Nguyen at A-Frame Agency
Prop Stylist: Michael Wanenmacher
Flaunt Film: Nate Rynaski
Style Assistants: Meg Leila Summers, Justice Jackson, and David Gomez
Production Assistant: Frankie Barrata
Location: Hubble Studio

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