Depending how old you are, you may or may not know of Internet celebrity Connor Franta. If you’re like me and you just heard of the Youtube sensation, author and entrepreneur, you may be rolling your eyes at the thought of someone gaining fame and building a career out of making short vlogs about their personal life starting at the age of 18. You may be wondering why people are so interested in what you deem as meaningless information, rather than consuming content with a purpose. You might be confused why someone like Connor Franta has 5.5 million Instagram and YouTube followers (each) and 6.4 million loyal Twitter followers, while you’re continually teetering on the edge of 1,000. Followers who hang on to his every word and enthusiastically look forward to his weekly videos, photos and stream-of-consciousness tweets.
I’m here to tell you two things. Its 2017. And it’s none of your business. In theory, the Connor Franta’s of the world may be threatening because they compete for attention with the things we believe to be more important. But what if Connor Joel Franta was inspiring your younger siblings or children to be more accepting? To believe anything is possible and to push their limits? Isn’t this more interesting than the “romcoms” of our generation that tricked us into believing love means your partner should bring you flowers home from work, make you soup when you’re sick, open the door for you every single time, and absolutely never, ever miss a birthday, holiday or V-Day?
In addition to being an award-winning Internet phenomenon, Connor is a bestselling author, founder of the lifestyle brand Common Culture, and committed LGBTQ+ spokesperson. He exudes talent, and still, even though he’s legit famous now, produces, films and edits all of his content.
I sat down and interviewed the social media heartthrob and was curious about two things: Is he so good at curating the person he is that he doesn’t even know who that person really is? And is he ever disgusted with the industry he is in? As the conversation continued I learned there is much more than meets the eye (or camera lens) for this young YouTube star. Sure, the videos give you an idea of who the person behind them is, but it’s behind-the-scenes when the true colors come out. Connor Franta’s true colors show he is humble, kind, funny and genuine. He is punctual and polite. He’s smart and passionate about social issues and making the world a better place. And yes, he’s as authentic as he seems to be.
You grew up in a small town in Minnesota, what brought you to LA?
Connor: I moved to LA four years ago. I came out with a friend who had an internship. I was already doing YouTube at the time so I was like, Well, I’ll have a summer job. And then, it just so happened that while I was out here YouTube blew up for me. I went from half a million subscribers to a million in just a couple months so I just never left.
How was that transition for you?
Connor: It was a weird time in my life. All I had known was, you go to high school, you go to college, you get a 9-5, and then you die. I didn’t know anyone who was doing what I was doing in my personal life. It was kind of like going into the dark alone. It took some convincing for my parents. They loved my YouTube videos, but they didn’t see how it could be a full-time career— and to tell you the truth, I didn’t understand how it could be a full-time career at the time, either. But finally, they agreed to let me have a semester off, promising to reassess after that. And after one semester they were like, Okay, go on, you were right.
How do you stay in touch with your true self, and how do you pick the parts of yourself you want to share with the world?
Connor: I sometimes find myself getting caught up in this world where everything is very curated and very well planned. Especially in the YouTube world— it’s very polished and perfected. So it’s really hard to be in the business of “being yourself,” when I feel like a lot of people are being the “best” versions of themselves. In my new book, Note to Self I show the other side— I show the major downs of my life and the major imperfections that I have. I find that it’s harder to share that kind of stuff. No one wants to share the bad everyday parts of their day with people. Who’s going to enjoy hearing something bad? It’s hard to be real when most people don’t want you to be real. They think they do, but they subconsciously don’t because then they’ll get annoyed of you and be like, Well, he’s always sad. But we all get sad!
You’re a talented writer and your last book, A Work in Progress, was a New York Times bestseller. Tell us more about this new project.
Connor: The book dives into depression, anxiety, social anxiety, breakups, and struggles with fame. All the things I intentionally tend to avoid on YouTube. Sometimes I do channel it into a video, and it always surprises me how much people really attach to it. Depression is such a taboo thing to talk about— any sort of downside of life is— but people really attach to it, because they feel that way too.
Does it ever become normal for people to know so much about you?
Connor: Since I’ve been doing YouTube for 5.5 years it’s my normal at this point. It’s just kind of expected that people know more about me than me.
And how is the relationship you have with your fans?
Connor: It’s an interesting relationship being on social media because people really feel like they know you— and in a sense they do, they know a lot about you. They’ll come up to me without really even addressing me, they just want to hug me like I’m a friend they haven’t seen in a long time. Which I understand, I would feel that way if I saw Lorde on the street. It’s just a strange world that we live in. They’ll want to talk to me like we’ve known each other for years and I’m just like, Tell me, what’s your name? I find it incredibly sweet and endearing that they get that emotional, and it almost always tends to be an emotional experience. And I’m very emotional, so half the time I’m getting choked up too, and I’m like, I just wanted to go to Cheesecake Factory, I didn’t want to cry on the way!
That’s great you enjoy that aspect of it. Do you ever feel a sense of disgust with your industry?
Connor: Totally. I especially feel disgusted with it because i’m from Minnesota. I hate self-indulgent, narcissistic tendencies and that’s kind of exactly the business I’m in. I think I’d be okay with it more if I lived in somewhere like the Midwest, but because I live in LA and I’m in the entertainment industry and I go to entertainment events, it just always feels very self-indulgent.
So yea, I get kind of grossed out that we’re all so obsessed with ourselves… but that’s also just kind of 2017 in a nutshell.
What would you do if we had no more Internet?
Connor: I think I would be the happiest person in the world! No, I’m kidding. Like anybody, I love and hate certain aspects of my job, but at the end of the day, I love to create. Half the fun of creating something is sharing it with someone, so if it were gone I’d be sad I couldn’t share my content with a wider audience, whether it’s my photography, writing or videos. But also, there would be a nice aspect not being so attached to a device and sharing every moment.
Do you think you’ll stay in the industry?
Connor: Definitely, but I think my definition of the industry I’m in is constantly shifting. I never knew I’d be an author. I never knew I’d be designing clothing. So I don’t know where I’ll be in five years or what industry I’ll attach myself to, but I’ll always be in a creative industry for sure.
What social issues are you passionate about?
Connor: Too many! I’m very passionate about transgender rights, especially in Trump’s America that we live in. I’m passionate about LGBTQ+ rights in general. I’m really afraid that they are going to be infringed upon and that we are going to digress as a society. I’m afraid that we’re going to lose marriage equality. I’m afraid that with recent news of transgender bathroom laws that we’re going to just slowly lose our rights until we’re back to 1969 again.
I saw that you marched.
Connor: Yes, that was a really moving moment to see that many people show up. There’s strength in numbers, so to actually see people show up and not just tweet about it was really moving. It really did feel like a unifying factor that everyone believes in. We are all fighting for a similar cause, we can show up and we can do something about it.
As Connor and I wrapped up our interview I realized that what sets him apart from the vast pool of Influencers out there, is his creativity, inherent drive and raw talent. He creates with the desire to push the envelope. He is a role model you (or your kid brother or sister) can be comfortable following. He is a mover-and-shaker that is doing something good in the world. Connor Franta is inspiring a new generation, and along with his millions of followers, we’re looking forward to watching the evolution of his creative expression from the sidelines, cheering him on as he continues to develop both himself, and his career.