27/04/2016

The Rise and Fall of Alex Day



Alex Day was a successful self- produced musician with several hit singles as well as being one of YouTube’s first big British vlogging stars. Yet two years ago his career was derailed by serious allegations and both his fame and associates crumbled away. Beset by accusations yet never charged he now continues to create in a strange sort of limbo.

For a while Alex Day was the epitome of the modern young multimedia artist. He had three UK top 40 hits, each of them self –produced including `Forever Yours` which holds the record for the highest charting single by an unsigned artist. He was also one of the first vloggers in this country to accumulate over a million subscribers and his YouTube channel nerimon had over 130 million views. He was the most high profile of a new breed of artists who bypassed conventional channels to speak (and sing) directly to their audience in the days before YouTube was the corporate vehicle it is now. Yet if you look at the top vloggers or independent musicians of 2016 Alex Day is nowhere to be seen so what happened? 

Alex Day was born in 1989 in Hornchurch, London and started his first YouTube channel called nerimon in 2006. He was one of the first vloggers to turn this apparent hobby into a full time money earning career.  At the same time he was also involved in various musical projects including Chameleon Circuit, a band whose lyrics were inspired by Doctor Who. The group also included Charlie McDonnell another popular YouTuber. Chameleon Circuit were described by one critic as releasing music “that could pass for chart-toppers – if they weren't excessively nerdy in the subject matter department.” He and McDonnell also collaborated in another band called Sons of Admirals and a BBC2 reality show Chartjackers in 2009.This challenged four video producers to write, record and release a pop song in ten weeks, using YouTube as a tool to get lyrics and singers with the proceeds going to the BBC Children in Need charity. The completed single, entitled `I’ve Got Nothing` peaked at No. 36 on the UK Singles Chart raising almost £10,000 for Children in Need.

In addition Day also released his own music starting with the folk influenced album `Parrot Stories` in 2009 and the more electronic follow up `The World Is Mine (I Don’t Know Anything)` in 2010.
At the end of 2011 he released the synth pop single `Forever Yours` which entered the official UK charts at number 4 selling over 50,000 copies in its first week more than the likes of Coldplay and Rhianna yet without any of the radio play or conventional support they could command. This was perhaps the moment when established media suddenly understood the reach of YouTube in particular and online celebrity generally. The high placing of the single was partly the result of a concerted online campaign to snatch the Xmas number one from the jaws of The X Factor winner.

The achievement though was in the independence of the music and a delightfully homespun video directed by Charlie McDonnell.  It would be wrong to claim that Day was doing anything particularly pioneering musically; the song was a lo fi version of the sort of sugary pop your average boyband might release. However his reedy very English vocal is well suited to such a confection and it’s easy to see why it appealed to his core audience of teenage girls. And it is the catchiest song!

Day’s second single, a cover version of the Sixties Peter and Gordon hit `Lady Godiva` received a physical release in UK record stores and charted at number 15 in the UK, also  making the charts in a number of other countries including reaching number one in Slovenia.

In May 2012 Day released three singles on the same day `Good Morning Sunshine`, `She Walks Right Through Me`, and `This Kiss` which sold over 150,000 copies. Relentlessly chirpy, `Good Morning Sunshine` may well be the most sugar coated pop song of recent times; you can imagine The Monkees performing it back in the Sixties. It would appear the sentiments expressed in the song are genuine rather than cynical. `She Walks Right Through Me` is pop gold too and even features Karen Gillan in the video.
Listening to some of his other songs, `I've Got What It Takes` can manage to incorporate a kazoo into a serious song about self belief, `Stupid Stupid` is delightfully childish while the minimal backing of `Time of Your Life` is very effective. `Don't Let The World Turn Past Me` is a big proper old piano ballad...about video games! There is no doubt of his musical talent.

By now Day’s combined music and vlogging success had made him a celebrity and he was prominently featured in a number of mainstream magazine, radio and tv features charting the rise of the self sufficient artist. His third album `Epigrams and Interludes` was released in 2013 debuting at no.2 in the iTunes UK charts. For the release he entered into a partnership with file sharing site BitTorrent for an exclusive bundle release for the album which was downloaded over a million times in its first week.

Then in March 2014 everything he had achieved crumbled away. A number of girls’ allegations started to surface online accusing Day and others (including Tom Milsom another collaborator of Day’s) of sexual manipulation. The nature of the accusations was a subtle but nonetheless important understanding of what `consent` means. Legally no laws were broken yet these girls clearly felt that the musician and vlogger had behaved wrongly and inappropriately. 

When the storm broke Alex Day initially issued denials which most people noticed left out some of the allegations and he then followed that with a further statement which said; “I created situations that put people under enormous pressure. The model of consent that I followed... was that only, 'no' meant, 'no'. That is not what consent is". Of course these sorts of issues happen often in young people's lives; the difference here is that the allegations and rebuttals occured in front of over a million subscribers. 
Any such distinctions were soon lost in a blur of increasingly dramatic allegations on Tumblr about Day’s life. Despite his public contrition the fall out was swift and widespread perhaps because he had actually admitted to inappropriate behaviour. His channels started to lose subscribers and were filled with angry or abusive comments. The inevitable bandwagon jumping meant all sorts of accusations appeared some of which were clearly not true. His confession however meant that almost anything that was posted about him was believed and not for the last time someone was tried and found guilty by the online equivalent of angry villagers with flaming torches. It is this stampede, both of false accusations and instant judgement, that makes it difficult to sift truth from fiction especially when such intimate scenarios as those named in the accusations are unlikely to have any witnesses.

Soon Day’s artist pages, merchandise and information were removed from YouTube’s record label DFTBA (who handle distribution and iTunes sales for YouTube artists) while associates scrambled to distance themselves from him. In particular former housemate and collaborator Charlie McDonnell severed their ties publicly saying: "I just don't feel able to call Alex a friend of mine any more.”  Day himself vanished from public view. It is important to point out that no police charges were ever brought against him nor was he even questioned. He later admitted that he had spent the initial days after the allegations surfaced fully expecting that to happen.

In October 2014, after a 7-month hiatus, a shaven haired Day released a lengthy half hour  video in which he tried to explain himself albeit somewhat tangentially and this seemed to only reinforce some people’s opinion that he was being economical with his argument. “All I can say to that is I didn’t mean to make anyone feel pressured and that I’m really sorry for making anyone feel pressured,” he said, "The only thing I can do at this point is think about it and learn from it … as I’ve already started to.”

The idea that he was trying to manipulate the scenario in his favour had stuck. In a statement at the time he commented on the reaction to the allegations saying: “At some point you have to just start sticking up for yourself and especially when there’s such an angry torrent of abuse.” 

During his `exile` Last Line’s short independent film Shelf Life had access to Day and finds him living in very different circumstances. Now a shaven headed vegan Buddhist wearing neutral coloured clothes he resides in a condemned former prison building which he and others are renting until it is demolished. Such a location seems ironic in view of the calls from some of his detractors that he should have been jailed and is very different to the homely modern place he had previously shared with Charlie McDonnell. Bare blue painted walls pock marked with markings of the place’s former life surround sparsely furnished rooms. Modern accoutrements like PC and cameras aside he lives frugally consuming only protein shakes telling the interviewer he finds food `boring`.  He has a side room draped with a huge orange mural depicting Buddha where he says he meditates for 20 minutes each day.
In the film he declares that he prefers to be hated than ignored and tries to justify himself at length over the accusations that had been levelled at him though as with all his interviews on the subject there is little sign of contrition. His focus is on how the scenario helped make him a better person. The most he will admit is that he “sucked at relationships” .  His confident air suggests someone who has tried to find meaning to a life that was suddenly altered and he suggests his former YouTuber existence was merely a vehicle to fund his music. Though he seems happy enough, especially when creating music, his breathless need to explain himself suggests someone who whatever he says to the contrary does want to be liked though not because it will make him any happier but because it will make him feel he is right.  
In a 2015 interview with the site Young Perspective, Alex Day talked in depth about it all which also gives an insight into the pressures of a scenario where, as he puts it, your personal life is also your career. He described himself as a “minimalist” seeing little value in material things and he understood the contradiction of that .
“It felt really hypocritical to have a profession that relies on trying to get people …interested in consuming online,” he said “I would say ‘the best thing you can possibly do is turn off your laptop and go for a walk and have a chat with your friend, face-to-face. But, keep watching my videos’. It’s a really stupid contradiction.”
Addressing his exile from YouTube and the level of abuse he received especially on Tumblr (which he likened to tabloid paper The Sun) he said: “If you end up being too excessively liberal in such an aggressive and closed-minded way, then it’s your own version of being right-wing, isn’t it? They’re not having a discussion. They’ve made up their mind.”  Particularly interesting is the revelation that one of the allegations against him came from Charlie McDonnell’s PA.

“There’s no limit to what punishment they think I’m owed…” said Day about his critics. He described having his digital conversations regurgitated over Tumblr albeit in edited form: “One of the girls who wrote about it said ‘he was flirting with me, blah blah blah’, and they had screenshots of all these flirty messages I had sent, but not the bits where she flirted back! Even if she thought I took advantage …don’t be disingenuous about it. Don’t hide stuff to make your point." He concluded: “The weird thing about being a YouTuber is that you’re professionally being yourself. Your actual job is just to be you as a career. So the line between your personal life and your work life is completely blurred.”

Over two years later Alex Day is still releasing music and videos, the latter inspired by his Buddhist beliefs. He also published a book `The Underground Storyteller`.  “Video-making is a selfish thing, I think”, he says   “I mean that with no disrespect to people who do it, because I did it. I think by necessity, if you want to do that you have to share bits about your own life.” With over 800,000 subscribers his audience is building up again but the way YouTube has become more corporate and the history of allegations mean he is unlikely to reach the pinnacle he did in his earlier career. 
Today’s biggest ` second generation` YouTubers now have subscriber numbers far in excess of anything Day or McDonnell had in their heyday and are branching out into other media like radio, publishing and even film.  If these `superstar vloggers` have any sense they’ll have researched Alex Day’s story because who can really live such an observed life and not stumble at one point of another?  
This is a story with no winners and shows the ugly side of the online world. It's also a shame that Alex Day, clearly a very creative and talented individual let himself and his fans down so badly. Perhaps the last word should go to one of the girls who accused him online which seems to sum up all of risks involved in this kind of fan / idol contact: "Don’t think so highly of people you don’t know," she said in a post, "and you won’t be so heartbroken when you realise they’re not worth it."

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