Connor Franta has made a lucrative career from sharing personal, confessional, and tangential videos on YouTube. Alongside the likes of Tyler Oakley, Grace Helbig, and Troye Sivan (Out's May cover star), Franta's name has become synonymous with the ever-increasing popularity of social media, YouTube, and millennial oversharing.
Since he began filming in 2010, the YouTuber has used his platform and massive following to launch the bona fide lifestyle brand, Common Culture. Through that brand, the 23-year-old has dabbled into clothing design and specialty coffee, and has started a record label powered by social tastemakers known as Heard Well. He's also penned a New York Times best-selling memoir, A Work in Progress.
Presently, Franta's YouTube channel has accumulated more than 5.4 million subscribers and his videos have racked up more than 330 million views. His most popular posts include a collaboration with British YouTuber, Marcus Butler and his emotional coming out video, which has been viewed more than 10 million times.
When the self-described "angsty 23-year-old" visited New York, he sat down with us to discuss the almighty power of social media, his YouTube inspirations (looking at you, Tyler Oakley and Troye Sivan!), and his tendency to sob.
Out: Right off the bat, let's talk about your coming out video. What went into your decision to film and share that with the world?
Connor Franta: After I turned 20, I spent a couple of months coming out to my friends and my family. Then I spent six months existing as an openly gay person. Toward the end of it, I realized, I don't know what's holding me back from telling the rest of the world. I have this audience that I want to be authentic with and I want to be myself with, but I consistently am avoiding certain topics and pronouns, and I don't want to do that anymore. I really fast tracked my experience by coming out over a year's time to literally the world. It was the best thing I've ever done with my platform. It was the best experience because everyone was so warm, accepting and loving. I couldn't have asked for anything better than that.
What were those conversations like?
I sobbed the whole time. My mom was visiting and it was the last hour she was in LA. She was going to the airport and I just had to tell her, right then and there. On a random street corner [laughs]. My siblings--I told some in person. Some over the phone, because we live in different parts of the country now. Friends--those were all in person. Sometimes it was super casual and super relaxed. Sometimes it was super emotional. I feel like I come out to people every day still, but it becomes easier and easier. I love being gay.
That's what we like to hear! Do you think that video helped you relate to a new audience?
Maybe. That was never the goal. The goal was to, first of all, share my authentic self, but to give back to the community that helped me so much. That's truly how I accepted who I was so quickly. Being in West Hollywood, "the gayest place in the world," and seeing openly gay people was so different for me coming from the Midwest. But seeing YouTube videos, seeing people going through it, and hearing their stories helped so much. I wanted to give back to that community that truly helped me be comfortable with myself. A lot of the times fans will tell me that the video helped them come out, and it warms my heart every time. If that's the best thing I do with my career, I'm so fine with that.
How did you prepare yourself to film the video?
I legitimately watched every coming out video on YouTube. I searched coming out and went from newest to oldest. Every. Single. One. Troye Sivan's video helped me so much. Marky Miller's, too.
The video right before "Life Doesn't Wait" was a prequel to the coming out video, saying life doesn't wait for you, you need to be the person you want to be now, and do the things you want to do now because life isn't going to stop. The build up to the coming out video was really scary. It was like, You have to do this next week. I'm tired of not being myself. I want to be myself now. Not later.
Jumping ahead to now, you've become close with a lot of your fellow YouTubers, right? How did those relationships start?
We say "love at first tweet." We would tweet each other, then DM, then send our numbers and then meet at VidCon or Playlist. A lot of us moved to California and are now neighbors. It's been the coolest, weirdest, most modern experience. When I met YouTubers and people who liked YouTube for the first time, I felt like I finally met people who got me, but were also exactly like me. We all clicked humor-wise, interest-wise. It was the first time I felt like I truly had a group of people that I fit in with 100 percent.
Are there any YouTubers you're inspired by or currently crushing on?
I'm inspired by every YouTuber. I'm inspired by Grace Helbig for her philanthropy. She's been incredible in everything she does. I'm inspired by Mamrie Hart because of her humor. She's one of the funniest people on YouTube and off. I'm inspired by Bethany Mota and Tyler Oakley for continually doing everything everyone said we couldn't do. As for attracted to...I don't know. I'm too busy for that. [laughs]
I bet you are...Well let's get into Heard Well. What's the story behind it?
It's a record label with the concept of taking digital content creators and pairing them with up-and-coming musicians. For me, I curate 12-15 songs every couple of months under Common Culture. It's usually 12 up-and-comers that I just love and want to share with my audience. We're doing the same concept with people like Jc Caylen, Amanda Steele, and Lohanthony.
Recently, Heard Well got to do the soundtrack for the documentary Gayby Baby, an Australian documentary about marriage equality. I got to work with Aurora. We got her song "Conqueror" as the end song of the film. The day after, she was on Jimmy Fallon performing. I was like, Yes, we got her before she broke! [laughs]
How did the memoir, A Work in Progress, come about? I'm sure some questioned whether a 23-year-old could actually write a memoir.
It's kind of a memoir, but not. I was like, People are going to be annoyed at it. But if I open it by making fun of the fact that I'm writing a memoir at 23, then it's ok [laughs]. It was one of those goals I had in 2014 that I really wanted to do the coming year. I was able to share a deeper insight into my life, more so than a rambling five minute YouTube video. The book took me a year to write, which isn't necessarily long for a book, but it's way longer than the stuff I put out. I honestly felt nothing but positivity toward it. I expected to get more torn apart than I did.
I'm glad the Internet kept itself in check. What is one of the weirdest comments you've ever gotten?
People love to assume everything. I get comments making these wild, crazy assumptions about who I am as a person and my conniving goals. I'm like, I don't even know you. How would you know about my conniving agenda to ruin the human race? They make it sound like I'm evil. I just laugh, like, You don't know me and I don't know you.
So what's hitting YouTube this week?
This week's is called "Real Men Don't Cry." I realized recently that I cry over anything. I probably cry twice a day. Growing up, it was always my least favorite thing about myself, because 1. I was in the closet and 2. I didn't feel like a real man, because that's what society told me. So I riff on how that's total bullshit and I can't believe society tricked me into believing men have to be a certain way. Honestly, the best part about my life right now and how I'm living is that I don't even think about masculinity or femininity. At the end of the day, I'm trying to be me. I'm trying to be a person. Whatever category society says those things fall into, that's up to them. What does crying have to do with gender anyway?
Final question: What gets you crying?
One of my lowest moments is when I cried over an episode of Chopped. I was sobbing. One of the guys was doing it for his daughter. He won so he could send his daughter to college. I felt so happy for him and her. [laughs]
ICYMI, Connor Franta's coming out video: