Colleen Ballinger’s toxic gossip train won’t stop chugging on
The YouTuber apology video is an art form. A penitent creator must be remorseful, but not theatrical. Concise, but not rehearsed. Honest, but not defensive. Above all, an apology video cannot be memeable, or it’ll never be taken seriously.
Colleen Ballinger’s apology saga, however, will be one of the most memorable in YouTube history because it just keeps getting worse.
Representatives for Ballinger, who built a devoted following of young viewers as the satirical and often offensive character Miranda Sings, are now denying claims that she filed copyright infringement claims on videos reacting to her ukulele apology song.
The song, in which Ballinger addresses allegations of fostering inappropriate and exploitative relationships with her teenage fans, is one of the most absurd attempts at apologizing ever documented online. The fans coming forward accuse Ballinger of sending them unsolicited nudes of another creator to make fun of her body, using her group chat of underage fans as on-call emotional support throughout her divorce, exploiting and humiliating minors during her live shows and above all, abusing the power dynamic between herself and her fans.
Her response? A song about the “toxic gossip train” — an agonizing 10-minute lyrical car crash that dismisses the allegations as misinformation fueled by the “mob mentality” of the internet.
“Everyone just believes that you are the type of person who manipulates and abuses children. I just wanted to say that the only thing I’ve ever groomed is my two Persian cats,” Ballinger croons. “I’m not a groomer, just a loser who didn’t understand I shouldn’t respond to fans. And I’m not a predator, even though a lot of you think so, because five years ago I made a fart joke.”
It’s a mess. Here’s what’s going on.
Who is Colleen Ballinger?
Colleen Ballinger, 36, started posting YouTube videos as Miranda Sings in 2008. “Miranda” is a self-obsessed young woman who’s obsessed with stardom, despite her inability to actually sing. The character, who wears bright red lipstick and has a speech impediment, is egotistical, socially awkward and largely ignorant of current events.
Ballinger’s musical parodies as Miranda became a viral sensation, and at her peak she had roughly 19 million YouTube subscribers between her personal channel and her Miranda Sings channel. Her videos consisted of vlogs (both as Colleen and as Miranda), trending YouTube challenges, satirical vocal lessons and off-key covers of pop songs. Ballinger was particularly popular with children, and featured other kids’ creators like JoJo Siwa and Sophia Grace Brownlee on her channel.
As Miranda, she often made jokes about pedophilia, incest and racially insensitive stereotypes — in videos, Miranda would reference the “Daddy Saddle,” an object that allowed her to ride around on her “Uncle Jim.” Affinity Magazine criticized the character for mocking disabled people and perpetuating harmful stereotypes about disabilities. In 2020, she apologized for impersonating Latina women in a since-deleted video with her sister.
She also regularly toured as Miranda, performing live variety shows blending comedy and music. Ballinger was in the middle of a national tour last month when former fans alleged that she had inappropriate and exploitative relationships with them when they were minors. In the aftermath of her apology video, the remaining tour dates were quietly canceled, NBC News reported.
The first wave of allegations
In a 2020 YouTube video, then-17-year-old Adam McIntyre said that he had been ghostwriting some of Ballinger’s tweets as her “social media intern” without pay, and alleged that she had abused her power as a creator to foster inappropriate relationships with her young fans.
He said that the relationship started when he was 13 years old, and that at one point, Ballinger sent him lingerie. In 2017 and 2018, Ballinger told him that Miranda Sings wasn’t doing well “because she couldn’t really be problematic as the character anymore,” McIntyre said in his video, and that she eventually asked him for help with rebranding the character.
He began suggesting social media ideas for both Miranda Sings and Ballinger’s personal accounts, and she gave him access to the Miranda Sings Twitter account in March 2020. In screenshots McIntyre shared in his video, Ballinger told him that she wasn’t “planning on taking advantage” of his help and intended to pay him.
That month, McIntyre suggested that Miranda should “come out” as a Meghan Trainer fan — which Ballinger approved over direct message. When she received backlash for “queerbaiting,” however, she told McIntyre that she would “never post something like that.” She never responded to McIntyre after that, and allegedly never paid him.
Ballinger responded in a video titled “addressing everything.” She admitted to sending McIntyre a bra and underwear in 2016, and said she believed it was “no different” than the other items she sent fans “as a joke.” Ballinger also said that she was breastfeeding her son when she approved the Megan Trainor tweet.
“This was my fault. He sent me a very long list of a ton of different things he wanted to post and I did not look over it closely enough,” Ballinger said.
Grooming allegations resurface
In June, YouTuber Kodee Tyler Dahl, 33, posted a now-deleted video about why they left Ballinger’s fandom, and shared screenshots of a Twitter chat called “colleeny’s weenies group chat.”
The group chat was for the select inner circle of Ballinger’s fans, most of whom were minors, to directly talk to Ballinger herself. The messages Ballinger sent were highly inappropriate. In one responding to then-15-year-old McIntyre’s request for questions to answer in a YouTube Q&A video, Ballinger asked, “Are you a Virgin?” She was in her 30s by then. In another, McIntyre told the group chat that his “ass looks good today.” Ballinger responded with “pics adam.”
Days later, McIntyre posted an hour and 45 minute video titled “my relationship with colleen ballinger” corroborating Dahl’s allegations. He shared screenshots of interactions in the group chat that he and other members saved, including one of Ballinger asking him what his favorite sex position was. In another, she asked the girls in the chat to tell her about their first time getting their periods.
“She would just come in randomly and stay stuff like that,” McIntyre said in the video. “To a lot of people who were underaged.”
Ballinger treated the group chat of teenagers as her confidants, and shared personal details about her divorce from YouTuber Joshua Evans. She told the “weenies” that Evans was “emotionally abusive” — an allegation that Evans denied in an interview with HuffPost. Ballinger publicly called on her fans to remain respectful to Evans, but never discouraged group chat members from attacking him in social media comments and on gossip forums.
Another former fan, Johnny Silvestri, came forward the same week in a video titled “There’s More to the Story (my experience with Colleen Ballinger).” Silvestri, who was not part of the “weenies” chat, accused Ballinger of taking advantage of her fans’ labor. His relationship with Ballinger started after he attended a Miranda Sings show when he was 16, and Ballinger’s then-husband Evans gave him his personal phone number on stage.
By 2018, when he was 22, Ballinger hired Silvestri as an assistant on her tour. He was paid $125 per show. He accused Ballinger’s close friend and collaborator Kory DeSoto of bullying him throughout the tour, which Ballinger knew of but did not stop, and said that Evans exploited the friendship he started with Silvestri for free help running his social media accounts. Silvestri also said that Ballinger made cruel jokes about her fans and encouraged him to join in on the trolling. In one message she sent Silvestri, she mocked a fan for changing her gender pronouns.
“I found solace and safety in this online group of people,” Silvestri told Rolling Stone. “And these grown-ass adults abused it.”
Evans has since publicly apologized to Silvestri, and in a tweet posted after Silvestri’s video, acknowledged that he “failed” at being a “friend and internet big brother.”
Silvestri also accused Ballinger of sending him unsolicited nudes of YouTuber Trisha Paytas in messages mocking Paytas’ body, and shared screenshots of the messages in now-deleted tweets.
Ballinger allegedly sent Paytas’ explicit content to McIntyre, who was a minor at the time, as well. In a video titled “dear trisha paytas…,” McIntyre accused Ballinger of buying subscriptions to Paytas’ paywalled sites, downloading her explicit content, and sending it to him when he was 14. McIntyre said he was initially reluctant to speak out about it until he connected with Silvestri.
Silvestri alleged that Ballinger hosted “viewing parties” of Paytas’ explicit content in order to make fun of her body. McIntyre similarly alleged that Ballinger encouraged him to body shame Paytas.
Paytas, who is also an OnlyFans creator and vocal about sex work, posted a response titled “colleen.” She and Ballinger became friends by bonding over being new mothers, and had just launched a podcast together. Paytas said that Ballinger denied the allegations when directly asked, and that Paytas didn’t believe the former fans until she saw the screenshots shared online. She described the messages as barbaric, misogynistic and “downright cruel” and said that the podcast she co-hosted with Ballinger is over after just three episodes.
“We already have a lot of stigma, misconceptions, allegations against us as sex workers … I do not condone at all unsolicited nudes, sending unsolicited nudes to anybody. Sex worker or not, I think using someone’s nudes as a way to hurt them, make fun of them, make light of them or be mean is the lowest form of human,” Paytas said in the video.
She added that the content Ballinger sent to fans is paywalled for a reason, and that viewers must be at least 18 to access it.
Other fans spoke out about the uncomfortable interactions they had onstage during Ballinger’s live shows.
Her shows often included a “porn bit” and “yoga bit” which used volunteers from the audience. In the “porn bit,” Ballinger (in character as Miranda) would select a fan wearing skimpy clothing and compare them to a fan dressed more modestly. The fan wearing more revealing clothing was “porn,” Ballinger would declare. For the “yoga bit,” Ballinger would attempt difficult, borderline sexual poses with an audience member.
Becky, a Twitter and TikTok user who goes by noitsbecks, posted that she was chosen for the “yoga bit” at a 2019 Miranda Sings show. She was 16 at the time. During the show, Ballinger had Becky lay on her back, while she held up Becky’s legs and spread them in front of the audience. Becky, who wore a loose romper that didn’t stay up during the pose, said she felt “terrified” and sexually violated. She also said she felt unsafe leaving the show because of the way she was exposed on stage. She posted a photo from the show on Twitter.
“Colleen exploited my minor body for entertainment and money and did not protect my safety at this show,” Becky said in a TikTok video. “As an outside looking into the situation, it may seem like this wasn’t a big deal. But this was really pretty scary for my teenage self, especially as someone who loved and looked up to Colleen.”
Other former fans spoke out about Ballinger’s “search for a bae” bit, which involved Miranda stuffing the front of her pants with a bag of cheese balls, and inviting audience members to grab the snack. In resurfaced videos on YouTube and Reddit, Ballinger performed the act with children as young as six.
Yes, there’s more!
YouTubers who have been around since the platform’s earliest days often have unsavory, insensitive content in their archives. Comedy has evolved over the last few decades, and the crass humor that was excusable years ago can be pretty offensive. But Ballinger’s jokes were especially racist, and as clips of her old content resurface in wake of the allegations against her, many online question how she managed to stick around for so long in the first place.
An unlisted video on her Miranda Sings channel shows Ballinger performing a parody of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” on stage, with a dark paint smeared across her face. Twitter users questioned whether she was performing in blackface. The video, which was posted in 2018, appears to be a recording from Ballinger’s 2010 tour in London, according to YouTuber Paige Christie. The only way to find the video was by scanning a QR code in her 2018 book “My Diarrhe.”
Ballinger’s legal representatives told Variety that she was wearing green face paint, not black, and that before the recording started, Ballinger performed the number “As Long as You’re Mine” from “Wicked.” She painted her face green to imitate the protagonist, Elphaba, in her duet with Oliver Tompsett, who starred in the musical’s original London cast.
But other old clips aren’t so easily explained.
In her parody of the Korean pop song “Gangnam Style,” Ballinger recited gibberish mixed with Japanese words like “tamogatchi” in a vaguely East Asian accent. In another offensive caricature — this time attempting to imitate Native American cultures — she wears a feathered headdress and speaks in gibberish in a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving.
April Quioh, a writer who worked on Ballinger’s brief Netflix series “Haters Back Off,” described working with Ballinger as “so, so uncomfortable” in a recent newsletter. Ballinger would often pitch scenes that involved Miranda and Uncle Jim getting caught in “compromising positions or stomach-churning intimacy,” Quioh wrote, and she would try to shove “as much incestual innuendo into the show as possible while assuaging the growing behind-the-scenes concerns that the show would be alienating to the intended audience” of children.
Quioh also alleges that Ballinger insisted that the show cast “limited POC background actors” since it was set in Washington, and once demanded that “all the Asian shit” would be removed from a scene filmed in an Asian supermarket. Ballinger once bragged that she would never be “stupid enough” to get caught saying a racial slur, Quioh continued. Quioh pointed out that Ballinger said the racial slur itself in this boast.
“It was almost like she took a weird pleasure in making me uncomfortable and knowing that even if I wanted to, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it,” Quioh wrote.
The apology video
Ballinger responded to the allegations in a June 28 video, which started with her sighing, reaching out of frame and picking up a ukulele. Then, she began strumming a cheery tune.
“A lot of people are saying things about me that aren’t quite true,” Ballinger said over the chords. “But it doesn’t matter if it’s true, though, as long as it’s entertaining. All aboard!”
She then began singing about the “toxic gossip train” — a hook that returns over and over again throughout the 10-minute video. Her team advised her against saying anything about the allegations, she continued, but they didn’t tell her she couldn’t sing.
She acknowledged that she may have “overshared” with fans, but accused her critics of trying to ruin her life by dramatizing lies and profiting off of the backlash.
“I didn’t realize that all of you are perfect, so please criticize me, bring out the daggers from your perfect past, and stab me repeatedly in my bony little back,” Ballinger continued. “I’m sure you’re disappointed in my shitty little song. I know you want me to say I was 100% in the wrong. Well, I’m sorry I’m not gonna take that route, of admitting to lies and rumors that you made up for clout.”
The video immediately went viral as an example of the worst possible way to apologize. Screenshots from the video became reaction memes. Clips circulated on TikTok. YouTubers posted reaction videos breaking down the song’s comically flippant lyrics.
Evans, who stopped posting on YouTube about a year ago, responded on Twitter.
“This behavior was my reality anytime I spoke up & disagreed with her actions & rhetoric during 2009-2016. I was gaslit too. I was made to feel like I was always the problem,” he wrote. “Any pain I felt was an inconvenience and was belittled. Every ounce of what you’re feeling, I understand.”
Soon after Ballinger posted the apology song, certain YouTube videos that included clips of the song were flagged for copyrighted material. The song was also uploaded to Spotify and Apple Music. It has since been removed from all streaming platforms.
YouTuber and H3H3 Podcast host Ethan Klein tweeted that the song “Toxic Gossip Train” was uploaded to the music distributor CD Baby, and that a recent H3H3 episode discussing the apology was tagged for revenue sharing with the copyright holder.
Another Twitter user said that their Roblox video that used the song was also flagged. YouTuber JabroneyTV tweeted that they uploaded the apology video on an unmonetized channel, and immediately received a copyright strike.
Twitter users speculated that Ballinger was either trying to shut down criticism by copyright claiming videos reacting to the song, or that she was trying to profit by getting a cut of ad revenue from every monetized video that includes the song.
Representatives for Ballinger disputed rumors that she was behind the copyright claims in a statement to BuzzFeed News. They did not respond to TechCrunch’s requests for comment.
Ballinger has not posted publicly on any of her social media accounts since uploading her apology song.
When creators post a Notes App apology, they’ll likely continue existing online with few, if any, real repercussions. If the offending action is so egregious that it calls for an apology video, creators tend to lay low for an amount of time, before slowly emerging from their shame den with more content.
James Charles, for example, has been relentlessly pushing forward with his comeback into beauty content after apologizing, coming back and apologizing again for inappropriately texting underage fans. Shane Dawson, who left both the internet and California after old racist videos resurfaced in 2020, is back on YouTube and moved back to Los Angeles. Sienna Mae, who allegedly sexually assaulted her former friend and fellow Hype House member Jack Wright, is back on TikTok despite the heat she got for her infamous interpretative dance apology video.
Few actually stay offline — Jenna Marbles, the YouTuber who called out her own racist videos in 2020 in an effort to hold herself accountable, is one of the only creators who followed through.
Ballinger’s apology was performative, defensive and all too easily turned into meme fodder. Like other disgraced creators, she’ll have to keep a low profile. Whether she’ll actually be able to make a comeback, considering the allegations that continue to pile up against her and the absolute absurdity of apologizing via ukulele, is questionable. What’s certain, however, is that in an ever-growing history of YouTuber apologies, Ballinger’s video will always stand out as a cautionary tale to creators: If your team tells you not to say anything, that’s not an excuse to sing it.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.