A fashion blogger and a social media sensation who doesn’t want to come on a video call? It did sound a bit strange initially but let’s leave it at that.
“I am on a vacation. Also, it takes a very different mindset to be on a video call. I feel like I can talk more clearly this way,” says Dolly Singh while excusing herself from having this conversation with Outlook Business over a video call.
With over a million followers on Instagram, Singh has taken the internet by storm with her funny videos and fashion blog. Her biggest moment of success, however, came when she bagged a key role in Netflix’s show Bhaag Beanie Bhaag in December 2020. Originally from Nainital, the 27-year-old has seen her share of struggles before striking the right chord with her audience.
After finishing her degree in political science from Delhi University, Singh pursued her passion for fashion at the National Institute of Fashion Technology. In 2015, she started her popular style blog Spill the Sass. She then started working with women’s lifestyle website iDiva as a writer and eventually ended up acting in videos for the platform. On April 17, 2016, she started her own YouTube channel. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, how has the journey been? “Taxing and not the most fun,” she says.
She makes it clear that fame and recognition come with a lot of stress and pressure to perform better. “Every job entails different types of stress but in this one, the competition is right in front of you. As an industry, it feels amazing to see it grow at a crazy scale every day. At the same time, being one of the people in it can be very threatening.”
Such is the pressure that sometimes, one neglects health as well. Singh dislocated her leg two months back but continued to shoot her projects. “I kept going on as if it was nothing,” she says, almost in disbelief.
Then there is the struggle to juggle their online and offline personalities. Singh, who describes herself as an introvert, says people sometimes have difficulty putting together the creator and the person behind it.
“Some people who meet me in person tell me I look different; I am not as funny. They ask me if I’m okay. But that is who I am. The constant need to keep up with the ever-changing trends, filters and what goes viral is scary,” she says.
But the bigger question is—how long can people keep doing what they do? It’s the question that Singh often asks herself. She is also changing and allowing herself to take a break sometimes. She has started talking more openly about mental health and uploading ‘real’ content, telling her audience that her own personality does not always mirror the peppy characters she portrays.
“It’s important to be very smart with your collaborations,” says Singh, who has worked on deals with the T20 World Cup, Amazon Prime Video’s Cinderella movie and dairy firm Country Delight.
One of her longest associations has been with Olay, a skincare brand she has endorsed for the past two years. “I use it and talk about it. I don’t talk about rivals because that will make me look floozy,” she says.
With more endorsements and events coming her way, she decided to get OML Entertainment, a Mumbai-based professional agency, on board. As live events, concerts and movie theatres shut down during the pandemic, the agency shifted its focus to digital content creators such as Singh.
“OML has always been excited to work with new content creators and the new wave of mobile-first content creators was a space we wanted to dive into for a while. With this creator ecosystem almost being limitless, Dolly was one of the first creators we wanted as part of OML since her content resonates with our vision of breaking the mould and doing work that sticks with the audience for long,” says Ruchi Patel, business head of the creator wing at OML.
Patel says that Singh’s relatable, engaging and shareable content is the reason behind brands flocking to her. Brands find her style witty and unique. “They like being part of a story through every content piece rather than something which people are waiting to skip,” she adds.
Singh points out that there are a number of other aspects that go into deciding which brand to tie up with and how. “My collaboration should not look like an ad. It should be a video on its own,” she says.
She has had to explain the difference between handing out a script to Bollywood stars and campaigns with content creators.
“They mostly come with whacky requests and lame scripts. I have to tell them that we can do so much better,” Singh says.
Some experiences are upsetting. Once, a brand had written an entire script revolving around Guddi Bhabhi—a recurring fictional character created by Singh—and asked her to shoot it. “I was offended because I am the writer of that character,” she says.
“If you talk about Bollywood stars… they don’t have to work so hard. They can take a given script, add their touch and act it out. That’s okay for them but not me. I have to create characters and scripts. That’s my only way,” she says.
But, for her, this approach hasn’t been easy to hang on to with the risk of industry people considering her “difficult to work with”. She has also lost many deals because of it. But Singh insists she cannot compromise on her content.
Humour is at the centre of the campaigns she chooses to do and the content often revolves around the characters she has brought to life over the years. It throws light on the mantra Dolly abides by: the brands that are striving these days are the brands that can take a joke.
Singh finds influencer activism a “sham”, preferring not to be part of such campaigns. “Most brands suddenly wake up around Women’s Day or other such occasions but I find the approach rather superficial,” she adds.
As someone who has a platform and power, she prefers to start a conversation herself. While she doesn’t mind doing broader campaigns around issues of gender equality and the likes, she wants to strictly stay away from mental health. While she posts content regarding mental health issues on her social media, she plans to stay away from the trend of brands engaging in marketing campaigns around it. “That’s a topic I don’t want to make money out of,” she points out.
Like many other influencers, she has shied away from taking a personal stance on political issues. To that, she gives an honest response: “It is difficult. I think we are all scared at this time to be able to talk freely about what our views are. There is a step back that has been taken by a lot of people, including myself.”
But, what about the future influencers? How should they plan and drive their social media career? “Hold on to whoever you are. That is what will take you a long way. It’s very important to have a little bit of yourself out there… some real talk with your audience,” says Singh, signing off.
Dolly’s Favourite Campaigns
- Durex – Though India is conservative about the product, I thought it would be great to use this trope by creating a “aunties talking about sex” video. The brand fits right in and the content also resonated with the audience.
- Netflix – I have been lucky to be part of several projects of theirs like the AK v/s AK roast, Behensplaining and many more.
- &pictures, 5star, MasterChef – These brands have been a pleasure to work with because of the freedom they gave me and the trust they had in me to produce content that will keep my creativity intact.