“Truth or Drink?” The confessional, unscripted video trend features the platform’s early influencers ditching their kid-friendly images.
To stand out on the internet in 2013—a time after everyone joined social media, but before monoculture was pronounced dead—one had to be loud. Bright, bokeh background photos of lip glosses and AriZona iced tea cans were doing numbers on Tumblr; Billboard’s Top 100 was packed with high-volume, high-sincerity chart-toppers, from the anthemic (fun.’s “Some Nights”) to the explosive (Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”); and the most searched-for cocktail on Google that year, the Aviation, sported an unexpected violet. On YouTube, the algorithm supported an aesthetic that fit squarely within what YouTuber Shelby Church dubbed the “Saturation Era.”
The aesthetic—a pre-millennial-pink fever dream splashed with magenta and turbocharged cyan—defined YouTube’s wildly popular back-to-school videos, from locker DIY tutorials to school lunch ideas to room tours. The PG content and attendant aesthetic became a fast track to success on the platform—so much so that influencers who were years outside of the school-age demographic began making those videos, too.
“I know that a lot of YouTubers who kind of branded themselves as ‘back-to-school girls’ definitely struggled with sharing their adult personalities [and] having to cater their channel to a 15-year-old age demographic,” says Lindsey Hughes, who has been on the platform since 2010, when she herself was 15.
There was also a monetary benefit to acting younger: YouTube was becoming a viable career for some, supported by advertising that prioritized kid-friendly content and brand sponsors who wanted their ambassadors to behave in a certain way. Travel YouTuber Damon Dominique, who features more mature content in his videos, has encountered such pressures. On his 27th birthday, his manager urged him to take down a photo of himself with a shot glass because a brand felt it didn’t align with their values. “I found it funny to remind them I was 27,” says Dominique.
Fast-forward to today’s internet, where the candid and unedited reigns, and the growing “Truth or Drink” format feels right at home. In these videos, the same YouTubers who were playing kid versions of themselves a decade ago answer viewer-submitted questions about things they’ve previously never spoken about, including their experiences partying, their dating lives and what happened behind the scenes in their early days on YouTube. If they choose not to answer a question, they take a shot.
While “Truth or Drink” has been around since at least 2015, the early videos came from a professional production company, Cut, which was less vulnerable to the personal scrutiny and targeted vitriol that followed independent creators. “My channel became such a little kid’s channel without even intending to,” confesses YouTuber Alisha McDonald in a video about her growth on the platform. Now, her video series is arguably the archetype of the “Truth or Drink” rubric. In the series, she invites her YouTube contemporaries—women who also gained a following making youthful videos—to join her in spilling secrets over shots of tequila.