- At 21, Tana Mongeau has become one of YouTube's biggest celebrities, balancing viral "Storytimes" on her channel with an MTV reality show and a Hollywood socialite lifestyle.
- She's also being mentored by Paris Hilton, and Mongeau and her friends are redefining what being a tabloid fixture looks like for Generation Z, through career highs and controversial lows.
- Mongeau gave Insider some insight into what her daily absurdities are like while cruising around the Playlist Live social media convention in Orlando, Florida, where 13,000 YouTube fans gathered.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
ORLANDO, Fla. – YouTuber Tana Mongeau didn't need an "Us Weekly" cover, access to a TV studio, or a famous family name to become Gen Z's equivalent of a tabloid star. All she needed was a camera and a few friends.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at the influencer convention Playlist Live, where 13,000 YouTube-obsessed fans gathered at a WiFi-exhausted Marriott resort to meet their favorite creators, hang out with internet friends, and make content of their own.
Eighteen floors above it all, where high-pitched screams reverberated around the tiled room in response to TikTokers with mid-sized followings, Mongeau lounged in an armchair tucked into a corner of the suite she was sharing with her best friend Ashly Schwan, whose friendship predates Mongeau's YouTube channel. Schwan was sprawled on the futon a few feet away. As 5 p.m. passed by, everyone expressed feeling vaguely dead, but Mongeau perked up once we started comparing her and Schwan to Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.
"I'd do anything on Earth to stop everything I'm doing and do a 'Simple Life' reboot with Ashly," she said, making sure to emphasize "anything" and "everything."
That early 2000s reality series followed Hilton, then a socialite princess in her early 20s, alongside her best friend Richie for 5 seasons as they moved in with middle-class families around the country, trading parties and trust funds for manual labor like farm work and fast-food jobs.
21-year-old Mongeau wasn't born into a luxurious lifestyle like Hilton – quite the opposite, as she's explained in her "Storytime" vlogs about her "insane dad" and chaotic home life. Mongeau, a high school dropout, grew up with her parents in Las Vegas until she started making money from YouTube, moving out on her own at age 16.
But these days, as I watched her sift through designer sunglasses for her night out, while scrolling through PDFs of outfits on her phone she had planned for Playlist parties, it's easy to see how Mongeau could revert to a simpler life.
Hilton agrees, and told Insider it would be "dizzy" to watch Mongeau – who the 39-year-old businesswoman now mentors – reboot her iconic series. "Dizzy," not unlike "That's hot," is Mongeau's catchphrase, which she's emblazoned on merchandise and sprinkled throughout her social media posts.
"We always talk about how we're 'Simple Life' b—-es," Mongeau added, gesturing excitedly toward Schwan, whose black turtleneck and gray miniskirt complemented her own sheer white crop top and striped gray pants. "Nicole is the more outspoken one, Ashly is just like that. It's totally us."
I joined Mongeau and her friends on day 2 of Playlist, following her manager upstairs to her room, past rows of doors that would occasionally pop open to reveal another YouTube- or TikTok-famous face. The entire floor smelled like stale marijuana smoke and vapes got passed around more frequently than handshakes.
Tons of Mongeau's fans have expressed wanting to hang out and party with her, and watching her pose for photos in her room that would later accrue nearly 1 million likes on Instagram – her own personal tabloid section – was like getting a peek behind a social media mastermind's curtain.
Mongeau and her friends are redefining Hollywood tabloid fame for Gen Z, riding waves of controversy and imitating the greats
Mongeau and Schwan may be setting their sights set on a "Simple Life" reboot, but they've already been conquering one reality series together. Their YouTube-famous clique recently kicked off season 2 of MTV's "No Filter," a digital series that started once Mongeau hit the legal drinking age.
It may seem repetitive to have a vlogger with more than 5 million subscribers feature in yet another behind-the-scenes look at her own life, but the videos have racked up millions of clicks for MTV, and given Mongeau the chance to legitimize her wild child status.
"MTV is like my Illuminati sugar daddy," she deadpanned, and there's truth to that (not the Illuminati part). Now, Mongeau gets billboards in Times Square, she won "Creator of the Year" at the Streamys, and she was a featured creator at VidCon last summer, as opposed to the year before, when her self-titled convention TanaCon blew up in her face down the street from the biggest influencer convention of the year.
TanaCon was an unmitigated disaster that propelled Mongeau into the really big, really bad kind of viral fame that ends with a Shane Dawson documentary series and a lot of sobbing. It wasn't the first time she's had to apologize to her fans and, given her provocateur lifestyle, it surely won't be the last. But so far she's always been forgiven.
Each of her scandals, both big and small, have also given Mongeau a boost in name recognition, similar to tabloid stars like Hilton, even if it's people dragging her name online. But she says she doesn't court controversy for career growth.
"People always tell me that and I just can't look at it that way," she said. "I like being controversial sometimes, it can be fun. But for something like TanaCon, I felt like all I could take from that was 'How can I make sure this never happens again? How can I grow from this? How can I change as a person?'"
Anyone who has followed Mongeau since her YouTube videos started taking off in 2015 can tell she's changed. Drastically. Back when she went viral for stories about stalkers and titles like "I GOT BANGED WITH A TOOTHBRUSH," Mongeau's appeal was still deviance, but from her childhood bedroom with a dirty white door.
It got clicks. There's an online tendency to downplay Mongeau's talent, and a lot of criticism of her leans on sexist stereotypes and tired tropes about women, sexuality, and influencer culture. But at the core of her channel's success was a teenager who mastered viral storytelling through 20-minute screaming rants into her camera.
Mongeau's Gen Z fans at Playlist Live attributed her success to her comedy, her authenticity, and for wading through all the hate that comes her way. One fan described wanting Mongeau to "be my mom."
"She's just unapologetically her," 20-year-old Mongeau fan and Florida State senior Zoe Jenkins said. "She takes the hate as jokes. Now her Twitter name is 'future stripper,' and like, that's just hilarious."
Mongeau herself made her Twitter bio "not bad for a 5 with no talent," but her relevance has only strengthened over time. The outfit she wore to Coachella last summer was the most-Googled female celebrity look of 2019.
Mongeau has gone beyond the internet, though, and now appears in glossy – but still hilarious – perfume ads, and her debut scent "Tana by Tana" sold out in 76 minutes. Hilton, who has made over $2 billion on 26 fragrances, mentored her throughout that process.
"As soon as we met, we had an instant connection," Hilton told Insider. "I thought she was so friendly and funny. I was really proud of her when she told me she was releasing her first fragrance, inspired by me."
Fans of Mongeau love her humor and her 'give zero f—s' attitude, even if the wild child persona can be difficult to maintain 24/7
Luckily for her channel, but maybe not so much her schedule, Mongeau's life is full of little absurdities. Saturday morning at the convention, she woke up with pinkeye, which she of course documented across social media.
It didn't stop her from any of the day's activities, though she later felt the need to issue a Twitter explanation that the redness wasn't from letting someone ejaculate into her eye. It's not an out of the ordinary tweet for the YouTuber, who goes regularly shares details about her sexual exploits with her fans.
That's just one reason she's controversial, as well as why she's popular. It's almost a self-parody at times – Mongeau excels at photo editing with apps like Facetune, and supplied instructions for how her not so family-friendly sheer crop top could be Facetuned for this article (hint: use the "Patch" tool to make the shirt more opaque).
She's also faced intense scrutiny for her party lifestyle, which includes a lot of blatant alcohol and drug consumption. In a recent episode of MTV's "No Filter," she dealt with lung pain and described herself as an addict.
The lows of her life featured prominently in a 40-minute video from two months ago, when an emotionally exhausted Mongeau laid on her bed, bleakly telling her fans that she was tormented by an unhealthy relationship with Jake Paul and an overwhelming amount of scrutiny over her marriage, which wasn't legally binding.
"I can't look at things like that as 'Oh my God, they're so harsh,'" Mongeau said, after I asked her if she felt like the media scrutiny reaches unfair levels. "If I find myself feeling bad for myself or pitying myself, I have to constantly remind myself that at the end of the day, 'This is the career and the life you have. Every person everywhere writing about you, they're making you more famous.'"
It's not just mean stories about her, either. Mongeau is frequently piled on, like when she appeared on Alexis Haines' (formerly Neiers) "Recovery from Reality" podcast. Haines had to start the episode with a rebuke to the people who left hurtful comments and 1-star reviews in advance, before she even sat down with Mongeau.
"There's no question in my mind that part of it is sexism, but it's weird because the heat I was getting was from women who were saying, you know, 'Oh, she just uses her body to get ahead,'" Haines, who starred in "Pretty Wild" as a teenager and pleaded no contest for her involvement in the "Bling Ring," told Insider.
Haines sees Mongeau as someone very similar to her younger self, and says she deserves respect as she continues to grow into adulthood and figures out what's next, after the party life eventually becomes unsustainable.
"She has every right to do whatever she wants with her body, and when I see Tana, I see a young woman doing the best she can," Haines said. "All the things I had dealt with before my show, that girl was just as worthy of love and respect as the girl I am today. And my argument is that Tana is as well."
And the love Mongeau's devoted fan following has for her knows no bounds. Brittni Grant, Schwan's cousin who filled in as Mongeau's assistant during Playlist Live, noted that the YouTuber's fans were just as eager to see her with pinkeye, hiding behind yellow sunglasses, than they would be otherwise.
"They were like 'Give me your pinkeye,'" Grant said, recalling the meet-and-greet Mongeau held that day where Playlist asked she not touch any of her fans, given the contagious nature of the infection. "I can't think of any celebrity that I would let give me pinkeye."
Mongeau gives that love and devotion right back to them. At the Playlist Live parties, she was constantly approached by other influencers for photos and conversation – which made sense, since her social climbing prowess has made her one of the most popular people in whatever room she's in.
But then at 1:40 a.m. on Sunday, when Mongeau and her crew pulled around the back of the Marriott convention center on the golf carts that shuttled creators to and from the exclusive after parties, there was a small group of fans lined up behind barricades, waiting for her.
Despite having just spent a full 12-hour day zooming around – not to mention the hours spent at the party – Mongeau disembarked from the golf cart and hurried up to them. She spent the next several minutes taking selfies and talking to them, before eventually heading back up the steps to bed.
"I think my fan base and I are all kind of the same type of b—-," Mongeau told Insider. "I hope no one wants to actually be me. But I think me being a trainwreck resonates with people."
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