Vlogger and social media queen Lilly "Superwoman" Singh received a rock star welcome at the Sharjah International Book Fair.
Held at the Sharjah Expo, the event’s ballroom was packed on Thursday night by more than 2,000 - mostly screaming teenagers - who stood on chairs to get a peak of the Canadian-Indian YouTuber who returned to the emirate to promote her new book.
But this was far from the regular In Conversation sessions held at the book fair over the last week. Prior to Singh taking the stage, there was a DJ playing Spice Girls hits to up the ante. There was also light show reminiscent of a pop concert and a slew of book sellers walking around selling Singh's latest book How to be a Bawse for a cool Dh60.
It was only right for Singh to take the stage to declare her UAE “Superwoman family” as some of her most dedicated fans.
With most of the crowd consisting of children aged 10 to 16, Singh kept the conversation rapid and light hearted - nearly every sentence was punctuated with declarations of “this so awesome” and “this sounds weird”.
While the kids lapped it up, of course, Singh did provide a few morsels of insight about her rise to fame - she made $7.5 million (Dh27.5m) from her YouTube channel alone in 2016, courtesy of daily vlogs and interviews with the likes of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and Hollywood action hero Dwyane "The Rock" Johnson.
She also shared the lessons she learnt as a digital native and YouTube star.
On starting her Superwoman YouTube channel in 2010
It was down to a mix of boredom and angst. The Ontario-born Singh was 22 and said she was looking for a way to express herself that was different from her regular journal writing. With an itch for performance, Singh identified YouTube as a creative outlet. However, before creating the channel, she uploaded videos that were far removed from her signature cheery persona.
“I remember I did a video of me doing a spoken word poem, which wasn’t that good,” she said.
Regarding her Superwoman stage name, Singh said she got the from the 2001 hip-hop track by Lil Mo and Fabolous.
“I used to call myself that in school and it became almost like an armour,” she said.
“It gave me a lot of confidence. I mean, nothing could get to me because I was a superwoman.”
The name also provided her with a sense of direction regarding her YouTube channel. As well as coming up with zany skits regarding her everyday life, part of Superwoman’s appeal is in talk about the things that make teenagers vulnerable.
“The videos that really took off was not always the funny skits,” she said.
“It was me talking about myself. I would talk about my love handles and how I don’t wash my face before going to sleep. People related to that.”
On her book, How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life
It is a galling endeavour: an author barely out of her 20s writing a self-help book for teenagers.
But judging by the thousands of teenagers keenly paying attention to Singh’s encouragement to stay the course, despite life’s obstacles, it is rather effective.
The fact is, Singh knows her audience well, from their digital media appetite to the hip-hop inspired vernacular they use. Hence, instead of “boss” it is “Bawse.” What’s the difference?
“Well, ‘boss” is you being a leader in the work place,” she said. “While “bawse” is you loving yourself for who you are imperfections. When you say to yourself ‘I love you and support you’ than that’s when you are a ‘bawse.”
The book itself is fortunately more detailed than that.
How to Be a Bawse is part memoir and work book with Singh's prose a blend of zany humour and tough sister.
In one section, she addresses procrastinating students to find out the root of their issue: “You should know yourself best, so why wait until someone else calls you out to scramble to find your answer? Before you answer to your boss, answer to your inner bawse.”
The life purpose of Lilly Singh
More than the sold out international tours and hanging out with movie superstars, Singh said the most satisfying aspect of her career is inspiring people to be their best.
“It gave me a purpose in life," she said.
“I always wanted to do something really big and impactful but I didn’t know what or how. But when I discovered YouTube I thought this was the perfect way to communicate a message of love and positivity.”
The Sharjah International Book Fair runs until Saturday. For details, go to www.sibf.com