The UAE’s most popular video bloggers on what it takes to become a hit

We catch up with popular vloggers Emkwan, What Doesn't Suck, and Hayla Ghazal to ask them what it takes to become a viral sensation in the Emirates.

Jeff Johns and Ann Mugnier’s channel What Doesn’t Suck? sends up expat living. Courtesy Jeff Johns
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Sampling desserts, tying headscarves and taking high tea. These are just some of the topics covered by Emkwan, a 32-year-old YouTube star who, from his base in Abu Dhabi, regularly vlogs – video blogs – on life in the UAE.

Attracting up to 300,000 views per vlog, Emkwan, real name Mohsin Khan, is one of dozens of residents broadcasting videos online, a trend that sees ­vloggers build intimate, unique relationships with subscribers from around the world.

But why take up vlogging? For Emkwan, he’s driven to upload regular content by the enjoyment he gets from sharing his gadget, car and watch reviews.

“I started experimenting with YouTube at university back when the platform was associated with time-wasting and cat videos,” he smiles. “I got into tech reviews where I learnt about the filming, editing and promotional aspects of running a YouTube channel.

“I now run two channels: ­Emkwan Reviews, which offers advice and suggestions related to technology, cars, watches and luxury, and Emkwan Vlogs, where I vlog biweekly on day-to-day life as expats, lifestyle and luxury,” he adds.

Emkwan launched this second channel to document his move to the UAE with his wife Nabeelah, and frequently posted videos for friends and family back in the United Kingdom.

“The channel was set to private, but I quickly realised that viewers from the other YouTube channel wanted to see more about life in the UAE. Both channels are now public, and it’s great to see the interaction they receive. On average, they get more than half a million minutes of watch time a month, which is incredible and ­humbling.”

Filmed on a Canon camera, usually a G7X or Legria Mini X, Emkwan’s lighthearted, upbeat vlogs cover a range of topics, including buying a Rolex watch, collecting a Bentley and enjoying afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab. He also answers subscribers’ questions, such as: “What’s it like working in the UAE?”

“I vlog on what I’m passionate about,” he says. “I feel that’s the best way to be – the audience picks up on your passion, and your energy online shows. It’s also easier to talk about what you love than it is about what you don’t.”

Hayla Ghazal, meanwhile, is a 21-year-old Syrian vlogger whose comedy and lifestyle posts regularly attract more than 200 million views. The ­Dubai resident, who is a business marketing graduate and was ­appointed a change ambassador to the United Nations in March, vlogs on fashion, beauty and life with her family, including restaurant reviews and fun takes on Eid ­celebrations.

From the age of 8, she dreamt of becoming a TV presenter, and started working in media at the age of 15, juggling her studies with acting in TV commercials and presenting.

“I absolutely loved speaking in front of the camera and wanted to be able to present anywhere, anytime and about anything I wanted,” she says. “So I started my YouTube channel in 2013, at the age of 18.”

With more than 1.6 million YouTube subscribers, 750,000 Instagram followers and 250,000 Facebook likes, Ghazal has been particularly successful. She attributes her popularity to having fun and being ­herself.

“There’s always a lot of jumping and dancing, and a whole bunch of bloopers,” she laughs. “In our part of the world, I do not need to scream from the rooftop to send a message. I need to speak a language people understand. Because people love to laugh, I use comedy to lightly highlight the unique habits that exist in our society to encourage social change.”

Ghazal’s vlogs have included family lunches in Dubai and experiences such as a Red Bull airplane flight over Abu Dhabi.

“YouTube is a global platform that anyone can be part of. I love that,” she explains. “Anyone anywhere can be part of this ­community without prior experience or specific ­qualifications.”

Jeff Johns and Anne Mugnier, the Dubai-based duo behind travel-and-lifestyle vlog What Doesn’t Suck?, also take a carefree approach to their work. From the United States and France respectively, the couple offer helpful information on where to go and what to do in and around the UAE.

Conscious of other vloggers who try to be “super serious publishers”, Johns and Mugnier devise original ideas that people can laugh at.

“We don’t take anything seriously and we reflect that in our videos,” says Johns. “While we love to provide useful information about all we’re doing, our most important goal is to make people smile.”

With 3,163 YouTube subscribers, What Doesn't Suck? is ­rapidly gaining in popularity. The 23 Things Dubai ­Expats Say video was particularly well-received, attracting more than half a million views across all online channels in its first month.

All four vloggers source content ideas from their day-to-day lives. Ghazal was once “dragged” to a wedding by her mother, and it was there that she decided to make a piece on types of dances at weddings. With more than six million views, the video became her most popular.

Emkwan also looks at what’s trending online and takes suggestions from fans, believing that subscribers and commentators are an important factor in helping to gauge what people are interested in seeing.

“The vlogging scene in the UAE has grown and changed a lot since I arrived four years ago,” he says. “At the time, there were a handful of us vlogging regularly. Since then, numbers have grown, but with more people making similar videos on similar subjects – for example, Dubai’s luxury cars and luxury lifestyle.”

His video Buying My First Rolex, for example, attracted more than 160,000 views, one of his most successful posts to date, but luxury isn't his only angle.

“I believe it’s important to show the world the depth and tradition the UAE has, alongside these luxury aspects,” he adds.

Emkwan, who has more than 23,000 Instagram followers and 25,000 Twitter followers, also believes the two emirates possess different vibes and ambiences. “Dubai is fast-paced. Abu Dhabi is a little slower. It’s great to capture on video,” he says.