Halle Burns on Balancing TikTok and YouTube Stardom With College Life
Time doesn’t work the same way on TikTok as it does here on Earth. The same warping power that sucks you into your For You page for minutes-turned-hours can also propel a creator to unfathomable popularity in a fraction of the time it would take, say, a movie star to get their breakout role. That’s why when we decided to check back in with vegan foodie TikTokker Halle Burns, who we interviewed back in August, it wasn’t surprising that so much had changed for her in just five months.
When Burns and I first spoke, the 19 year old had 800,000 followers on TikTok, thanks to the recipe videos she delivered—as she still does—in a powerfully soothing voice. Now she has 1.3 million followers. In August, Burns wouldn’t even think of doing a brand deal—now she’s worked with companies like Walmart and PacSun. This fall she more formally launched her YouTube channel, where she posts vlogs from her college in Georgia that routinely get more views than she has subscribers, which is already an impressive 166,000.
“Sometimes I catch myself not even recognizing how big of a platform I have,” Burns tells me in a call from her family home in Georgia, where she was for winter break. (Burns does not share exactly where she goes to college, but says that she’s majoring in communications.) “When it started, it was just for fun. And now it kind of feels like a job. But at the same time, it's a job that I really, really enjoy, which I'm very thankful to say.”
Both times Burns and I have spoken, she’s been every bit as down to earth as she is in her videos—answering questions slowly in the voice her followers have come to love, measured and honest in her responses, living up to the “calmest American person I’ve ever seen” comment left on one of her early YouTube videos. Unlike other internet stars, who have been trained in the art of interviews to the point of never giving any real answers, interviewing Burns still feels like having a conversation with a real person. In 2020, I promise that’s a compliment.
Those who’ve followed Burns from the beginning (way back in...March 2020) are witnessing just how meteoric the rise of an up-and-coming creator can be. Asking some of the same questions again, it’s clear that while a lot has changed, she still doesn’t consider herself a normal TikTok star. At least, not yet.
The first time we spoke was in August. Five months later, what would you say is the biggest thing that’s changed for you?
I guess getting better at what I'm putting out, because I think there is definitely a pattern and a format that I followed when I first started on TikTok. And now I feel like the majority of people that watch my videos, at least on that platform, are looking for recipes. I kind of have to start coming up with my own, but at the same time, still making it quick and easy and understandable. So that's been a challenge, definitely, because I was learning how to do it in a dorm room. On YouTube, it's a little bit different. It feels like more of a personal platform.
The first time I reached out to you, it was over Instagram DM. This time I had go through a management company. When and why did you take the step to assemble a team?
It was actually something I was a little bit worried about. At first I didn't really know what management was and I was also kind of iffy about brand partnerships and ruining the sort of homey-ness to a video. I'm very happy to have a manager now. If I didn't, I don't know what I would be doing, because people reach out to me a lot more now that every platform that I'm on has grown. It's a weird feeling, but it's actually kind of cool because it feels like all the work that I'm putting into it is kind of going somewhere.
Last time, we talked about you potentially partnering with brands, and you were definitely hesitant about it. What convinced you to try it?
If you ask [my manager], she'd tell you that I'm [still] hesitant to accept them. I've just been waiting for ones that I'm comfortable with and proud of. What I'm looking for is to promote things that I would normally do and actually use. Obviously there's a money side of it, and it helps me as a student. I just want to do it in a way that's kind of a happy medium. My biggest fear was to have people think that some part of whatever kind of content I used to put out was lost and that was completely opposite of the reaction I got.
What made you decide to dive more intensely into YouTube, and what has that been like?
One of the things that I found out with TikTok was that I can't really skew that far away from recipes because that's what people are expecting to see. YouTube just allows me to put different stuff out there. I feel like I've learned a lot more about people and people have a chance to learn a little bit more about me. I started the vlogs at an interesting time because I was going to college in the middle of, you know, a pandemic. I think it ended up working out really well because not only did I see the growth in people that were watching me, I read comments and people are from all different parts of the world.
"My biggest fear was to have people think that some part of whatever kind of content I used to put out was lost."
You're in school, you're making TikToks, you're vlogging, and you're starting to work with brands. Has juggling all that been manageable? Have you had to make any kind of adjustments?
I've definitely had to make adjustments and I wouldn't say it was manageable at the beginning. Especially in school, I actually found myself getting stressed out a lot, but I think it's just figuring out how to balance time. I probably just didn't do that very well my first semester. I'm pretty confident that I'd be able to go into second semester and do it again.
What kinds of goals do you have for the next semester?
I'd like to start doing some other stuff on YouTube. I'm not sure what that is. I really like thrifting and that whole minimalism aspect, that's becoming a big thing. I think I'd like to grow on the YouTube platform a little bit more. TikTok, I don't know what to do with. I do feel a little bit stuck, but at the same time I really enjoy the stuff that I put out, even though it's just me cooking in the kitchen.
Do you get recognized when you're out and about at school?
Yeah, it was weird. We didn't go out as much because of the pandemic obviously, but even the few times that I did or just hanging out with people, I'd meet mutual friends and they'd be like, “Oh, you sound really familiar.” Or, “You look like someone that I know.” And I found that the best thing would just be to respond with, like, “Oh, that's funny.” If they happen to figure it out, then they do. It's a weird thing to have to talk about. It's definitely something that I'm getting used to, but it's nice.
Is you hope to go into something maybe food related? Could you see being a content creator? I'm curious if this has changed how you're thinking about post-grad life.
It's definitely made me want to major in something that has more to do with what I spend all of my free time doing, because I would say that when I was in school, 50 percent of my time went towards my schoolwork and the other 50 percent, or maybe 40 percent, went towards content creation, and then 10 percent was just me actually having a life. I would like to keep studying and see if everything that I'm learning in school somehow helps me out in what I'm doing off to the side. But honestly I really love creating content and I don't know if it's going anywhere career-wise, but it's made me reconsider a lot of things as far as school goes. Not extremely ‘cause, you know, I'm still going back to graduate, but it's made me reconsider some things for sure.