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Colleen Ballinger, Miranda Sings and the unraveling of an online fandom

The YouTube star’s fan base is questioning their dedication to her, following allegations that the creator had inappropriate and exploitative relationships with underage fans.
Colleen Ballinger and her alter ego, Miranda Sings.
Colleen Ballinger (right) and her alter ego, "Miranda Sings" (left).FilmMagic; WireImage / Getty Images

Colleen Ballinger, known for her satirical alter ego Miranda Sings, was among the first YouTube creators who launched from internet stardom into mainstream success. 

But in recent weeks, members of Ballinger’s massive fan base are questioning their devotion to the star, as allegations continue to mount that she engaged in inappropriate and exploitative relationships with underage fans.  

Miranda Sings is a silly, satirical character who is known for her bizarre singing style and lack of self-awareness. Ballinger, 36, created the character in 2008 and has since amassed a following of more than 22 million subscribers across different YouTube channels. She also had a Netflix show that ran two seasons, and a comedy special currently available to stream on the platform. 

Though many of Ballinger’s fans have been following her for over a decade, some who spoke with NBC News said they are processing their own guilt over supporting her, and rethinking how they engage with fandoms entirely.

“I can no longer support her in any way, shape or form, like, regardless of if her apology is the most genuine, most heartfelt,” said Tatum Spears, 31. “Because the things that are coming out, there’s just so much ... Like there’s just there’s so many aspects that are coming to light that are horrifying over and over again on so many levels. And I just, I can’t get over this. My head is still spinning.” 

Ballinger has not commented publicly on the allegations, or the recent backlash. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Her fans have noticed the silence — and have decided to not silence themselves, which has led to a fandom’s public unraveling in a way that is unprecedented in the influencer era. While YouTubers have been centers of scandals in the past, Ballinger’s situation is unique in that the fans who are leading the conversation against her are sharing their own experiences and highlighting how they are now viewing her content in a new light. 

“The reason that this is, I think, gaining so much traction now is because all of her first cycle of fans that she had, you know, me and the other group of fans that started 10 years ago, we’ve all grown up now,” said Erin, who asked only to be identified by her first name due to privacy concerns. She went from a superfan to moderating a Reddit thread about the Ballinger allegations.  

Many fans are now speaking out about what they describe as the harmful power dynamics that they believe Ballinger fostered among her followers, Erin said. 

“And we are recognizing … the parasocial relationships that she has allowed to happen and encouraged to happen.” 

Allegations about Ballinger’s behavior first surfaced three years ago

In 2020, YouTuber Adam McIntyre made a video alleging that Ballinger formed an inappropriate personal friendship with him while he was between the ages of 13 and 16, which included her sending him lingerie as a joke. He also alleged that Ballinger gave him access to her social media, helped her generate content ideas, and that they exchanged text messages for years. 

McIntyre said he believed he was friends with Ballinger because she would share personal details about her life, such as her marriage and divorce, until he posted a tweet to her account that received backlash and made Ballinger “turn” on him.

At the time, Ballinger responded to some of McIntyre’s allegations in a video titled “Addressing everything.” Ballinger said that she did use many of her fans’ suggestions for tweets. She said she offered McIntyre a trial period to run her social media, but insisted she did not blame him for any backlash to anything he posted. She also said the fact that she sent him underwear “out of context” sounded awful. 

Ballinger said that she was online unboxing items she had been sent when she and her friend were making fun of the underwear and McIntyre asked for it to be sent to him, which she said became a “big joke within the fandom.” 

“Now, in hindsight, I see how completely stupid of me, I should have never sent that,” Ballinger said in the 2020 video. “I don’t know what part of my brain was missing at the time that I thought, ‘Oh this is a normal, silly thing to do.’” 

McIntyre’s allegations resurfaced earlier this month after another YouTube creator, KodeeRants, who called McIntyre a liar in 2020, made a video alleging that Ballinger privately shared screenshots of messages with McIntyre in a group chat called “Colleeny’s Weenies.” 

Those purported screenshots, displayed in the now-deleted KodeeRants videos, include a question from Ballinger about the group’s “favorite position” and suggests McIntyre include a question in a “Q&A” on his channel about whether or not the then-teen was a virgin. 

KodeeRants has since deleted their YouTube and Twitter accounts, but the purported screenshots have been recirculated across social media. NBC News has not been able to independently verify the screenshots.

KodeeRants did not respond to emails requesting comment on the situation. 

McIntyre did not respond to a message from NBC News requesting comment, but has been outspoken about the matter on his personal social media. 

He said in a recent YouTube video that he received hateful messages for years in the wake of his 2020 video. He shared details about his relationship with Ballinger and showed what he said were screenshots of some of the messages they exchanged.

'What if that was me?’

For some of Ballinger’s fans, the video response she posted three years ago was enough of an explanation. As she came under scrutiny, a handful of members of her fan base came to her defense on social media.

But for others, the online discourse surrounding Ballinger has made them question whether their relationships with their favorite creator were healthy in the first place. In tweets, Reddit threads and other forums, they began expressing their own concerns about her use of minors in her shows, as well as what they describe as the mature nature of her content geared toward children.

Some of the accusations lobbed at Ballinger stem from the “Miranda Sings Live” program, where she has a segment in which she brings up young fans and describes their outfits as “porn.” 

One young woman, who is known as Becky online, said in a tweet that she was brought onstage when she was a minor at one of the live shows for a “yoga challenge” bit, in which Ballinger had her lay on the floor with her legs spread in the air. Her clothing rode up and revealed the spandex underneath her clothing. 

“i was a minor and was literally put on display,” she tweeted on June 6. “and intentional or not, i fulfilled some random men’s sexual fantasies. for so long i felt like i couldn’t say anything bc i volunteered to go on stage, but i simply forgot what i was wearing when i did.”

Becky, who also shared a TikTok about the experience, did not immediately respond to a message asking for comment.  

After Becky’s tweet went viral, some online called on Netflix to pull Ballinger’s comedy special, which is still available to stream. A spokesperson for Netflix declined to comment. 

Ballinger has also not specifically addressed the backlash about the “yoga challenge.”

However, during an interview on Rhett and Link’s “Ear Biscuits” podcast in 2014, Ballinger was asked about the sexual innuendo that her character often makes in her comedy sketches. She clarified that although there is no sexual relationship between her character and her fictional uncle, she also said the implication that the uncle is “a little rapey” is intentional. 

“Everyone thinks that I’m being super sexual, and obviously I am trying to make it seem like I’m talking about something sexual,” Ballinger said in 2014. “But my take on it is that Miranda is so oblivious that she doesn’t realize that it’s a ‘That’s what she said’ type of moment. She just doesn’t see it that way.” 

Sophie, a 15-year-old whose parents asked she only be identified by her first name, said she first began watching “Miranda Sings” videos with her sister while she was in elementary school, and used to get excited at the idea of attending live shows. 

When the allegations first came out in 2020, Sophie said she was confused by the situation. After discussions with her friends and family, she stopped watching any Ballinger and Miranda Sings content. 

Now, Sophie said she is beginning to understand why the allegations against Ballinger are so serious.  

“Because I was such a young age, I’m starting to think like, what if that was me?” Sophie said. “What if I was at her tour … I worry about that and like knowing like my sister, also she watched Colleen with me. It’s like you think of all the things that could have happened to yourself.” 

She said she’s also learned a lot more about engaging as a fan online — and realized that people only show you a curated version of what they want you to see. 

Spears has also been reflecting on Ballinger’s comedy brand. She said she now believes that kind of humor is dangerous because it normalizes inappropriate relationships between children and adults, which also mirrors the allegations against Ballinger. 

“Kids need to know that there are adults like me in their corner in the fandom … they need adults in on this,” Spears said. “They need more outspoken fans our age that need to speak up about this because this could be a real shift point in how we view fandom.” 

Fans face a reckoning within their community  

When Ballinger made her 2020 apology video, Spears said she believed that the YouTuber was genuine in addressing her mistakes. But Spears finds that same video “appalling” just three years later and said she feels deceived by the persona Ballinger created. 

“What makes Colleen’s situation particularly nefarious, is that she’s benefiting from capitalizing on manipulating her fans into believing she’s a friend and that was really hard for me to digest,” Spears said.

Spears is now reconciling with what she describes as “tremendous guilt” for not having looked at the allegations by McIntyre more seriously.

Harlem Osborne, 32, now a former fan of Ballinger, believes the allegations against her are examples of grooming and emotional manipulation. In many ways, fans are more vulnerable than stars, because it’s harder to be a fan than it is to be a celebrity, Osborne said.

“Because you are not obsessed with yourself, if that makes sense,” Osborne said. “But the fans are there, they’re dedicated, they’re buying your merch, they’re buying the products you have.” 

Because the creator economy is now its own massive industry, talent agencies that help bolster the careers of influencers should be doing more to protect fans, Osborne said.  

“I believe that they should look deeper into the aspects of fandoms,” Osborne said. “I believe they should do a little bit more research … if something doesn’t feel right or something doesn’t seem right, the talent agency should be able to research that person or that group and maybe kind of shield the fandom from that.” 

So much of the “Miranda Sings” brand was built on fandom, with Ballinger decorating her set in fan art and showing gifts that were given to her on camera. 

And while that might seem caring, fans like Erin said that it also fostered competition and hierarchy, particularly among young people who were desperate to be noticed.  

If I could go back I would just tell myself that, like, any feelings or any, like, attachment that you think you’re having to this person that you think you care about, it’s just part of the business

-Erin, a former fan of ballinger

“I think our traditional view of fandoms, if you will, has pretty much been one-sided but now that we have these fandoms that are, like, seemingly two-sided,” Erin said. “When really it’s not, it’s all parasocial. But you have these fans thinking that they have a real relationship and now even some fans are being elevated to a real relationship with these content creators.” 

Ballinger created a paradigm that made a personal relationship seem possible to her fans, if they just spent enough money on her merch or spent enough time engaging on social media or went to enough shows, Erin said. 

“If I could go back I would just tell myself that, like, any feelings or any, like, attachment that you think you’re having to this person that you think you care about, it’s just part of the business.” Erin said. “That’s what it’s for. And just don’t allow yourself to idolize somebody so much, because she’s just a regular person and sometimes regular people do horrible things.” 

As fans continue to grapple with their feelings, some brands that partnered with Ballinger are distancing themselves. TMZ reported last week that two brands, ZocDoc and skincare company OneSkin, had cut ties with Ballinger

ZocDoc confirmed to NBC News that it was pulling its ads from Ballinger’s podcast, Relax! OneSkin did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News. 

Ballinger — who hasn’t uploaded any videos to her YouTube channels in two weeks — has a Miranda Sings show scheduled for Friday in Indianapolis.