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‘I just like being anonymous’: Why Vine star Christine Sydelko left internet fame behind

Sydelko had 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube before she announced her departure from the public spotlight. Her fans might miss her, but Sydelko is staying offline.
Photo illustration of former Vine creator Christine Sydelko.
Christine Sydelko said it all with her popular “Merry Crisis” Vine.NBC News; Getty Images

This profile is part of NBC News’ series about former Vine stars, tied to the fifth anniversary of the platform’s death.

Christine Sydelko spends most of her time doing jigsaw puzzles, reading books, applying for jobs, petting her dog and smoking weed. 

“I kind of live like a retiree, I guess,” Sydelko told NBC News. “But I can’t live with my parents forever. At least they say so.”

It's a sharp pivot from the life she lived four years ago, when she was part of the great migration of Vine Stars who flocked to Los Angeles. Back then, she had 1.3 million YouTube subscribers and ambitions to remain a top creator.

Sydelko, now 27, first began posting on Vine out of boredom while recovering from an appendectomy. A college student studying political science in Chicago, Sydelko’s first viral video was a clip of child YouTube star MattyBRaps describing a dance called the Nae Nae.

She went viral again with a video of herself singing the spiritual “Kumbaya,” while her friend snorted Adderall in the background. 

“I was like, ‘Oh, this is like dopamine. Look at all those numbers,’” Sydelko said. “That’s probably what started me posting, trying to be funny. ... So that was pretty much how I got started, with a ruptured appendix.” 

Eventually, she partnered up creatively with Elijah Daniel, now 28, whom she met on Vine. Sydelko said Daniel convinced her to leave school and move to Los Angeles with him to make a living as YouTubers, since they couldn’t monetize their Vine content. 

Sydelko and Daniel’s bread-and-butter was their vlogs, which featured disjointed clips of the pair gallivanting around Los Angeles. The vlogs were commercially successful and “low pressure” to make. Videos with titles like “WE GOT BANNED FROM IKEA!!!” and “HE PROPOSED AT TACO BELL!!” have millions of views.

Sydelko describes the vlogs as “kind of scripted in the way that a reality show is,” since they typically featured her “getting drunk and running around.”

Daniel ran the show, and Sydelko credits him with brainstorming silly premises for their videos and then doing all the editing. She describes him as a “social media genius” who knows exactly “what will play” well online.

A 2017 skit they starred in with Tana Mongeau, created for “The Maury Show,” has more than 23 million views. That year, the pair jointly won the Shorty Award for best in comedy. 

But in 2018, Sydelko and Daniel split as collaborators. As their platform grew, so did their divide, she said.

Daniel became “a little more demanding” and more involved in the Los Angeles party scene, Sydelko said, while she realized how much she “hated that life.” That year they had a public falling out over mishandled merchandise, after fans complained that they never received the products they had ordered. 

In 2019, Sydelko announced that she was leaving YouTube entirely. She tweeted that she “quit the internet stuff” and said that she couldn’t stand “people getting in fake drama for attention or acting like they’re creative when they just film themselves living.” 

Daniel remained a creator and rapper, and has gone viral for his absurd stunts, like buying the town of Hell, Michigan, and temporarily renaming it "Gay Hell" in protest of homophobic policies. In the past year, he has posted less on social media but continued making music.

The two reconciled recently, Sydelko said, after she reached out with condolences when Daniel's mother died of Covid last year.

Though she doubts they’ll ever be as close as they were before, she’s glad they’re “friendly.” She regrets being “publicly bitter”and fighting with him on Twitter instead of handling the fumbled merchandise privately. 

“It felt like a breakup,” she said. “I don’t like how I handled that for sure.”

‘I just don’t like being famous’

In the years since she left YouTube, Sydelko has made occasional, fleeting returns to social media. She still posts on Instagram and used her large Twitter platform to boost support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Her Twitter account has since been suspended — Sydelko said it’s because she was bullying politicians. A spokesperson for Twitter did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.

Though she's left the creator world for the most part, Sydelko’s memorable Vine and YouTube content is still referenced online.

Every holiday season, a 2015 Vine of Sydelko mispronouncing the word “Christmas” makes the rounds on Twitter.

“I just don’t like being famous,” Sydelko said. “Even positive interactions. I didn’t think this before I started. I just don’t like being recognized, for good or bad. I just like being anonymous.” 

She doesn’t have any plans to return to YouTube. Being an influencer, Sydelko said, ultimately went against her values. 

“I’m really anti-capitalist. ... You’re cultivating yourself, you’re lying to people to try to make them seem like you’re their friend for the sole purpose of selling things to them,” she continued. “You’re branding yourself. And yeah, you have the power to say no to flat tummy tea or whatever. But at the end of the day, I felt like I was just ‘Get these people to like me so I can sell them stuff.’ And it just felt really dumb.”

The person she was becoming added to her qualms about being an influencer. Sydelko’s quirky demeanor in the vlogs appeared natural, but she said she began drinking heavily during her time as a YouTuber.

You’re cultivating yourself, you’re lying to people to try to make them seem like you’re their friend for the sole purpose of selling things to them.

christine sydelko

“Not like I had to [drink], but it always made good content,” Sydelko recalled. “If we went somewhere, maybe I wasn’t feeling funny during the day, that was a possibility. Usually if I was drinking, I would probably want to be crazy and try to be funny.” 

Living through the pandemic and trying to be more offline helped provide Sydelko with a sense of clarity, she said. She reconnected with old friends from college, and enjoys “just consuming content” without feeling the pressure to be active online.

Sydelko still posts photos of her dog on Instagram, and before her Twitter suspension, would tweet in support of progressive causes. But she's been avoiding jobs that center on social media.

“In the end what made me quit was I didn’t want to do something goofy. It just felt silly,” Sydelko added. 

And ultimately, she cherishes a quiet life over the attention she received as a YouTube star. 

“I could just do a cameo and say ‘Merry Chrysler’ 4,500 times, which I have done,” she continued, referencing her viral Vine. “It all really comes down to ... I just don’t like even the slightest possibility that someone in the checkout line knows who I am, good or bad. I don’t regret it, but I definitely don’t have any desire to do it again.”