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The unseen grind to becoming Naledi M Official

Naledi Mallela's amazing come-up has been years in the making. She chats about creating unconventional content, imposter syndrome, depression and her unintentional TV gig
Thu, Nov 25, 2021

It is often said that, "it takes 10 years to become an overnight success", an important lesson, especially in the industry of content creation.

Many will tell you how you'll spend years pouring into your channel or social media before making any money from it or getting any recognition until one day you wake up as a trending topic because one person decided to use you as a meme – doubling your followers and subscribers within hours and having people tweet things like, "why is she so underrated?"

Having just obtained her MBA, Naledi M Official, as she is known, started her YouTube channel in 2016 but only started taking it seriously and being consistent – sharing hilarious stories while doing mukbangs – last year during the hard lockdown.

In a year she has followed the steps of Michaela Coel and ‘created a space for herself’ while growing the space itself through collaboration.

“If we’re holding each other back because we’re trying to maintain a bigger piece of the cake then there will always be that size of the cake but if there are more content creators and influencers, the cake becomes bigger. Our voice becomes bigger, think of how many American YouTubers are out there?” says Naledi.

The star continues to soar having bagged a presenter gig on Channel O’s My Top 5 which takes a look into celebrities’ favourite songs.

As she chats to tagged! A song plays in the background while she tries to remember where she knows it from, I tell her it reminds me of my childhood, “it reminds me of my mother,” she responds.

This all started with a YouTube channel. What inspired that?

I lost my mom at young age and had to move in with my dad – someone I felt was really hard to connect with because I was a teenager and rebellious. I didn’t have friends, so I started watching YouTube videos because I was stuck in the house.

My sister and I got into watching YouTubers like Patricia Bright and Jesse Jenkins. At some point I felt that I couldn’t relate to these people because they were American. On my 21st birthday in Zanzibar we decided to start a YouTube channel that was relatable.

There were very few YouTubers who were dominating the makeup space in the South African market. We wanted to be a ‘sister channel’ where we could create content and be relatable; for people to understand that we’re normal human beings. We don’t sit and do Christian Dior every day. A lot happened and my sister and I butted heads in terms of our ideas, she was more lifestyle and I beauty, so we had to break away.

I loved makeup but for a long time, I felt l like I was shunned from that community. There were a lot of effortlessly beautiful women. I was just normal and funny. It was very hard to maintain that poise, so I looked into other spaces and found Mukbangs (laughs).

I never thought I would do mukbangs because it was a secret that ASMR helps me sleep and comforts me, so when I started doing it and integrating it with story times, that was my breakthrough. Everyone was like, “wow, what a great combination”. Then one day there was a TV gig that was looking for presenters and a friend of mine urged me to audition. I didn’t think I would get it.

So the move from YouTube to television was never the goal?

I never wanted to be on TV. The goal was to be an internationally recognised content creator. I wanted Americans to look at us and acknowledge that there are great South African YouTubers.

But TV has definitely expanded my skill set. I’m really glad I took on the opportunity and I’m realising that there’s more for me than just being a funny girl on YouTube. It’s been the greatest journey, the scariest because celebrities are scary, it’s not like sitting with a YouTuber.

How were you able to get past being starstruck?

You know that joke about how in South Africa we don’t have celebrities apart from Bonang (laughs)? The only person that really scared me and was my first interview was Kwesta. It was terrifying but the production team was like, “Naledi, you’re here because you are good at what you do. We’ve seen you and your YouTube channel”.

And that’s when I realised I may be sitting next to someone but I am someone too. I had to understand my power and what I bring to the table. I had a lot of imposter syndrome for a very long time and it crippled me. Channel O helped me deal with it.

I realised there were so many people I impacted from YouTube and that there were many people out there who had faith in me. I realised I needed to do right by those people.

I needed to do right by those girls who relate to me for being myself and telling funny stories about catching Ls to show them that there is space for them here. The market isn’t just for effortlessly rich, glamorous people.

A lot of your journey has been about taking a chance – you started in corporate?

I was doing YouTube part time while I was working for a marketing agency. I then worked for a power management company and worked in the firms, like literally in a factory and I realised how unhappy I was.

I then went to work for my dad, but he fired me (laughs). I had disappointed my parents so much because I was so obsessed with studying but couldn’t keep a job.

I then went and had the longest depression, the coronavirus hit and that’s when I started releasing content faster than anyone because I had nothing to do. One day, Twitter started using me as memes and rallying for me. As toxic as Twitter can be, it can also be an empowering beautiful space.

Your top 5 tracks right now?  

  • Young Stunna - Ethembeni
  • Yebba - Distance
  • Drake - Love All
  • Una Rams - Rendezvous
  • Cleo Sol - Sunshine