Dodie defies disdain

Ed Power

One of the hardest things about becoming famous through YouTube, says singer Dodie Clark, is having to endure the disdain of the traditional music industry. If you are, as she is, young and female, it’s so much worse, the snobbery bleeding into misogyny.

“I’m a woman and a ‘YouTube star’ in quotations. Being taken seriously is very difficult,” explains the 22-year-old Essex native.

I ask people sometimes, ‘Should I still be on YouTube?’. But every time I say, ‘I’m just a girl who playsukulele’ they point out that I’m doing pretty well.

“Pretty well” is an understatement.

Her YouTube performances — a charmingly lo-fi mix of covers and originals — routinely gain more than 1m views. Whatever the elitists think, hers is an old fashioned DIY success story: Without anyone’s permission she has gone out and won a fanbase, one listener at a time.

Dodie plays in Ireland next week.

Along the way she has struck up an intimate emotional relationship with her fans, in which the line between her public and private self has been sometimes difficult to discern.

As Clark’s profile increased this openness caused problems. She would talk frankly about personal issues: Relationships, her mental health.

Nothing was off limits.

Sometimes this had a positive impact — it helped her fans to know they weren’t the only ones struggling with the daily challenges of life. But, a little older and wiser, she does something wonder if she hadn’t occasionally gone too far.

“I’ve learned more recently about the importance of boundaries,” she says.

In the past I talked very openly about my mental health. I would just pour out everything in my head. It is important to break the stigma and it’s OK to talk about your feelings.

“However I’ve taken a break from that and learned some lessons. I’m a little more closed off today — I’ll only share the dark stuff when I’m in a better place so I can reflect on it healthily.”

That isn’t to say she has completely shut herself off. On her Twitter feed recently she spoke honestly about the writer’s block she is suffering as she works towards her next release (she put out well-received EPs in 2016 and 2017).

“I don’t write music particularly well under pressure,” she says. “That is something I am working through at the moment. The best way to combat it, I find, is to push expectation aside and remind myself why I do what I do and what I love about it.”

With 1.5m YouTube subscribers to her Doddleoddle channel, and 850,000 Instagram follows it can sometimes feel as if Clark’s life is public property. Again she is conflicted. As a young girl growing up in Epping, she was fan of online personalities. So she knows how important it is to interact with her audience.

That said, it can be draining too. We are living through the first generation of social media celebrities and if Dodie doesn’t really belong to that category — she’s a musician, not a selfie queen — some of the same issues apply.

It can be difficult to establish boundaries. But I used to be fan of so many people online and I know how painful it was to feel they weren’t listening. What’s good is that we’ve got this fantastic community of people. Even if I miss a message, someone else will chime in so that everyone feels they are in it together.

She’s about to embark on her biggest tour yet, including a date at Dublin’s National Stadium. Performing in front of an audience is very different from singing in her bedroom.

“When you’re talking to a camera, you’re really only ever talking to one person. When I play live I feel I’m more putting on a performance in a really fun way. I literally look the audience in the eye. I have a song called ‘Secret for the Mad’ where the lyrics go, ‘I promise you it will all make sense again’. Usually I play it after a bunch of really sad songs. I go around the room to find people who are teary and look them in the eye and tell them it’s all gonna be OK.”

Dodie plays National Stadium, Dublin, on Wednesday, March 21

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