J Lou at the pier in Sai Kung in Hong Kong. The YouTube star talks about being a rice addict and why her most popular video with her mum was so nerve-racking to film.
J Lou really loves rice – it’s a declaration that’s on her YouTube channel’s “About” page. If you needed further proof of the 24-year-old’s addiction, look no further than the fact she has more than 350,000 subscribers and has built an online community known as #ricefam.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Lou is also known for being the “favourite niece” of Uncle Roger – Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng’s alter ego who shot to fame for his reaction video to a YouTube clip on how to make egg fried rice by British television presenter Hersha Patel.
In his follow-up video with Patel, Ng calls Lou on the phone, where she jokingly “warns” Patel not to mess up her favourite food.
Lou’s first viral YouTube hit, three years ago, saw her English boyfriend repeating the Cantonese phrases she spoke. She had just 800 followers at the time, and never expected the video would take off like it did. “I was in my pyjamas and had no idea this would happen. In my first few videos, I just taped my phone to my bedroom walls,” says Lou, who majored in translation and speaks five languages: Cantonese, Mandarin, English, French and Spanish.
“It’s humbling to look back and remember how I began. It wasn’t just one video or even 10 videos, it was a lot of time and effort, it took all the persistence I had back then to push through and get here today,” says Lou.
Lou, who started off as a solo content creator, now has a team that help with video editing and graphic design. In the flat she rents with her partner, she has a room that’s dedicated to filming.
Lou has always known she wanted to be a performer. In her second year of university, she began posting commentary videos on Snapchat, before establishing a presence on YouTube and Facebook.
Lou’s multicultural background provides the inspiration for her videos – her mother is a Hongkonger and her father is French. She creates content that’s relatable for anyone with an Asian upbringing.
“[It’s about providing] a voice that speaks to the experience we had growing up. A lot of us may feel alone, but I use comedy to show that we all have the same experiences. I hope that through me, they can seek comfort in that, building a community of people, be it third-culture kids or people with Asian backgrounds,” says Lou.
Her community’s name was coined by her fans who noticed her obsession with rice. “It started with [people calling me] ‘rice queen’ and then people started saying they love being part of the ‘rice fam’. They noticed how much I talk about rice on my Instagram or in my videos. I truly do love rice. It’s just also a coincidence that it is Asian, so it’s a great correlation with my content. It’s also nice that we have a community like that.”
Lou, who has lived in Hong Kong all her life, says she found it hard to shake off the label gwei mui – Cantonese for a young Western woman – when she was younger.
“It’s difficult when people that don’t know you try to tell you what your identity is and assume what you know based on your appearance. You just have to keep going and ignore the other voices. It took time for me to be recognised as a heung gong yan,” says Lou, referring to the Cantonese term for “Hong Kong person”.
Much of the criticism she draws stems from people who make assumptions about her identity. “They would say, ‘How can this white person talk about Asian stuff?’ Or some would think I am Asian and can’t date a white person,” shares Lou.
“When you put that together, it doesn’t make sense. That’s when I realised I should pay no attention to it, because I am the only person that can choose my identity.”
Her most-viewed video, with close to 6 million hits, is one from last year in which her mother reacts to her Instagram photos – an experience that clearly resonates with Asian viewers with their own strict parents. Lou says she can still remember how nerve-racking it was convincing her mother to appear on the video.
By then, Lou was well settled into her chosen career and making YouTube videos full-time. While her parents knew that she was a content creator, they had barely spoken about it.
“She said yes [to the video] and that really surprised me. I think she had fun with it too, and it was a miracle that my first video with her went viral,” says Lou, adding that she once would have found it unthinkable to film such a video with her mother. It was a move that has brought them closer together – she says she can’t recall the last time they sat together and laughed the way they did in the video.
Being a YouTuber is tough and at times unpredictable, Lou explains, but the key to success is to be authentic. “You just have to keep going and trust that you’ll continue to be true to yourself and make things you are passionate about, not just doing it to get views.”
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