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A still of Colleen Ballinger holding a ukulele in her apology song video. She is sitting on a couch and looks deeply into the camera. Image: Colleen Vlogs/YouTube

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The Colleen Ballinger controversy and ukulele apology song, explained

Watch the apology video at your own risk

Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

Colleen Ballinger, a popular YouTuber and comedian known by the character name Miranda Sings, shocked fans with a video posted on June 28. The video was released amid several allegations that the creator used her celebrity to allow for toxic, exploitative, and hurtful interactions with fans, as described in reporting at Rolling Stone and numerous other outlets. Instead of a traditional apology video, however, Ballinger instead pulled out her ukulele and gave a defense of herself in an original song.

Ballinger began the video with a spoken introduction: “Hey everyone. I’ve been wanting to come online and talk to you about a few things. Even though my team has strongly advised me to not say what I want to say, I recently realized they never said that I couldn’t sing what I wanted to say.”

While apology videos are a dime a dozen in a culture where creators with online fandoms have often been accused of abuse, this one stood out — if not only for the haphazard dismissal of serious allegations and the stated disregard of her own team’s apparent advice, but for just how cringe-inducing it is to address these allegations through a corny song. The video captured the attention of the wider internet beyond Ballinger’s own fan base, and it inspired both longtime fans of hers and skeptical viewers alike to go to social media to drag the video. The 10-minute video racked up over 3 million views in a day.

In the end, the video propelled the controversy to new levels of notoriety, but there’s a lot behind Ballinger’s response to the allegations and the larger controversy itself. So no matter what level of familiarity you have with Ballinger and her character Miranda Sings, we’re here to explain everything behind the controversy that’s animated the internet.

Who is Colleen Ballinger and her character Miranda Sings?

Colleen Ballinger is an American actor and comedian who got her start from — and is perhaps most known for — her YouTube channel Miranda Sings. Throughout her videos, she plays a character named Miranda Sings, a satirical portrayal of young women who harbor hopes of using YouTube to become famous. Along with various bits based on the character where she leans into irreverent humor and tells plenty of fart jokes, she’s also known for singing off-key covers of songs.

Colleen Ballinger dressed in character as Miranda Sings at the 2023 Kids’ Choice Awards. She’s wearing a sequined cat top, shiny red pants pulled up, and pink socks with flip-flops. Photo: Steve Granitz/FilmMagic

Ballinger’s channel really took off throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s. At the time of publication, her vlog channel and her Miranda Sings channel collectively have over 13 million subscribers, with her most popular videos receiving as many as 56 million views. Over time, her fame and influence outgrew YouTube. She appeared on the Nickelodeon show Victorious in 2012 and released a New York Times bestselling book titled Selp-Helf. Later, she went on to play the character of Miranda Sings in a Netflix show called Haters Back Off, which ran for two seasons starting in 2016.

Ballinger’s sphere of influence is undoubtedly wide, but she is likely more of a well-known name among the younger millennial and Gen Z generations due to her ties to the early days of YouTube and her more recent work on TikTok.

What are the Colleen Ballinger accusations?

Allegations against Colleen Ballinger were first brought up in April 2020 by Adam McIntyre when he shared a video in which he alleged Ballinger used her stardom to take advantage of him and get him to work for her for free. After releasing the video, McIntyre said Ballinger’s fans harassed and doxxed him for speaking up. There weren’t many further developments until two weeks ago. At that point, another member of Ballinger’s fandom who goes by KodeeRants posted a now-deleted video that confirmed the existence of a group chat named “Colleeny’s Weenies” where inappropriate messages were allegedly exchanged between Ballinger and a small group of her fans. After KodeeRants’ video, several fans came forward on social media to share their experiences with Ballinger and her inner circle. These accounts didn’t just allege misconduct on Colleen Ballinger’s part but also contained stories about her best friend, Kory Desoto; her ex-husband, Joshua David Evans; and her brother, Trent Ballinger.

Adam McIntyre in a 2020 video where he alleged Colleeen Ballinger used her stardom to get free labor from him. Image: Adam McIntyre/YouTube

The most recent wave of allegations was documented and described in a report from Rolling Stone published on June 21. The report says that Ballinger “has been accused of abusing her power and engaging in toxic parasocial relationships with fans,” and it goes on to detail specific accounts of misconduct. One reported example included a group chat with McIntyre wherein Ballinger apparently asked questions like “Are you a virgin?” and “What’s your fav position?” The report also described a fan named Johnny Silvestri, who became an assistant on tour; Silvestri told Rolling Stone that Ballinger and Desoto created a toxic work environment that “thrived on parasocial and intensely one-sided relationships between Ballinger and fans.”

A theme throughout the report is the description of an ongoing dynamic whereby young people looked up to and trusted Ballinger, and according to Rolling Stone, they felt that trust had been betrayed. While some responses to the reporting have characterized the behavior as “grooming,” it’s important to note that the Rolling Stone article, which spoke to several fans, does not use this term, rather emphasizing a generally toxic environment that was reportedly prevalent throughout the fandom. One source told Rolling Stone that the current allegations “are not criminal” but instead speak more to the intense emotional sway that figures like Ballinger can have over young fans.

What is the evidence against Colleen Ballinger?

The bulk of documented evidence has been laid out and vetted in a report from Rolling Stone published in June. This report describes screenshots of conversations between Ballinger and her fans that, in the view of those who spoke to Rolling Stone, contain sexually inappropriate messages sent by Colleen Ballinger. These conversations unfolded in a Twitter group chat, as well as other direct message sources, shared between fans and Ballinger’s friends and family members. The bulk of the authority of the report lies in screenshots reviewed by Rolling Stone and the existence of these group chats that has been corroborated by multiple sources.

What is the Colleen Ballinger ukulele apology song?

In response to the new wave of allegations, Ballinger initially responded by stepping away from social media. However, on Wednesday, the creator responded to the allegations in a video on her vlog channel, titled “hi.” In that video, Ballinger addressed the controversy by singing and playing the ukulele. She appeared to deny the allegations as she sang: “A lot of people are saying some things about me that aren’t quite true. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, though, just as long as it’s entertaining.” The video includes some jaw-dropping moments, including when she says, “I just wanted to say that the only thing I’ve ever groomed is my two Persian cats. I’m not a groomer. Just a loser.”

The song has inspired a wave of memes and parodies in which people clown on the tone-deaf and cringey nature of the video. Even McIntyre himself responded with his own song, strumming a ukulele haphazardly and responding to Ballinger’s song line by line. And now, Ballinger’s decision to share the video appears to be baffling long-term fans as they share their feelings online.

What are the allegations involving Trisha Paytas?

On July 2, Silvestri shared a series of tweets alleging that Ballinger sent nude images of the popular content creator Trisha Paytas to him. Paytas is a sex worker who shares NSFW content on a subscription-locked OnlyFans. According to Silvestri, Ballinger hosted viewing parties of Paytas’ NSFW content and sent nude photos of Paytas from their OnlyFans account. McIntyre, who says he was a minor at the time, confirmed that Ballinger shared NSFW images and videos of Paytas as well.

The new wave of allegations has once again rocked fans. This is largely due to the seriousness of the allegations — Ballinger allegedly sending porn to a minor — but also because of the unique relationship between Ballinger and Paytas. Paytas, who has an active online presence on several social media platforms, hosted a podcast with Ballinger in May. The show aired three episodes; Paytas shared a video on their YouTube channel about these recent allegations in which Paytas described Ballinger as a “friend,” because Ballinger had reached out after Paytas had a child, and the two occasionally have made videos together.

Also in the video, Paytas responded to other claims, such as McIntyre saying that Ballinger had made disparaging comments to him about Paytas’ body.

“I do not condone at all unsolicited nudes sending, the sending of nudes, to anyone or anybody, sex worker or not. I think using someone's nudes as a way to hurt them, make fun of them, make light of them, or make fun of them is the lowest form of human,” they said. “I think that’s so inhuman, so disgusting for anyone.”

Polygon reached out to Ballinger for comment and will update this article as we hear back.

What are the racism allegations regarding Ballinger’s Netflix show?

On June 30, April Korto Quioh, writers’ assistant and PA on Haters Back Off, shared an account of what it was like to work with Ballinger on the show. In the lengthy post, Quioh describes a toxic work environment, noting that Ballinger said the n-word. Quioh wrote:

She had a knack for making “funny,” biting comments about the people around her and since we all had her to thank for our jobs, we were forced to just go with it. She saw no issue with commenting on my hair, or my clothes, or asking about my personal life. Her lack of boundaries was remarkable.

Update (July 5): This story has been updated to include further allegations about Ballinger from Silvestri and from April Korto Quioh, writers’ assistant and PA on Haters Back Off.

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