Seven years ago, Montreal native JeffreyFever (Jeffrey Chang) uploaded his first video. Facetiously titled, “My First Video,” Chang’s debut as a YouTuber captured the zeitgeist of what YouTube was all about in 2011–a breeding ground for young teenagers who wanted to be the next big YouTube star by way of abrupt jump cuts, #relatable content, and cordial comedy. But while most teenage YouTube careers sizzle out and fall flat after their first venture into the harsh world of the YouTube comments section, Chang became one of the lucky few who found an audience. Slowly but surely, JeffreyFever officially went into business.
Throughout his journey as a YouTuber, actor, dancer, musician, and overall creative, JeffreyFever’s fans closely followed Chang’s life through his confessional vlogs, skits, and tongue-in-cheek videos. At one point, Chang’s popularity hit one of its high points when talk show host Ellen Degeneres invited him onto her show as a guest. Countless collaborations (OG YouTuber nigahiga, for example), YouTube meet-and-greets, and viral videos later, JeffreyFever found stable work as a full-time YouTube personality. Now with hundreds of thousands of subscribers in tow, Chang made the ultimate decision to withdraw from college and go all in on his channel. However, even with all of this success, it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that he realized that he wasn’t happy with what he’d achieved so far. As he soon came to discover, music and dance–not simply comedy–was his true life’s passion.
Thus began the conception of a new channel: one simply titled Jeffrey Chang. Just like that, JeffreyFever, which amassed an impressive 370k subscribers during its short run, officially retired.
With a renewed sense of direction, Chang went hard at work to build his new channel back up. Covering modern day pop songs ranging from billie eilish to BTS to Justin Bieber, Chang’s channel became an interesting new kind of experiment. Whereas JeffreyFever became a self-designated “memoir” for his late teenage years, Jeffrey Chang (the channel) became a vehicle that documented Chang’s journey as a musician. Only a few months after his official career as a musician started, he released a short, YouTube channel-only EP, Project 101. Throughout its four soaring pop/EDM tracks, Chang found solace in closure. Each song contained a subtext detailing different stages in his newfound life as a YouTuber-turned-musician–from dealing with breakups to depression, before finally finding happiness. Project 101 felt like yet another closed chapter, with Chang continuing to move on to bigger and better things in his musical career.
Now, 100k subscribers later and a year and a half after JeffreyFever closed down for good, we were fortunate enough to catch up with Jeffrey Chang to see what life is like in a musical, post-JeffreyFever world.
How did you start doing Youtube?
By 2011, I started my first Youtube channel and I wanted to do comedy videos. I had trouble fitting in at school and I discovered other Youtube artists doing videos and they were Asian as well, so I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is a really fun community with Asian Americans who are expressing themselves!” That was the first time experiencing seeing other Asians that looked like me–on Youtube. So I started making videos and within the first month there was like 3,000 subscribers. I was just in awe with how fast it grew.
How did you go about the process of becoming a musician?
I announced on Youtube that I was retiring my old Youtube channel JeffreyFever, and right after that I flew to LA to meet every artist I knew and hope that they could introduce me to musicians and artists to guide me a little bit with how to start my music. I believe I spent half a year between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and I met as many people as I could.
I came back home pretty much empty-handed. A lot of people were just busy or didn’t see the credibility in me since I was a YouTube artist. I came back home frustrated and decided to do everything on my own. I found online classes on YouTube on how to set up a home studio, how to produce, record my vocals, and how to mix everything through Google. I believe nine months later I had a four-song EP out that I pretty much produced on my own, and I found people who were willing to help along the way.
Are you currently pursuing music full time?
One thing that was interesting in the last year is that I want to restart sharing my life on Youtube. I started doing singing, Youtube, and hip-hop dancing in the last two months–I’m trying to do all three.
I’ve been ballroom dancing for like a decade, and I quit when I was 18. But on and off I was learning hip hop because if I wanted to perform on a stage, hip hop would be my best option. I signed up for a class for about a year and I stopped because it was expensive. For the longest time I was surviving off my savings, so I decided to stop dancing and focus on my music. This year is the year where I felt like I understood how to do Youtube a little–I’m a little more comfortable about my music. Last year I was kinda insecure with just the idea of calling myself a musician since I didn’t have any songs yet, so I really wanted to put my focus on that. When everything fell into place–I’ve done music, I’ve done Youtube, I’ve dancing–and these are things I love doing, is there a way I can do all of these at the same time? Because I’ve been working on one thing at a time.
It’s often hard to juggle many things at once and track improvement. How do you deal with that?
I think also that’s just the way I was brought up in my culture. Just like, “You gotta be the best at a certain thing to really really stand out.” Realistically, I look at myself in the mirror. I’m not gonna lie and say I’m the best dancer, or the best singer, or the best Youtube editor/creator. But what I found that gave me a little bit of confidence is that when I was dancing, people enjoyed my dancing. When I was singing, people enjoyed my singing, and when I was doing Youtube… same thing! So I just told myself I don’t need to be the best at anything, just the fact that I can do the things that I love kinda defines me as a person and hopefully as an artist. That’s what makes me stand out in the long-run.
What is the focus of your new Youtube channel (Jeffrey Chang)?
I tend to explain to people cause a lot of people were very skeptical about the idea, or like, “why did you leave JeffreyFever when the channel was already successful?” When I started JeffreyFever, my initial thought after looking at a lot of celebrities online was that one thing that drew me to them was that fact that I knew how they grew up and knew their story. One great example was Justin Bieber. When I learned about Justin Bieber, I already knew who he was growing up in Toronto, I already knew the face of his mother, and so on. My train of thought after that was, “Oh, I need people to interview me. I need people to know my whole story!” But who would want to interview me, right?
So my train of thought was that, “Ok, if no one is going to interview me, I’m going to do it myself,” and I needed to do it in the format that would work for Youtube and be fun to watch. As you notice with JeffreyFever, all or 99% of those videos are stories about my past and how I grew up: having a sister, an Asian Canadian family, etc. It came to a point where I didn’t really have any more stories to tell. That was it. I closed the book on the things that I wanted to say about my past. That was one of my main reasons why I wanted to stop JeffreyFever. With Jeffrey Chang–that is my new channel and actual full name–my initial thought was “I’m going to share my music and what I’m doing right now and separate the comedic side of things with my music.” I did that for a few months, and for me, I missed showing my personality and being on camera. So now my mindset is that I just want to share the present me and what I want to do in the future. I guess the idea with JeffreyFever is that its focus is on my past and JeffreyChang is very much focused on the present and the future.
Is there an event that was very specific to you–an ‘ah-ha moment’–that made you want to be in music?
Yes, I do remember that; I saw an artist perform on the Ellen Degeneres show. I was 14 or 15 at the time and he performed and she told him he discovered him on Youtube. She said she really enjoyed his videos so she invited him on to the show and gave him a check of $10,000, and that’s when I thought that just the idea that he was this person that didn’t really have any production and just made videos at home. It inspired me and that was the first initial kicker that made me want to think that, “Oh, maybe I could do this on Youtube.” But I didn’t really do that until 8 years later… I just wasn’t very confident then.
With the EP that you have out, is there a certain way you would describe it or a genre that is really prominent?
I think it’s more driven toward pop–there is a mixture though. When I listen to all the four songs individually one after the other, I still feel like each song is really, really different. I think that you can see this is an EP where I was testing things out and I was just diving into for the first time and seeing where I fell into in the music scene.
What are some of the instruments you play? Are there any pieces of equipment you use?
I play the guitar. I self-taught myself through the Internet again, and I’m really not good with the piano. If you look at my keyboard at home, I still have stickers on each note, on every key. I go by ear when I wanna play something on the piano. The rest is just my microphone. One thing I learned through the online classes I took is that your voice is the number one equipment you can use. You can just sing a note and turn it into a piano sound or a horn sound. I’m still testing that out–just using my voice to create different sounds and looping it.
How do you think being Asian Canadian has affected your decision to pursue music? Was that hard for you?
Honestly, where I come in as being lucky is that when I was a dancer, I was really excelling I had great results when I was competing. So if we’re talking about parents, I could convince them that I want to pursue art as a career. I feel like my parents were more open to the idea just because of my past experience being on TV. If there is anything that propelled me toward music, I don’t think there was anything that encouraged me as an Asian Canadian. To me, it was just the idea that I just love music. The reason I don’t think there was anything that encouraged me to do music: there was no representation, and nobody in my friend group did music or art. Whenever I would tell anybody they would all think I’m crazy; I’ve had so many friends just laugh at my stories and my visions.
I think that’s what I struggled with the most; I still have the Asian culture in me. We are very prideful, we always have to show a certain prize or result to explain our worth and how well we are doing in life. I always had that in mind and it was really difficult to break through. Again, I was good at dancing so I told my parents, “I’m going to quit school and pursue dancing,” but in reality, I wanted to quit school to pursue YouTube, so it was kind of an indirect lie. So then I did Youtube for 7-8 years, and when things worked out I told my parents, “I want to pursue music, I’m quitting Youtube.” So it’s the same thing of using the excuse of a certain success to move on to the next thing I wanted to do.
The reality is, after everything I did and the convincing I did with my family and friends, nobody encouraged the idea. When I wanted to quit school, I was incredibly discouraged by everyone which, fundamentally, is very normal. With music, nobody encouraged the idea. I was discouraged that they weren’t really on board with the idea, but I now understand a little bit more about how relationships work and how I dealt with past struggles. I know that they never really supported it because they never really showed it. Just because in my past I achieved certain milestones, I just told myself if I put in the same amount of effort, then hopefully something would happen. I was in a meeting in Los Angeles and people were telling me, “it’s never going to work out, blah blah blah,” but my answer was simply, “If I don’t succeed in music, its because my music sucks and I gotta keep going,” so there was never really the idea that this is was just a part-time thing. For me, I am going to try to succeed at that thing. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean I’m not good enough. I’ve subscribed to this idea that you’ve just got to improve.
Is there anything you would say to someone going through something similar to you?
I think everybody had their own circumstances, whether you have your parents supporting you or your friends supporting you. It’s important to keep your friends close even if they don’t support you because at the end of the day there will be a time where you can’t do things alone anymore. You need the people that love you to be by your side.
Advice number one is if people discourage the idea of you pursuing your dreams, it’s not that they don’t like you–it’s that they love you too much to see you get hurt. The other advice I have is that it’s 2019 now, and more than ever, I feel more optimistic than ever in my life with minorities and Asians in art just because there are so many opportunities now that are accessible through the Internet. My main advice if we are talking specifically to Asian Americans that the things that hold us back the most is that we put pride over progress. When people were not supporting my idea to give up YouTube to pursue music, I kept asking myself, “if they had that chance to make that decision to leave something good behind to start a new chapter, would they?”
I don’t think a lot of Asian Americans would want to take that leap because if you have something successful going for you why would you go back down the ladder? So don’t put pride over progress, keep doing it, because there are so many opportunities. For me, I always tell people to not rely on one piece of work to determine your worth.
What is your creative process with your music like?
The truth of the matter is that I’m not always motivated to make music, but there come times where I’m suddenly super inspired after watching a movie or reading a book. I guess my process or how I keep myself busy is that every day I do my vocals, I try to write random things on a piece of paper and build ideas for the future. After my EP, I was lucky to have a few musicians recognize my work and want to work with me, so sometimes I just look at what they have and see where I can go from there.
Which emoji are you?
I used this today, so maybe that why it’s the first one I’m thinking of. It would be the monkey that’s covering its eyes ( 🙈). I think the reason why is because I’m a lover boy, so when I’m doing my thing I’m super confident, but when it comes to like outside of my heart, I am a shy person, and I do get nervous so that one does kind of describe me.
JeffreyFever (retired): YouTube
This interview was conducted by Emily Gu via phone in March 2019.
Introduction by Li-Wei Chu, edited by Jerrie Au.