From the heart of Chicago to the bustling servers of TikTok, the meteoric rise of Gianna Marie is nothing short of a digital fairy tale. Balancing her studies at Illinois State University with her passion for creating, she embarked on her TikTok journey back in November 2018. Today, with a fan base exceeding 6 million on TikTok and over 850,000 followers on Instagram, she stands as a testament to the power of authentic content. Her comedic flair, infectious lip-syncs, and music covers have not only earned her a badge of verification but also the adoration of fans worldwide.
Beyond her numbers, it’s her collaborations, including a notable feature with Kesha, that keep the audience intrigued. As we sat down with her, Gianna (gwizzle_) opened up about her inspirations, challenges, and the whirlwind of being an internet sensation. Dive in as we uncover the story behind one of TikTok’s brightest stars.
Gianna reminisces about her early tryst with digital content creation, “Growing up, I was undeniably a YouTube kid. It was my escape, my window into the world of creators. And it wasn’t long before I too was swayed by the charm of this platform.” She recalls a childhood filled with dreams powered by the then-popular TV show, iCarly. The show didn’t just entertain her; it inspired her. “My friend and I were certain,” she says with a chuckle, “that we were the next Carly and Sam. So, around 2008 or 2009, we launched our very own show on YouTube.”
This foray into the world of content creation was more than a mere pastime for young Gianna. It was her tribute to the creators she admired and watched on YouTube. It was about becoming a part of a community that she felt deeply connected to. It underscored the democratizing power of the internet, where anyone with passion and a story to tell could find a platform.
However, the turn in her journey came during her college years. 2018 witnessed the rising popularity of a new platform: TikTok. “My college roommate introduced me to it,” she recalls. “We stumbled upon some video compilations of Kurtis Conner, and initially, it felt like a lighthearted indulgence. So I thought, ‘Why not? I’ll create a profile.’” And she did, but with no real anticipation of the massive wave that was about to come her way.
“I posted a simple parody video, not even one of the now-famous car jams I’m known for,” Gianna explains. The response she received was nothing short of overwhelming. A fellow student approached her during a chemistry lab, asking about her video which had surprisingly blown up on Instagram. She recalls the surreal experience, “Suddenly, I was that girl from the video, and the realization spread across the campus like wildfire. I would see people pointing, whispering, and the dots connecting.”
The incident was a testament to the unpredictable, organic nature of virality in the digital age. But it wasn’t this isolated video that would define Gianna’s journey. It was something more universal, more relatable.
She candidly says, “I’m not exactly sure when the car jams started. Singing in the car is something that just came naturally to me, as it does to most of us. There’s an intimacy and honesty in those moments.” It was this universal appeal that made her car jam sessions an instant hit. People from all walks of life could see a bit of themselves in her videos, forging a connection that goes beyond the digital screen.
The success of these car jams underscored a crucial insight into the creator economy: Authenticity reigns supreme. Gianna’s journey from a YouTube enthusiast to a TikTok influencer is emblematic of countless creators who start with a simple idea and watch it evolve into something monumental.
Reflecting on her journey, Gianna reflects, “It’s evolved into something far greater than I had ever envisioned. It’s not just about me anymore; it’s about the community, the shared experiences, and the universal stories we all have to tell.”
In Sync With Gianna Marie (gwizzle_): Carpool Karaoke, Laughs, And Lifelong Dreams
Connecting with audiences authentically
Gianna notes, “Growing up, I’ve seen my share of creators. Some truly inspired me, while others were embroiled in controversies or deceptive practices.” The digital realm, as vast and diverse as it is, has its fair share of personalities. While some creators don a specific character as their brand identity, others claim to project their true selves only for their audiences to later discover inconsistencies in their portrayal. Gianna firmly believes that there are enough personalities weaving fictional narratives. “Why add to that noise?” she asks rhetorically.
But it’s not just the lessons from watching others that have shaped her dedication to genuineness. A significant part of her commitment is rooted in the challenges and experiences during the COVID pandemic. Like many, Gianna found herself grappling with the uncertainties of the time. “The pandemic, in many ways, felt like a litmus test for creators,” she muses.
Gianna vividly recalls the countless messages she received during the lockdowns, “There were so many people reaching out, sharing how lost they felt during this unprecedented period.” For many, her car jam sessions weren’t just entertainment. They became a beacon of hope, a relatable piece of content that radiated positivity in a world gripped by uncertainty. Gianna shares, “People would tell me how, inspired by my videos, they’d hop into their cars and simply drive around, singing their favorite tunes. With everything closed and the weight of isolation bearing down, this simple act became an outlet.”
This overwhelming response only reinforced Gianna’s belief in the power of authenticity. “It wasn’t just about creating content,” she remarks, “It was about creating moments of solace in a challenging time.” The essence of her message wasn’t in polished, highly produced videos, but in the raw, unfiltered emotions she shared, making her relatable to thousands.
She jests about the trends that emerged during the pandemic, “Many took to baking, crafting bread at home. But not everyone found solace in that.” For some, it was the sheer joy of belting out tunes in the car, driving aimlessly around a sleeping town, all thanks to Gianna’s infectious energy.
The Evolution of the Platforms
“Social media today isn’t what it was when I was growing up,” Gianna reminisces. “Back then, celebrities and creators appeared untouchable, elevated on these pedestals. The gap felt infinite.” Determined to bridge that gap, Gianna prioritized personal connections with her audience. Her candidness on direct messages, active engagement in the form of song requests, and even music suggestions fostered a thriving community of music enthusiasts.
“Basically, I sing in my car,” she says with a chuckle, emphasizing the simplicity and relatability of her content. “In many ways, that’s the charm. It’s something anyone can do. It’s about showcasing the raw, real moments of life, set to a soundtrack.”
While it might sound cliche to some, Gianna firmly believes in the power of being oneself. “The digital space is crowded with people trying to emulate someone else. The true magic happens when you embrace who you are,” she asserts. “It’s easy to get lost amid the trending hashtags and viral challenges, but realness? That stands out.”
Yet, authenticity isn’t just about showcasing the happy moments. For Gianna, vulnerability plays a pivotal role. “It’s a delicate balance,” she admits. “While oversharing, especially emotions, can sometimes be misconstrued as seeking attention, it’s crucial for me to remind my audience that I have a life beyond the screen.”
Indeed, Gianna occasionally shares her off days or moments of distress, emphasizing the human side of being an influencer. “People come to my content as a respite,” she muses. “While I want to offer them solace, it’s also essential for them to know that I, too, have challenges.” Gianna recalls a specific instance when she conveyed her emotions through a song, without delving into the exact details. That particular video resonated deeply, highlighting the universal nature of emotions.
As someone whose brand revolves around the nostalgic charm of singing in her car, the song requests she receives from her audience are invaluable. “It’s almost like having a co-pilot, someone helping navigate the journey,” Gianna mused. “At times, I might find myself in a musical loop, revisiting my personal favorites. But then comes a comment suggesting a song I’d forgotten, sparking not just a trip down memory lane but also content that resonates with so many.”
For Gianna, this interactivity isn’t just limited to song recommendations. Recognizing regular commenters, forming connections, and even following them back are integral to her approach. “It’s not just about posting a video and receiving comments. It’s about fostering genuine connections,” she emphasizes. “I’ve always aimed for a parasocial relationship where the interaction doesn’t end once the video does.”
While Gianna acknowledges the trend of creators engaging with comments is on the rise, she still finds her level of involvement a tad unique. “Reaching out and maintaining connections with long-time followers feels so essential. I cringe a bit at the word ‘fans’; it’s just odd to me. They’re more like an extended digital family,” she admits with a smile.
To her, those who’ve been with her since the beginning hold a special place. “When you recognize certain names popping up consistently over the years, you know these individuals have been on this journey with you. They’ve become your touchstone. Seeking their feedback, particularly when I’m in doubt, has often been a guiding force.”
Maintaining Balance amidst it all
Imposter syndrome, the nagging doubt of one’s accomplishments and the persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”, is no stranger to many, especially those in the creative field. And Gianna is no exception. “Seeing the numbers rise and knowing people are watching can be overwhelming. Sometimes, I question if I belong,” she confessed.
While many influencers dream of the lights of L.A. or the bustling streets of New York, Gianna appreciates the distance. “Being away from these hubs gives me some breathing space. I rarely have the ‘real-world’ encounters, which in a way shields me from the full magnitude of my online presence.” But every so often, the veil of virtuality is pierced. “It’s surreal when someone approaches me for a photo. Knowing they’ve watched me, recognized me, and now see me in person—it’s a lot to digest.”
Despite the numbers and the occasional fan interactions, Gianna grapples with internalizing her success. “Accepting my achievements is tough. There are moments I need reassurance, like before this very interview, where I leaned on my partner for a comforting hug and some words of encouragement.”
Marie, though celebrated by many, doesn’t view herself in the traditional sense of an “influencer.” “There are creators out there setting the trends,” she shared. “Those individuals I see as influencers. But then there’s the rest of us—the content creators. We produce, people engage, and not everything we do needs to align with the latest trend.”
Her perspective is refreshing in a digital world obsessed with virality and trending moments. Many creators feel the pressure to continually produce content that aligns with these fleeting online trends, leading to burnout. Marie’s philosophy, however, is more rooted in authenticity than momentary digital clout.
However, this authenticity and genuine approach to content creation doesn’t come without its pitfalls. Marie acknowledges the challenges she faces in juggling multiple platforms. “Some weeks, I’ll be on a roll, churning out video after video. But then suddenly, I’ll disappear for days,” she admitted. In the rapid-paced world of content creation, such breaks can be detrimental. Consistency is often preached as a cornerstone of success, but Marie’s experience points to the emotional and mental toll this can take.
“I’m grateful for the flexibility, but it’s not always rosy,” she added. Many creators can relate to this sentiment. While the ability to send mutual posts to followers or engage in community content can be beneficial, it’s often overshadowed by the looming burden of ‘keeping up’. Metrics, views, likes, shares—the numbers game in the creator economy is ruthless and relentless.
Diversifying her content across platforms, Marie detailed her struggle in ensuring she remains consistent on platforms like YouTube, especially when she’s trying to reduce her daily posts on TikTok. “I have no intention of leaving TikTok,” she emphasized. “But balancing time for YouTube? That’s a monumental challenge.”
Yet, for all the autonomy and freedom that the creator economy offers, being your own boss is no walk in the park. Marie reminisced about her days working traditional jobs, from the salon to a hardware store. “Having someone dictate your schedule from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. has its advantages,” she confessed.
VidCon Baltimore 2023
Having experienced the buzz of VidCon in Anaheim for the past two years, Marie is no stranger to the electrifying atmosphere these conventions offer. Yet, Baltimore’s VidCon is not just another attendance check for her. This year, she transitions from an enthusiastic attendee to a featured creator. “It’s a whole new ballgame for me this time,” Gianna remarked, her excitement palpable. “I’m eager to see how being a featured creator changes the VidCon experience.”
But Marie’s involvement doesn’t stop at merely attending. She’s poised to contribute to some of the most anticipated panels, aimed at dissecting the intricacies of the creator community.
During a prep session, Marie had a preparatory call for the “Creating Communities” panel, an initiative focused on the dynamics of fostering genuine connections through digital platforms. “Building a community isn’t an overnight endeavor,” she emphasized, hinting at the challenges creators face in nurturing a loyal audience. Drawing parallels to face-to-face interactions, Marie elaborated, “While we might not know each other personally, the bond that develops through our channels makes followers feel like they’ve known the creator for ages.” This sentiment is shared by many on the panel, with creators echoing the unique ‘1-to-1’ rapport they share with their audience.
Yet, the VidCon Baltimore experience takes a twist with another intriguing panel titled “The Virtually Unknown.” Here, creators will delve deep into the dichotomies of digital fame. “It’s going to be a wild ride discussing the unpredictability of being recognized,” Marie mused. “In today’s digital age, stepping out means you never really know if a stranger might recognize you from your videos or posts.” Beyond the excitement of recognition, the panel also promises to shed light on the highs and lows that come with a life in front of the camera.
When asked about her goals for the conference, Marie offers the following. “First and foremost? Just to have fun,” she says with a genuine sparkle in her eyes. Even for someone as recognized as her, VidCon is more than just a professional commitment. But being a creator with a huge following, especially one known to be introverted and managing severe anxiety, isn’t without its challenges. “It’s very overwhelming because you’re joining all these people you’ve only seen online,” Gianna admits, revealing the human side that often gets eclipsed by the online persona. Her relatable sentiment echoes the feelings of many who, despite their digital bravado, find real-life encounters rather intimidating.
Speaking of her past VidCon experience, Gianna candidly recalls a fan-girl moment. Despite being a creator herself, seeing the team from ‘SMOSH’, a channel she’s admired forever, left her star-struck. “I completely froze,” she laughs, highlighting that creators, too, have their fan moments. But VidCon is precisely the platform for such interactions, she stresses. “This is the space to do it. Go say hi. This is why we are here.” She draws a line between VidCon and other public encounters, referencing an incident where pop sensation Dua Lipa, while with her family, declined fan interactions. “At VidCon, we are here to cultivate a space, give advice, say hi, and show appreciation.”
But while face-to-face interactions are undeniably precious, Gianna is also cautious. “Professionally, I hope I don’t make a fool of myself in front of some CEO,” she says half-jokingly, hinting at the unique dynamic VidCon presents. It’s not just fans and creators mingling; it’s also a ground teeming with industry bigwigs.
She speaks of the ‘other side of VidCon,’ the behind-the-scenes realm, a dimension she promises to showcase more of in her upcoming content. There’s a stark difference between attending as a fan and as a creator. While fans marvel at the onstage grandeur, creators often find themselves in exclusive rooms, brushing shoulders with fellow influencers and industry leaders whose names they might not recognize immediately. “You don’t know who they are, and you’re like, ‘Hello, how are you?'” Gianna chuckles, recounting her light-hearted blunder with the CEO of TikTok in one of these very rooms. “Always have your guard up professionally,” she exerts.
Gazing Towards the Future – What’s Next?
“If you had asked me this question a year ago,” Gianna starts, her eyes twinkling with nostalgia, “I’d say I was keen on making music.” Many fans have echoed this sentiment, eagerly awaiting her venture into the musical domain. While she’s toyed with the idea and even made a few attempts, her heart seems to have journeyed back to a familiar space.
“This year has been about channeling my inner child,” she explains with evident emotion. It’s a year where she’s revisited the dreams and aspirations of her younger self – a little girl who dreamed big, wanting nothing more than to be a YouTuber, to own the coveted YouTube play button, and to set foot in VidCon. “I never thought I would be here,” she says, reminiscing about her journey from a salon cosmetology school student to a college freshman, and eventually a recognized figure in the digital space. “If you showed the YouTube silver play button to my younger self, she would have started crying. It was the ultimate dream for me growing up.”
But with dreams realized, comes the bigger question: “Where to next?” For Gianna, it’s a territory shrouded in uncertainty. “The real answer is, I don’t know,” she admits candidly. In a digital world that’s dynamic and constantly evolving, charting a definitive course can be challenging. “If I had to ask myself three years ago… these would have all been different answers,” she reflects. Although she has clear milestones like reaching half a million followers on YouTube or a million on Instagram, the larger life picture remains undefined.
While Gianna cherishes her current role and dreams of continuing it for as long as possible, she’s also acutely aware of the volatile nature of the industry. “It’s like walking on eggshells,” she observes, hinting at the challenges and vulnerabilities influencers face in today’s hyper-connected age.
Nevertheless, she’s brimming with gratitude for the opportunities and acknowledges the allure of her profession, especially to the younger generation. “It’s one of the top careers that kids want nowadays,” she remarks with a playful smile.
So, what’s next for Gianna Marie? In her words, “I don’t know what the plan is. It’s kind of just like, you know, wake up tomorrow and see what’s on my to-do list.”
Such is the spirit of Gianna — living in the moment, cherishing the journey, and ever-ready for the adventures the future holds. And as she continues to navigate her path, one thing is certain: her audience will be right there, cheering her on every step of the way.