With a staggering 6.8 million subscribers on YouTube, Brad Mondo has become a staple for many during our lockdown lives. From his popular Mondo Makeovers with famous faces to hilarious hacks and tricky tips (such as using a fork to style your hair), Brad has taken the recipe for a successful social media career and added something that a lot of digital personalities rarely encapsulate. Honesty.
I sit down with Brad on a windy evening in London as he pops up on my screen from New York City looking even more polished and exquisite as he does on our smartphones. “You know I miss travelling… I’ve got to get to London at some point but I’ve been in such a lucky position during the pandemic,” he starts. “I miss regular life – of course like everybody else – but I can’t really complain. Even 2020 was a great year for me and 2021 is starting off amazing with our new president, so I’m excited about that.”
Brad continues to explain how his life has been impacted by the events of the past year, detailing that the inauguration of President Joe Biden was met with many glasses of champagne with friends, taking a moment to celebrate the start of a new era. After the chaos of the past fours, we don’t blame them.
But speaking of new eras, social media and its often insipid way of plucking people from everyday life and catapulting them to new heights of familiarity has taken a turn for the better with Mondo. He brandishes all of the traits that we, as viewers, love to see in online content. There’s drama, gay gasping, near failure, colour and gay panic, but it all comes with a fresh and unique twist of honesty and positivity. It means that he is signalling a change in this often monotonous online space.
“At probably age 15, [YouTube] really was something I wanted to do and so it kind of morphed into more of everything being hair related and educational, but still holding on to like the humorous parts of it along with entertainment and delivering,” he explains. “I wanted to give hair care knowledge to the everyday consumer who doesn’t know anything about hair. So that’s what I love doing; educating people but not making it feel like education and making it all fun and relatable.”
Despite his Americanisms of ‘just be yourself’ and ‘be happy’ that were dotted throughout our chat – empty statements that often risks making the reader feel inferior – there was something infectious about Brad’s ability to say these statements that felt like they were landing with a real punch. His motivation and excitement for what he does comes from a place of pure passion. More importantly, they come from a place of compassion and softness with his audience, as well as the subjects of his videos.
“I know how it feels to be bullied and especially online when you can’t even really talk back, and I never want to make somebody feel like I’m bullying them,” he says. “It sounds so corny but no matter what they look like or what their hair colour is – even if I don’t like it – it was always important to me to express my opinions about certain situations that people do to their hair but deliver it in a way that’s not… you know, if it’s not my way then it’s no way. I wanted it to be like, if it’s not my way then it could be your way and it doesn’t matter – as long as you feel great about yourself. Even if your hair is falling off your head, the only thing that I care about is if you love it.”
He’s naturally progressed through his journey as a content creator into becoming the CEO of his own haircare brand XMONDO, at just 24 years old. It shows the world that, as a queer person retaining the essence of those dreams we once had as a teenager, they can grow into fully fledged ideas when we harness our powers in the real world. “I forget to celebrate quite often just because everything’s so fast-paced within this industry and with what I want to accomplish,” Brad admits. “It’s kind of like, ‘okay we did that, now what’s the next thing?’ But I really do try to sit back. Any free time I get on the weekends or at night, I just sit there on the couch and contemplate everything that I’ve done in my life.”
Whilst speaking to Brad and seeing the muted profiles of his PR team on the Zoom call alongside us, I sense an energy from all of them that often feels lost from the UK. It’s a drive and desire to get up and go, that almost feels too much for one person to have. Some cynics may describe it as naivety, but with Brad, he has a wise head adorned with spectacular hair, on top of a very elegant and mature set of shoulders. The common trope that queer content creators are ‘ditsy’ and ‘just in it for the fame’ seems to fall at the wayside with Brad. It’s almost as if I’m witnessing the birth of a new form of content creator. Someone with an actual passion for what he’s doing, with the right team around him, and the business sense to create such a namesake brand such as XMONDO, whilst acknowledging the rapid pace at which this industry moves.
“I want [XMONDO] to live on its own and it to have its own name without me being always associated with it,” he says. “That’s really important for the overall growth of the brand, so taking a step back from being the face of it, but also at the same time growing it like crazy. I will be expanding my team and launching so many new hair colours and hair products – we also have a yellow coming out soon, so we’ll have to send that to you. It’s beautiful, you’ll love it.” Noted. I sent my address over straight after the interview (which is lucky because since we spoke back in February, the yellow shade has already sold out). We know I can’t get enough free beauty products, especially when I feel like I’ve slightly worked for them in this instance.
But digging beneath the picture-perfect veneer in front of me, I wanted to tap a little harder on the sparkling cheekbones of Mr Mondo to find out if all is as rosy as it seems. We’ve lived through an exponentially difficult year, and we all have challenges that we face. It seemed in Brad’s persona to speak about the good, as well as the bad.
“I think over the years I have developed my own sense of self,” he says to me. “I’ve been on YouTube for four years doing it full time and in the beginning I was trying to be a character and I was trying to be somebody who I wasn’t. I was trying to emulate YouTubers I liked, and then I stopped doing that and that’s really when I got explosive growth on the platform. I think that’s just really important for anybody who’s trying to do this to just be their damn self and it’s way easier said than done. Believe me.”
Again despite his almost High School Musical-esque tact of dropping in inspirational quotes to live by such as ‘just be yourself’ and ‘be honest’, they come peppered with doses of reality. As someone who has also been known to dabble in creating content online, I feel able to get out my tiny violin for me and Brad around this topic, because it can be a rather difficult job at times. With the eyes of the world, including the worst of your enemies and your best friends and allies, it is never easy to strike a balance all of the time when it comes to creating content that the public wants to see. I think that’s why, as we end the conversation with Brad, I feel actually enamoured by his positive outlook on life – because often that is all you can live by when the tide of opinion is never predictable online. As long as you are doing what you want to do in this world, and feel comfortable and authentic doing it, there’s not a lot that can take that away from you.
“It’s a lot of pressure a lot of the time and sometimes I just don’t want all that pressure, but I did decide to be in this industry and I decided to do everything that I’m doing so I don’t regret any of it,” he admits. “I love what I do, it’s just sometimes obviously you want to just run away.”
As I finish up the interview with Brad, and we quickly turn to chatting about what he’d want to do with my hair if he got the chance, (he mentioned a yellow wig installation and a blue moustache, so I think we can all agree that I’m going to look sensational as we head into Lockdown 45), I felt giddy. Almost like the same feeling after you’ve watched a ridiculously cheesy but overall lovely Disney film. His charm and happiness shone through, despite his often corny attitude towards social media and his fans being at odds with my British demeanour. But all-in-all, Brad is one hell of a human being. Statistically, 1 in 10 people in the UK will be a subscriber to his channel, so through the power of hair, gay panic, honesty and kindness, he’s created an empire that I don’t see (hair) dying out anytime soon.