SRUTHI PINNAMANENI: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I'm Sruthi Pinnamaneni.
TAYLOR VIDEO: Hello everyone! So basically what we’re gonna do today is I’m gonna show you all of my animals....
People just seem to be really confused about the number of animals I have. I get told...
SRUTHI: Maybe you’ve never heard of the masterpiece that is “All My Pets In One Video.” That’s fine. A year ago, I hadn’t either. It was this random enchanting YouTube video that I had just stumbled across and could not stop watching.
TAYLOR VIDEO: So a quick little spin around of my room. Starts here, and it just goes around...
SRUTHI: You see this girl and what is any slightly messy teenage bedroom, but every inch of space is just filled with animal cages and fish tanks.
TAYLOR VIDEO: So here we have Asteroid. Pac-Man frogs literally do nothing, but I still love him and he is a baby. He is going to get about the size of a dinner plate one day. That’s him...
SRUTHI: She's walking around, opening all her enclosures, which turn out to hold these like strange and delightful animals. There's crocodile skinks, hedgehogs, crested geckos.
TAYLOR VIDEO: Echo’s on the chunkier side. He has some rolls. Now they’re kept in different enclosures ‘cause males don’t get along.
SRUTHI: I'm not an animal person, but last year whenever I was stressed out, I would just come back to this video and watch it. It just makes me laugh.
TAYLOR VIDEO: This is Mushu. She's my Axolotl. And that's Axolotl poop. That's so nice, poop for the video. She eats earthworms. She's so ready…
SRUTHI: The most hypnotic part of this is the girl at the center, Taylor Nicole Dean.
First off: she’s beautiful — she has like hair that’s always a different color, you know, silver when it’s not shocking pink.
And she’s always in this bedroom, like, bathed in the blue light of her aquariums.
Sometimes, watching it, I’d start to feel like she herself was another one of these strange fragile creatures, like this bedroom is actually a little terrarium made for her.
SRUTHI: Hi Taylor?
TAYLOR: Hey, yes.
SRUTHI: Hey. This is Sruthi.
SRUTHI: Almost exactly a year ago, I decided to call Taylor.
SRUTHI: So, um, I'm sort of picturing where you're at based on your videos. Do you want to tell me, are you like sitting in a bedroom, surrounded by Pokemon-like creatures?
TAYLOR: Yes. I'm sitting on my bed right now. It's pretty much my only furniture that's really my own in my bedroom. Everything else has just been taken over by my animals.
SRUTHI: Taylor has lived her entire life in San Antonio, Texas. Her dad works in insurance and her mom stays at home to take care of her brother who has some health issues.
And talking to her, she told me, like, that Rapunzel vibe I’d gotten from watching her videos, just like the trapped in your room kind of thing, she told me, like, that's actually kind of my life.
[MUSIC dropping under]
TAYLOR: In real life it’s been very– I don’t know the right word for it. I’m very shut-in in real life because like, I live with my family, I don’t really know people in this town, even though I’ve been here all my life. Because growing up, I actually had–I had a lot of medical problems, and this all ties in and I promise. Growing up–
SRUTHI: Oh no, I’m sorry, what was that?
TAYLOR: I had- it’s–well, I still have it, it doesn’t go away. But it was undiagnosed at the time, so no one really knew what to do. I would fall all the time, hurt myself. I just I couldn’t get to school. I was always sick to my stomach, migraines. So dizzy that I couldn’t stand up. Um, in and out of the hospital all the time because we never knew what was wrong.
SRUTHI: Doctors eventually diagnosed Taylor with this thing called Ehlers Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. But before that, the family had no idea what was going on. She was always covered in bruises. She would sprain her ankle just walking around her house. This one time she cracked her clavicle rolling over in her bed. So in the fifth grade, they took her out of school and she joined a homebound program.
TAYLOR: I got really depressed when I was younger and just because I was like in jail basically in my own home. I was too sick to go anywhere, but I guess maybe that's also why animals became such a big thing to me is because I didn't–I wasn't the most social person with people because I was very, I was very disconnected from everyone my age because I wasn't at school. I wasn't like anything like that, so it was very easy for me to get, you know, get attached to these animals because they, they live in my home and I take care of them every day and it was kind of like, like a friendship almost.
SRUTHI: At the time I spoke to Taylor, she was twenty years old, she lived with her parents. And she spent all her time either on social media or taking care of her expensive animals, and she said that for years her parents have been really worried about what exactly she was going to do with her life.
But, she also said that right at this moment, when I called her, everything had started to change.
She had just hit 500 thousand subscribers, which meant that she’d been elevated to this different level in the YouTube hierarchy. People started calling her, asking if they could manage her,and she actually ended up signing with this one manager in LA, she flew to LA for the first time, and he took her to this party.
TAYLOR: The entire party was all YouTubers and it was the first party I think I've ever been to. And, I mean–
TAYLOR: Yeah, 20 years old and I went to my first party. And–
TAYLOR: It, it was crazy–
SRUTHI: The party was a bunch of other YouTubers jammed into one room, and Taylor – who told me that she’s deeply socially anxious and completely froze up, did not know how to chit-chat.
TAYLOR: I’m still learning how to like, (laughs) communicate with people, like, like, in person, I guess. I don’t know, I’m so used to online stuff, so–
SRUTHI: What’s the difference? Is the difference, like, when you’re making a video, it’s an internal monologue almost? [TAYLOR: Yes] And out there, it’s like people just, they’re saying whatever they want [TAYLOR: Yeah yeah] and you have to like…
TAYLOR: And it’s all happening so fast and there's no editing like, I have to, like, there's body language to take into account and just there's all these other aspects that I don't have to deal with when I'm just talking to myself.
SRUTHI: Taylor seemed to be on the verge of, weirdly, some kind of stardom. And I was very curious about what it would look like for a 20-year-old self-described shut-in to suddenly become famous for the videos that she had made of her pets on YouTube – like what does that kind of fame even look like and how would Taylor would handle it?
SRUTHI: So if you don't mind I'll just check in, maybe in a week or two and [TAYLOR: Definitely.] we’ll just take it from there.
TAYLOR: Ok, sounds good.
SRUTHI: So fun talking to you. Thank you.
TAYLOR: Yes, awesome talking to you too.
SRUTHI: Actually, it would be many months before I would talk to Taylor again because YouTube fame crashed into her like a tidal wave.
Right after this conversation her audience numbers just went through the roof and this whole new genre on YouTube, PetTube, grew rapidly around her. And with it, of course, came all these competitors, like Emzotic.
EMZOTIC VIDEO: Hey guys, it's Em. Today I'm gonna be talking about one of my favorite invertebrates, the Madagascan hissing cockroach...
SRUTHI: She’s like Taylor but British and really into cockroaches. Then there’s Tyler Rugge.
TYLER VIDEO: Hey, what's up you guys, I’m going to show you guys all of my pets–
SRUTHI: He’s like Taylor, if she were a cute boy with this helmet of hair-sprayed hair.
PICKLES VIDEO: Today I am going to be showing you all of my pets. As you can tell by the title.
SRUTHI: And those are just the big name competitors. Behind them are hundreds of aspiring PetTube stars, all trying to just grab some of those subscribers.
PETTUBE VIDEO 1: Now we’re going to get onto my pet rats.
PETTUBE VIDEO 2: He’s my black pedigreed holland lop rabbit.
SRUTHI: And this whole thing turns into an arms race. Because, think about it, every week, all of these kids have to make a new video with a new weird-looking pet.
TYLER VIDEO: She’s a little hedgehog. Her name is Momo.
SRUTHI: It’s almost like – how many pets can you fit into one bedroom.
EMZOTIC VIDEO: I went there looking for two snakes and instead I came home with two doves and two cockroaches.
SRUTHI: And Taylor, she is always the one at the lead of this race. The person with the most followers and the most pets.
TAYLOR VIDEO: One year ago. I wasn't even allowed to have snakes but times have changed and now I own six.
TAYLOR VIDEO: I bought a $2,200 ball python.
TAYLOR VIDEO: Oh, hey friend. What did you do for your weekend? Oh my God. I had so much fun, you know, you know Beth? I went out with her and we went to six parties and we just got so drunk. It was the best weekend ever. What did you do for your weekend Taylor?...I, I got, I got five new pets.
But then some of Taylor’s viewers are starting to say, “Wait a minute — this whole pet thing is getting way out of control,” and these people start making their own videos … about Taylor
DARK DEN VIDEO: Taylor Nicole Dean, let’s talk about her.
SWETA VIDEO: If you didn’t know, Taylor Nicole Dean has a habit of acquiring animals very very quickly at an alarming rate.
SRUTHI: They're saying, she's pet hoarding, she has no idea what she's doing. I talked to this one person I’m going to call Sunny.
SUNNY: Um, I'm a freshwater tank enthusiast so I know more about freshwater fish than salt water fish and I can tell you as someone who, like, keeps aquariums, like, that is my top concern.
SRUTHI: Sunny is a member of this online forum called Guru Gossip, which is all about YouTube celebrities. And Sunny says that she used to be the world’s biggest Taylor fan but her eyes were opened when she first went on Guru Gossip and she saw tens of thousands of posts – all dedicated to Taylor and the finer points of pet care.
SRUTHI: Can you give me a specific example of a care thing that you were like? Oh shit. I didn't realize that that was an issue.
SUNNY: She gets criticized a lot for like, you know, too small enclosures and something specific regarding tanks – she gets criticized a lot for putting incompatible species of fish together.
SRUTHI: According to Sunny, the thing that we should all really be asking ourselves is: “Is Taylor Nicole Dean really fit to be a pet mom?
SUNNY: She says that like, you know, she can't like get out bed or do anything – but then it's like how are you able to take care of all these animals? Like, aren't you stretching yourself thin if that's the case? But then you keep on getting more animals. Like you can't, you can't have it both ways where you're like the perfect pet mom but there are days where you’re like suffering so bad and you’re in so much pain that you can’t get out of bed, you know what I mean? Like, there’s some neglect going on there, or, you know, you’re not doing that bad, you know what I mean?
SRUTHI: For a long time, the posts on Guru Gossip are relatively tame. It's a lot of stuff about like the illegal turtle seller she bought those turtles from or whether she should actually be touching those pacman frogs with her hands.
But then, in November, this thing happens that convinces all the Guru Gossipers that Taylor Nicole Dean has to be stopped. She gets a boyfriend.
SUNNY: At the time like I didn't know who Jonny Craig was, I was just like, oh this dude’s like kinda weird. Why is he latching on to this young girl?
SRUTHI: The boyfriend, Jonny Craig, is this 32-year-old rockstar and there are some legitimately concerning things about him – like previous partners have accused him of assault, he’s struggled with heroin addiction. He denies the accusations, and he says that he’s been clean.
But the thing that Guru Gossip is mostly preoccupied with is that Jonny does not seem to be good for Taylor’s pets.
TAYLOR VIDEO: Hey guys, what’s up. So today’s video...
Every single video Taylor releases after this, is turned over again and again for evidence that something dark is going on … like the gecko incident.
DAISY: There was a livestream of her and Jonny smoking marijuana.
SRUTHI: That’s another Guru Gossiper.
DAISY: And her gecko enclosure was in the background.
SRUTHI: And what does that mean that it was in the background?
DAISY: Just that they were in the same room, poor ventilation, for a very fragile animal.
Or the kitten incident.
SUNNY: Oh, that was a mess. She found two kittens, abandoned, and rather than turning them over to a shelter, she decided to take them in herself.
TAYLOR VIDEO: [Meowing] So I was like, you know what, this is meant to be. I’m gonna take these two newborn kittens and I’m gonna raise them and love them. So, this one’s the boy. They don’t have names yet or anything.
Soon after, one of the kitten dies. And Guru Gossip is just aflame. They’re sure that either Jonny drowned the kitten or Taylor didn’t know how to take care of it. And you see Taylor on Twitter trying to defend herself. And she just looks like this girl who has never been to high school, suddenly in high school on steroids.
But it’s unclear to me, like, how much of it is actually affecting her. It has been six months since I first spoke to her, and she’s been just impossible to get on the phone. Every time we’re supposed to talk, she just doesn’t show up.
But then in November, this thing happens. She gets into a public fight with her parents. It’s over her boyfriend Jonny. She moves out of their house, and into a place of her own, with Jonny, and all her pets. It’s this messy, personal story, and Taylor started to retreat – she’s just posting fewer and fewer videos.
TAYLOR VIDEO: Hey, what's up guys? I know it's been a little bit, yet again, since I've made a video but I– hm– moving is hard. I don't even know if I remember how to talk in front of a camera. On top of all my things, my personal things I've been juggling, I just haven't been too proud of my work. So I've been in a, like, a writer's block. I don’t know what the YouTube version of that is... [fading down]
But if it looks like Taylor herself isn’t in great shape, her YouTube career is skyrocketing. She blows past a million subscribers, she starts attracting six figure advertisers, and then in March – she gets the invitation.
It’s to Playlist Live – this huge YouTube event, which is like the equivalent of Taylor getting an invite to Woodstock or Coachella.
It’s going to be her first big public appearance ever.
I decided to go. End of April, I fly to Orlando. And I arrive a day before the conference is set to begin. It’s at this bland Marriott, right by Disney World. And when I get there, I meet Taylor, just for a minute.
SRUTHI: She had just arrived from Texas, was wearing like comfy airplane clothes, her hair was candy pink. She said she’d just come to grab her pass for the conference.
SRUTHI: So like what’s the meet and greet?
TAYLOR: The meet and greet, we stand there for 3 hours and we meet people...
She’s a little nervous to meet her fans, but also excited. We make a concrete plan.
TAYLOR: The panel is at 11, so half an hour before, we get there at like 10:30.
SRUTHI: We say that we’re gonna meet up just before her first event, this PetTube panel, and after that, she’s going to do this big meetup with hundreds of her fans. And I thought, OK, cool, I’ll follow her around the whole day.
SRUTHI: So the next morning, first day of Playlist Live, I take the elevator down to the lobby.
[Sounds of kids screaming]
The first surprise, the thing I am not prepared for, is that there are a billion fans, all kids, and they’re all vlogging their entire experience of Playlist Live.
VLOGGER: Alright guys, so we just got to Playlist Live.
VLOGGER: Carol just got coffee
GIRL: We’re going to be on YouTube!
GUY: You’re going to be on YouTube. You’re going to be on YouTube.
GIRL: I love you.
GUY: You love me? I love you.
VLOGGER: I feel like this vlog is such a mess, because like we’re everywhere, we’re walking so many places. Oh my goodness. Who is that? Oh my god…
Its ten o'clock in the morning. And I cannot find a single quiet spot to stand, which hasn’t been co-opted into some kind of stage where a person will drum up viewers for their amateur YouTube channels.
VLOGGER 1: This is my look for today. [Camera sounds] Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, damn.
VLOGGER 2: You’re so cute!
VLOGGER 3: I’ve always wanted to be in your vlog, this is so exciting!
VLOGGER 2: Aw!
And every twenty minutes or so some actual star would show up – like a YouTube creator. And they would do this thing that real celebrities never do – they would wade into the crowd and chit-chat with their fans. Like just hang out with them.
It becomes clear relatively quickly that this is actually the point of this whole place, of Playlist Live. Like these creators aren’t Hollywood actors or singers. Like the way they actually earn their fans is by just being incredibly available to them. It’s like the extrovert olympics.
And in all of this, Taylor is nowhere to be seen.
Instead, I meet one of her fans, this 15-year-old girl named Margaret, who is explaining to me why she has flown all the way from New York just to meet Taylor Nicole Dean.
FAN: She has like these pain issues and like other stuff. I know she actually like was homeschooled at one point in her life for it. And I totally relate because I miss school a lot because I have chronic migraines. I have vertigo. And all that sort of stuff.
SRUTHI: They’re very social–
FAN: I just watched Jesse Page walk by sorry. Jesse! Hi. I just wanted to say hi, sorry.
SRUTHI: Who’s that?
FAN: Jesse Page. (SRUTHI: Who is that?) She’s another Youtuber, I just wanted to say hi. I met her at a different event. But um–
SRUTHI: What does she do?
FAN: She kind of, it’s like comedy I guess, in a sense. But like–
FAN: I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. Everyone has their own thing.
SRUTHI: Yeah but sorry you were saying like–
FAN: Oh my god. Oh my god. That’s - Sorry I just freaked out.
SRUTHI: Who is that?
FAN: Scotty Sire. Scotty! Dang it.
SRUTHI: Who is that?
FAN: He’s part of the vlog squad with David Dobrik. He’s a really big YouTuber. He has a panel later that he’s actually singing one of his songs. I keep getting sidetracked there are so many people here.
SRUTHI: I can’t tell if you’re having fun or if you’re in pain.
FAN: Both. 'Cause it’s like I’ll see them and I’ll be like, that’s not them wait I’m totally not seeing the correct person, wait what? And then I’m like, wait, I need to go oh my god ah what. And it’s kind of like, you don’t know how to react initially. ‘Cause like, you’re you, and then they’re like these famous people that everyone’s here to see.
SRUTHI: They’re celebrities.
FAN: Yeah in a sense. Not like celebrities like movie stars and everything, but like to us.
I’ve never been in a place like this, where teenage girls are completely free to freak out about their idols without any restrictions. No bodyguards, no guardrails.
FAN: Toddy Eric came downstairs in the lobby yesterday to leave, ‘cause they have their own lives, they have other things that they need to do. I think it took him a good 8-10 minutes to get out of that lobby ‘cause it started a whole mob around him. And I was part of it. I was in it. And I was actually like right behind him. But like, he’s trying to get through to go somewhere but so many people just swarm.
SRUTHI: And what do they want to do?
FAN: I mean he probably wanted to go get food. Honestly–
SRUTHI: No, no but what do the people, what did the swarm want–
FAN: We all wanted photos, we all wanted to hug him, we all wanted to say hi and be like, “Oh my god we want to have a conversation with you, you’re famous.” Someone’s calling me. My mom is calling me. Sorry. Yes?
SRUTHI: It’s 11am and the PetTube Panel, that first event that Taylor is in, it’s about to start. So, I head over there. It’s in the Crystal Ballroom.
SRUTHI: Hi, is Ballroom 3 this one?
PERSON: Yes, this one.
SRUTHI: A big room with hotel carpeting and colored strobe lights. It’s basically a conference hall meets shitty club. And there’s a guy up on stage, that’s the moderator.
MODERATOR (on stage): You’d be surprised. How many people love horses? How many people love smelling horses? [indistinct] Right there, dude.
SRUTHI: And right next to him, I see Tyler Rugge with lots of hairspray. And next to him, Emzotic.
EMZOTIC (on stage): And I realized that other people love cockroaches and snails too and there’s no shame in loving cockroaches and snails, let me tell you...
SRUTHI: And right at the very end is an empty seat. Taylor isn’t there.
SRUTHI: Welcome back to the show.
So, Taylor never shows up for her PetTube panel. It goes on for one hour, people talking about cockroaches or horses and whatever.
Afterwards, I ask the PetTubers if they have any clue where she is, and they say no. I do see someone in the crowd, though, who might have an idea what’s going on. Taylor’s mom and her brother, Tanner. I go up to them:
SRUTHI: Nice to meet you, Tanner.
JENNIFER: Say hi.
SRUTHI: Tanner is in a wheelchair, his mom is pushing him and both of them are wearing Taylor Nicole Dean T-shirts.
SRUTHI: Should I try calling her? I mean, I texted her.
JENNIFER: Her phone’s turned off.
SRUTHI: Her phone’s turned off.
JENNIFER: Yeah, I have to call.
SRUTHI: Jennifer has no idea where Taylor is either. But at this point she’s not worried. She says, she probably just overslept. Which is fine, she’s going to make it for her next event, the 2pm meet and greet. That’s the important one.
We go get lunch. And while we’re eating, she tells me that this trip is actually really important for her. She and Taylor have been in this fight the past few months over the boyfriend, Jonny Craig.
And she has barely seen Taylor, and so Playlist is a chance for them to reconnect.
She says even before the two of them started dating, Taylor had long been obsessed with Jonny. Like his CD was the first one she ever bought when she was twelve-years-old. And so it was a very big deal when he started like this, like, flirtation with her on Twitter.
SRUTHI: Did she tell you when– was she excited when he wrote back to her and they were like into each other?
JENNIFER: Yeah I never saw her again. The moment it started happening, she was gone. Like this like this fast, like, clink clink clink clink. Taylor? Taylor? Clink clink clink clink. And like just what’s going on? I could not figure out, I was like hello hello? Like she didn’t even know the world was around her from that moment on.
SRUTHI: She said that when Taylor first moved out and wasn’t returning her phone calls, she used to actually go to Jonny Craig’s concerts just to get a glimpse of her daughter. Like, she would stand in the crowd like a groupie and just watch her.
SRUTHI: We just sat there for a while, waiting to see if Taylor would call or return our text messages. No word. It’s almost 2pm and we head to Taylor’s next event.
This is the meet and greet where a select group of YouTube celebrities are gonna just meet their fans. We arrive at the entrance of the meetup room. There’s this bouncer-type guy standing in front of these huge tall doors. And I can already hear the screams coming from inside, in waves. It’s as if we’re standing outside Space Mountain.
SRUTHI: Who is that?
JENNIFER: She’s not in that one. She’s in the other one, baby.
SRUTHI: Oh my god, who is that that they’re freaking out about?
JENNIFER: I don’t know who they’re freaking out about.
TANNER: It has to be Taylor
JENNIFER: No, that’s not Taylor. They don’t freak out about her like that.
SRUTHI: We go inside, and I’m in this stadium-sized space. There’s a bunch of tables set up at the front, just side by side, for the creators – they’re going to stand there. And in front of each one there’s an infinite row of chairs for the fans. And each section is roped off. Basically, you sit in your chair, and you wait your turn to go up and have a moment with your creator. I ask one of the fans who’s waiting in the PetTube section about why she’s here, like why she chose to be in Taylor’s meetup.
FAN: She’s probably the most interesting in this whole group. In like, all the meet ups that you can get for Saturday.
FAN: I don’t know. [screams in background] She’s -
SRUTHI: Who is that?
FAN: He’s another, um, I think he’s an instagram influencer, social media influencer.
SRUTHI: The creators start arriving one by one. And the PetTube section that we are in, it’s the last one. And you can see people here just freaking in anticipation.
SRUTHI: Oh my god people are freaking!
SRUTHI: Like they’re getting up out of their chairs, craning their necks, and just like waiting to see when the PetTubers are going to arrive. And when they start to walk in, it’s in reverse order of how many YouTube subscribers they have. So first comes Tyler Rugge, then Emzotic...no Taylor.
JENNIFER: We’re fine–
SRUTHI: No Taylor?
JENNIFER: No Taylor. I’m going to be like...
SRUTHI: That’s her mom.
JENNIFER: I can’t even believe it. She bailed out on this. That’s sad.
SRUTHI: At first her mom is just bummed that Taylor is letting down all these fans. But then this woman from Playlist Live, she rushes over to us and she says, like, “We’ve been trying to reach your daughter all day, is she OK?”
WORKER: It goes straight to voicemail.
JENNIFER: Yeah I know her phone—
WORKER: What hotel is she in?
JENNIFER: This one. Unless she left.
WORKER: OK, maybe somebody should go and just have one of the staff go in.
JENNIFER: I could do that.
SRUTHI: Suddenly the whole mood of the place shifts. Some of the younger fans start crying. And Jennifer’s mom just starts to talk to a string of security people.
JENNIFER: And now that she didn’t show up to the morning thing and now this one, and nobody can contact her, we’re getting a little worried. And I’ve been texting her and calling her all day and she won’t answer.
SRUTHI: I’m sure she’s okay. I mean honestly–
JENNIFER: Well at this point? I’m not sure. I had a feeling, just to let you know, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come, was that something might happen and then at least I could be here.
JENNIFER: I don’t know. Intuition?
SRUTHI: We walk up to Emzotic, who’s like meeting and greeting all these fans. I know that she and Taylor hung out last night so I ask her if anything unusual happened.
EMZOTIC: So, last night we were all in my room, it was very chilled. We went out down to the bar, they were all closed. I think she left at about 1, 1:30 in an Uber. Tyler has all the details of the Uber.
EMZOTIC: And I don’t know after that what happened. I know that she messaged either Tyler or Maddie this morning.
EMZOTIC: To say that she was feeling sick. I heard the word vomit but I don’t know for sure.
SRUTHI: At this point, we basically know two things. Taylor is not staying at this hotel. She’s staying at some house with her boyfriend Jonny and we know nobody has been able to reach her all day.
The local SWAT team shows up, and they surround Taylor’s mom and they’re asking her all these questions.
SWAT: Does she have a car, a rental car, personal car?
COP: Is her phone ringing or is it going straight to voicemail?
JENNIFER: Straight to voicemail.
SRUTHI: The questions quickly turn to Taylor’s boyfriend.
JENNIFER: He met her October 21st online, and a week later moved in with her and has kept her away from all of us ever since. And he’s—
COP: Hotel security, they just pulled up her Twitter that had her picture on it. So they’re gonna go around and pass the picture around to the rest of the hotel security staff as well.
JENNIFER: Ok thank you.
SRUTHI: They tell Taylor’s mom, look, if we find her, we’ll call you. She’s exhausted, she and Tanner leave the Marriott.
Which leaves me alone in the halls of the hotel, where I keep getting stopped by teenage Taylor fans who I’d interviewed earlier in the day, and they all look really worried. They ask me if I know anything. They are hearing these rumors that Jonny maybe got Taylor high on heroin, maybe she OD’d.
I don’t know what to tell them. I at this point just want to find a quiet place.
I step outside into the pool area and just close my eyes for a second.
Music starts to play. I open my eyes, to see the most obnoxious spectacle I’ve seen at Playlist Live. There’s this guy in a pink speedo named Spandy Andy dancing around holding a boombox while his friend rubs donuts on him.
There’s a cameraman, of course, filming the whole thing.
I think about how somewhere inside the hotel, the SWAT team is probably going door to door with a picture of Taylor.
It’s 5 pm. I head back to my hotel room. And the moment I walk in, I get a text from Taylor’s mom: “Open Twitter now.”
Taylor has posted a tweet. She’s safe and she’s essentially pleading for her fans to forgive her.
She says, “Accidentally ate gluten.” She goes on, “I let so many people down today and I don’t even know how to begin to make up for it. If you’re at Playlist and came to the meetup I was supposed to be at I want to meet with you all in a few hours if you want to give me another chance.”
She tells her fans, meet me at the hotel driveway, 8pm.
SRUTHI: [alarm sound] Hmmm where are the Taylor fans? Oh my god. Ugh. I feel like I’m losing my mind...Oh hi!
FAN 1: Hey!
SRUTHI: Are you guys waiting for Taylor?
FAN 1: Yeah she should be pulling up in a minute. And I just want to see her because like I’m gonna die when I see her so.
SRUTHI: You’re gonna die, okay.
FAN 2: She says, I’m on the way to the hotel now, I’m really- wait no.
FAN 1: That was a few minutes– (speaking over each other)
SRUTHI: And suddenly they see her.
FAN 1: Oh my god, she’s right there. Oh my God.
SRUTHI: Where where? Wait I don’t see her. Do you see her?
FAN 2: Do we- do we say something?
TAYLOR: I’m alive, hello.
SRUTHI: Taylor walks into the driveway, she’s wearing this see-through black romper printed with red roses. And the girls just start fanning themselves with their bare hands. She is talking fast, seems nervous, and freaked out.
I hear fans telling Taylor, “I thought you were dead!” And she says, “Oh fun!”
TAYLOR: Oh fun, great!
TAYLOR: I’m not dead!
I hear fan after fan using their like one minute with Taylor to tell her how much like her they are – how they too love animals, how they too have issues with anxiety. And then one fan that I had seen earlier, she gets to the front of the line, talks to Taylor, takes a photo, and then I see her walk away.
SRUTHI: Oh wait wait wait. Wait! Hang on hang on hang on. (laughs) You finally saw her. You finally saw her. You have to tell me how it went. Are you okay?
FAN 1: No.
SRUTHI: You’re crying?
FAN 1: No.
SRUTHI: You’re crying a little.
FAN 1: I mean my eyes are watering because I’m so like–
FAN 2: They’re cool tears.
FAN 1: Ugh god. Is it better? We’re okay. We’re good.
SRUTHI: You’re good? Alright. Was it everything you wanted it to be?
FAN 1: Yes.
SRUTHI: Taylor’s still dealing with a long line of fans, and after what feels like several hours, I go up and say, hello. She seems kind of blank, like her eyes are just glazed over. Her mom comes up and asks if she’s doing OK.
JENNIFER: Are you feeling okay right now?
TAYLOR: I’m not going to throw up.
JENNIFER: Why don’t you sit down?
TAYLOR: I need to get like some water.
SRUTHI: Should I get you some water?
TAYLOR: Yeah, I would love a water.
SRUTHI: You stand here. I’ll get it for you, one sec.
SRUTHI: I get back and Taylor says she’s still not feeling great. She needs to find a bathroom. And so, we go inside the hotel, there’s just hoards of people watching some other YouTuber. Taylor looks like she’s about to have a panic attack.
And so I tell her, you know what, let’s just go to the bathroom in my room. It’s on the 21st floor.
SRUTHI: Let’s just take the elevator up.
SRUTHI: Here you go.
SRUTHI: Here, take this. [door closes]
SRUTHI: I point her to the bathroom.
SRUTHI: I’m just gonna. Yeah.
SRUTHI: She’s in there for an extremely long time. And when she comes out, I think this is actually the only time I’m going to be alone with her. She looks completely drained though. So I tell her, listen, I know we talked about doing an interview, but how about we sit on the couch for a sec and take a breather, this is place is really crazy.
SRUTHI: I think it’s a very like claustrophobic–
TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah.
SRUTHI: Sort of thing.
TAYLOR: I, let me see if I have the video. When I first walked into the, um, when I–it’s like a five-second video. Just, when I first walked into the hotel, the lobby yesterday, when I just had gotten here, it was like, this was what the lobby looked like. [VIDEO: Toddy! Toddy! Toddy!] And I was just like, how is people, like you can see.
SRUTHI: What was happening there?
TAYLOR: You can see them all jumping up and down. He was–it was a YouTuber that was just walking through the [VIDEO: Toddy! Toddy! Toddy!] He was just walking.
TAYLOR: Toddy. His name’s Toddy Smith. He, uh, he just walked through the lobby and that’s, the people just, mass hysteria just, he didn’t even, he didn’t announce that he was walking through it. He didn’t tweet or post it or anything. And that many people still happened to be in the lobby that recognized him and just, he was just trying to get through the lobby and people were pulling at him and jumping on him.
SRUTHI: Once upon a time, Taylor was a lonely teenager, trapped in her bedroom in her parents’ house.
And she’d started making videos.
And these videos got her so much – money, a boyfriend, adoring fans. And now the two of us were in this Marriot hotel room, and I felt like I was watching her realize the full terms of the bargain she’d made.
SRUTHI: Do you feel like you have any time like at this point to just kind of like be in equilibrium. Like kind of- is it–is it when you’re home?
TAYLOR: Somewhat but not really because at home, I don’t have a lot of time to just chill. First of all, I live with my boyfriend, so I don’t have much alone time ever because we’re in an apartment together. So he tours, he does music, but when he’s not touring, he doesn’t leave the house unless like we’re both going somewhere. So, I don’t ever have time just to like sit by myself other than like when I take a bath or something. Like I– we sleep in the same bed, I like, he’s always around constantly. And then I have all my animals that I’m constantly having to think about and feed and take care of and clean everything. And so.
SRUTHI: Your mom is texting.
TAYLOR: Oh okay.
TAYLOR: Oh I just saw.
SRUTHI: Oh shit. Tell her there’s a big fan out here waiting. Said boy who’s waiting in the first row and he has uh–
TAYLOR: Okay, one second. Lobby in front of registration. Okay, I guess we gotta go down. (SRUTHI: Ugh) Back to the madness. After this I was gonna, my, I’m supposed to go back to my boyfriend’s, where we’re staying. And he just texted me that he’s at the bar. I’m like, really? Like him, everyone in the house left, so now I can’t get into the apartment. I’m mentally trying to prep myself to go back in the room.
SRUTHI: Yeah, your mom’s asking if you’re sick and I just said I think she just needs a minute.
TAYLOR: Yeah. I’m good.
SRUTHI: So, buy yourself a minute, man. One minute of no talking, no smiling.
TAYLOR: Yes. (silence, sniffles, groans) I don’t want to go down.
JENNIFER: Hey Taylor?
TAYLOR: Yes. Okay coming. Hi so nice to meet you.
DAVID: So nice to meet you.
TAYLOR: What’s your name?
DAVID: My name’s David.
TAYLOR: David? Thank you so much for coming back out. I’m so sorry about the meetup earlier.
DAVID: No, I understand.
TAYLOR: I felt so bad.
DAVID: Can I take a picture?
TAYLOR: Yes absolutely yes.
DAVID: Oh my god. Thank you so much.
TAYLOR: Absolutely, thank you so much.
DAVID: Thank you so much. Yeah it’s so amazing to meet you.
SRUTHI: After a couple of minutes, they leave, and at this point, I tell Taylor – you can just stay here, and just take whatever time you need. She sits down on the couch and stares at the wall. I sit on my bed and awkwardly read a magazine story.
She continues staring at the wall for the next 45 minutes.
SRUTHI: And finally she gets up. Jonny’s texted. He says come to the bar, pick me up. We say goodbye and she leaves.
ALEX: Sruthi Pinnamaneni is a producer for our show
[REPLY ALL THEME]
Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and me, Alex Goldman. Our show is produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, and Anna Foley. Our intern is Jessica Yung. Our editors are Tim Howard and Sara Sarasohn.
Very quickly, we need your help with something. We are not going to be producing new episodes in August. Instead we’re going to be running some of our favorite episodes of the show. Actually we’re going to be running some of your favorite episodes of the show. And we need your help picking those favorites, figuring out which episodes we should play. So if you wanna help us, go to replyall.limo/august. And take our one-question poll and tell us your favorite Reply All episode. Thanks.
We were mixed by Rick Kwan and Bobby Lord. Fact checking by Michelle Harris.
This week, Sruthi wanted to thank Devon Guinn, our former intern who did a ton of work on this story. Also thank you to Stephanie Shih and the many PetTubers who talked to her – all the critics and all the Taylor Nicole Dean fans. Particularly Tonianne Gianakouros – she has a YouTube channel called “It’s Tonianne!”. David Hernandez – who has a YouTube channel called “David HZOfficial.” And Tanner Dean, Taylor’s brother, who has a channel called “Everyday Dean.” His mom strongly recommends it and says that you should start with the video called: “Caveability, this boy is amazing!” Our theme song is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Matt Lieber is driving with the windows down and the music up. You can find more episodes of the show on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you soon.