The early YouTube sensation and 2000s goth icon has finally come forward under her real name, Sarah, to reveal that Raven was a comedic ruse
2021 is set to be a year of great emo comebacks. My Chemical Romance starting a long-anticipated reunion tour. Evanescence releasing their first album of all-new material in a decade. And, on January 2, the unexpected return of an emo icon who had lain shrouded in secrecy for 12 years: Raven, the Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness, was back, and ready to reveal all.
Raven, and the string of late-2000s viral videos she starred in, epitomised the Hot Topic-shopping mall-goth archetype so popular – and so widely mocked – in the 00s. She and her co-stars Tara and Azer, seemingly young teenagers, would dress in all-black, eyes crudely slathered with dark eyeshadow, and deliver grim missives declaring that each new year is merely “one more year that everyone’s closer to death”.
Raven and Tara’s YouTube channel, xXblo0dyxkissxX, had been mostly dormant since 2009, but their uploads – and the aura of mystery surrounding them – have since become a cult classic of early online video. Their sardonic New Year’s message, which gets reposted like clockwork each December, has racked up nearly two million views. Fervent online speculation suggested they might have written notorious Harry Potter fanfiction, My Immortal, due to similar character names (they didn’t), or that Raven was the same girl who went viral after struggling to sing “I Will Always Love You” (she wasn’t).
In fact, Raven was never real at all. In her first new video in several years, Raven – whose real name is Sarah – revealed that she created the character when she was 17 as a loving parody of her own embarrassing pre-teen emo phase. The result was part-cringe comedy, part-elaborate troll to convince unsuspecting viewers that the pair really were overbearing 13-year-old mall-goths. “Since I went through the phase myself,” she says now, “I had a great handle on the psychology of what would push people’s buttons.”
Whether they took the bait or not, Sarah’s videos cemented themselves as a crucial piece of 2000s emo nostalgia, encapsulating the melodramatic teen excess of a generation of alt kids. It seems fitting, then, that her return comes at a time of emo culture resurgence. The dyed black hair and depressive lyricism that earned bands like MCR such disdain is now influencing a new wave of artists and creators, from emo rappers to e-girls and chart-toppers like Billie Eilish. For Sarah, it’s been surreal – but heartwarming – to watch this unfold. “I remember that emo kids were everyone’s punchline,” she tells Dazed. “They were looked down upon because they were so outwardly, unapologetically angsty. That wasn’t OK then, but it’s totally OK now!”
Those unabashed displays of emotion are also a large part of the staying power of Sarah’s videos. Raven and Tara may have been over-the-top caricatures, but they came from a place of sincere, intense emotion that resonated with many viewers. They represent a period of growing up which, though cringeworthy to look back on, is also deeply formative, as the first time that many young people truly express a sense of their own identity.
“I remember that emo kids were everyone’s punchline. They were looked down upon because they were so outwardly, unapologetically angsty. That wasn’t OK then, but it’s totally OK now!” – Sarah, AKA Raven the Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness
The result is that, while other 00s viral stars faded into obscurity, Sarah’s work has remained relevant. When she posted her comeback video on TikTok, she garnered over six million views within a week, and was inundated with comments expressing how much the videos meant to people growing up. She reads me a message sent by a trans person who changed their name to ‘Raven’, saying they were inspired by her videos “to be unapologetic and strong”.
“It seems too good to be true,” Sarah says. “I have cried multiple times over the past few days because I honestly had no idea that so many people were watching our videos.” The response was such a shock because, although she was aware of their popularity, the audience she was most exposed to was people posting to her YouTube comment box, which was bombarded on a daily basis with violent threats and misogynistic abuse that terrified her.
“That blatant hate was a large part of the reason why Tara and I were quiet this whole time,” she reveals. “The older I got, the more angry it made me. Not only were we still children when we made the videos, but since I looked so much younger than I actually was, the people leaving those comments thought that we were 13 or younger.” Sarah was also worried that, as a sex worker – she works as a dominatrix under the name Petra Hunter – that same abuse might transfer over to her job. Concerned for her and Tara’s privacy, she decided to stay quiet for as long as possible.
The intense speculation into the pair’s true identity, however, meant this veil of silence became increasingly difficult to maintain. By the autumn of 2020, online sleuths pieced together that Raven and Petra might be the same person, and the rumours spread to TikTok. “I remember just being filled with so much anxiety,” she says. “Like, oh fuck, what if this doesn’t go away?”
And through December, her work accounts were bombarded with hundreds of new followers, arguing in the comments or DMing her to ask if the rumours were true. “I was worried that if I didn’t come out, because somebody was so insistent and so excited to be right, they would dox me in a way that would be very harmful to me without them realising what they were doing,” Sarah explains. The internet, when it isn’t actively cruel, can be wantonly invasive, inspiring a lack of regard for privacy which can be profoundly damaging to sex workers’ careers.
On New Year’s Eve, Sarah reached out to Tara and Azer (who prefer to keep their real names to themselves), asking for their permission to come forward. “I wanted to regain control over the narrative,” she says. She combed through old hard drives for material, set up new social media accounts, and, on January 2 – exactly 12 years after her original New Year’s video was uploaded – released the update. Instead of allowing people the satisfaction of digging up her personal information to hurt her, she took charge of the situation herself. “I see it as a power grab,” she tells Dazed. “If it’s not a secret anymore, it’s not powerful anymore.”
“To have so many people saying, ‘Oh my God, I always thought these were hilarious, these videos meant so much to me’, it’s been really overwhelming” – Sarah, AKA Raven the Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness
Having been on the defensive for so many years, coming forward and being met with so much love and appreciation was hard to believe for Sarah. “To have so many people saying, ‘Oh my God, I always thought these were hilarious, these videos meant so much to me’, it’s been really overwhelming,” she says.
For Sarah, it has also rekindled her love of comedy. “I wanted to be a comedian when I was growing up,” she explains. After discovering improv at 13, Sarah spent her high school days writing sketches with friends and brainstorming comedy characters. She had a notebook that she would pass back and forth between classes, in which she created two other characters – goth strippers named Bile and Vomit – before settling on Raven and Tara.
“I wanted to make these videos to troll people,” she says, “but I also secretly hoped they might turn into something bigger.” But though she tried her hardest to get the videos seen, they didn’t go viral until several years later, when people made the My Immortal connection. In the meantime, Sarah’s hopes of going to university in Chicago and getting involved in the city’s stand-up scene were dashed by a lack of scholarship money. And after the barrage of hateful comments, she says she “just kind of internalised it to mean that I wasn’t funny”.
“The impact that all of this had on me is something I haven’t really let myself process,” Sarah continues. “12 years is a long time, and during the past few years, of course I’ve thought, ‘I miss comedy, I want to get back into it’. But it’s brought so many doubts because it’s been so long since I’ve done anything. And being a very open sex worker, it’s so easy to tell myself, ‘They’re not going to want to hire you because there’s so much stigma’.”
Since coming forward, however, her fans have been universally supportive. “I was funny the whole time!” Sarah says, teary-eyed but smiling. Looking back, her particular brand of cringing teenage self-satire seems prescient of the uncanny blend of sincerity, irony, and nostalgia so characteristic of youth internet culture today: she was both of and ahead of her time.
While she emphasises a sense of “wasted potential”, Sarah also stresses how much it means to be met with such interest and enthusiasm after so many years. She has recently started making new content on TikTok, where she receives tens of thousands of likes. She praises Gen Z for their offbeat comic sensibilities: “Instead of embarrassing or humiliating people, their style of humour is just so zany and off-the-wall.” With a newfound audience, and a renewed passion for her comedy, 2021 might not be such a bad new year for Sarah after all.