This story is taken from the autumn 2023 issue of Dazed. Buy a copy here.
Madeline Argy’s world shifted with a worm. Well, the worm first found its way into her sister’s leg while she was travelling, and then Argy decided to tell TikTok about it: how she pleaded with her sibling to see a doctor, and how, horrifyingly, a second worm-shaped protrusion in the limb appeared. This squirmy storytime was Argy’s first viral moment, clocking up 5.7m likes and accelerating the 23-year-old’s now 6.5m follower count across TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. “Things changed with the worm video,” Argy tells me. “Someone came up to me in public to say hi. That was the first time something from inside my phone entered the real world. It’s all kind of hit me in the face since then.”
Whether you’re a chronic scroller or have fleeting dalliances with TikTok’s FYP, chances are you’ve caught one of Argy’s storytimes and skits. She began posting on TikTok in March 2021 (“pretty late, right?”), making her distinctive style felt quickly on the platform. Her videos sometimes chaotic, quick-paced affairs akin to a friend’s FaceTime, while others are caustic and clear-eyed on subjects from misogyny and mental health to sexuality. While there’s no shortage of TikTokkers trying that to-camera, slippery-humoured approach, Argy feels authentically tumultuous, anxious and unedited, figuring out the social pressure points of Generation Z in real-time. Still, she’s deftly private, retaining an allure that drives Google searches for who she is dating, why she’s famous in the first place, and why she keeps her banged-up old car.
“I’m not up for a summer of being aggravated,” Argy says in a YouTube video filmed in April. She reclines in her car seat – the filming location for her intimate YouTube podcasts – and clasps her hands, chrome acrylic nails glinting in the fading light. “This is really my first summer having fun, being young and hot and free.”
If you’re to glimpse her recent online activity, you’ll see the warmer months have taken Argy far from Sussex. Summer began in Los Angeles, with some super-secret project work (more on that later), taste tests of culty and memeified LA grocery store Erewhon, meet-ups with brands and a photoshoot. June was Paris men’s fashion week, and back again for couture week. When we meet on a sticky July day at west London’s Chiltern Firehouse, Argy has recently returned from Ibiza, where she was navigating the more boujie side of the island and the rolling, vaping crowds of superclub Ushuaïa.
“I used to stress out about having ‘experiences’,” says Argy, sitting small in the lobby corner wearing a red DKNY knit, jeans and adidas. “All my time was spent in lockdown or at uni. Now I’m actually living the life I would not feel regretful to look back on. It’s a liberating feeling. I’m not always worrying about how to make my life interesting – because it is!”
Argy launched her YouTube channel in August 2022, clocking 7.5m views for her own corner of the internet “where I run my mouth for extended periods of time”. In just over 20, 30-minute videos, she talks frankly, percolating from advice sessions to life updates and self-described trauma dumps. She’s probing and curious, challenging herself and cultural friction points: romantic relationships, friendship crises and attachment styles (she’s anxious-avoidant), therapy, rejection and self-reflection. Her first video podcast, “Sexuality, Relationships and Boundaries”, talks about overwhelming labels on sexuality and power dynamics. She has a genuine curiosity around big-picture subjects, and a delicate, dexterous touch for baring the weird abyss of one’s internal thoughts to bring viewers close. Her self-exploration spools out to the anxious and unsure. Seeing someone do mental gymnastics in real-time, go forth and come back to tell the tale is comforting and clarifying. You might be gross or noncommittal or insecure – but not alone.
Alex Cooper, host of Call Her Daddy and the most-listened-to female podcaster worldwide, recently signed Argy to The Unwell Network, a talent network and community for burgeoning creators launched in August. (Hence the summer LA trip.) Argy was announced alongside Alix Earle: with 7.5 million followers, Earle, 22, is known for ‘get ready with me’ videos that interpolate discussions of messy relationships and mental health, her experience of cystic acne and anxiety. Together, it’s a portfolio mainlining Gen Z’s core interests. With this cultural buoyancy, Argy hopes to refine her long-form content production. “I know what I enjoy, and I know that I enjoyed it when there was no financial benefit,” she says. “I want people who interact with me to really get to know me.”
Argy has donned and shed many guises on the internet. “I was a big YouTube girl growing up,” she says. “I loved girly videos like ‘Makeup by Mandy’, but I was also obsessed with Mormon family vlogs. The Shaytards were my grind.” Argy was home-schooled for two and a half years of primary and secondary school due to anxiety, and the internet was a place to escape, to cobble together an identity and community. “I was so anxious. I didn’t go outside at all when I was home-schooled. Watching vlogs was my world experience. I would watch a lot of ‘get ready to go back to school’ videos, living vicariously through them.”
A brief foray into Tumblr was depressing: “It felt like work – curating what you want people to perceive,” says Argy. “I was ready to leave my mental illness era.” She studied linguistics at Kent, and worked for a summer at a US camp in 2019. “The camp kids would quote the TikTok sound trends. I thought it was so dumb. I got on TikTok out of sheer boredom in lockdown.”
One algorithm-frenzied TikTok shows Argy in an “I <3 LYING” t-shirt, asking, “Why does everybody keep asking if I’m dating Central Cee? I’ve literally never heard of him in my entire life” while the rapper makes himself a sandwich in the background. A more recent viral video shows Argy crying close up, asking the digital ether to explain what the fuck DJs actually do – “What dials are they pressing?” On her way to meet me, she watched a TikTok of a DJ remixing her bit on stage. “It really gave me the ick,” she says, covering her face.
She maintains there’s no rhythm or strategy to how she posts today: “Certain days I have no thoughts.” Still, there is a crisp clarity to Argy as she self-searches in real time to and with her audience. On YouTube, she ascertains her audience is mostly girls aged between 13 and 21. “I think it’s 70% women – thank God.”
“I talk about stuff I only just figured out,” she says. “I read the YouTube comments and do like what I see – most of the time. I’m open to being wrong. It’s less about sound advice and more a confused, messy conversation.” She edits all her own videos, describing the process as a “self-help activity. Observing yourself can be fulfilling but… unpleasant.” Her recent LA vlog was recorded by her manager, quite different to her usual style. “I was horrified by my posture. To perceive yourself is jarring.” Social media stars still feel the universal cringe of encountering yourself.
Argy has come up as the internet evolves at blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speeds, from the endless appetites of post-lockdown audiences to social platforms collapsing in on themselves overnight, and etymological advances from memes to therapy speak. “Young people have this emotionally intelligent language online that wasn’t there when I was growing up. Tumblr was not articulate. It was telling us to chug a bottle of bleach,” she says. “I also think the algorithm can really hurt young people. Say you’re struggling with an eating disorder, or a young boy getting hammered with anti-feminist videos. It scares me.”
TikTok is where Argy found lucidity. “It really made me understand that you’re rarely alone in anything you’ve ever done,” she says. “When I’m going through it, I think other people could probably do with hearing it.”
Argy has worked out her identity as a queer woman online and off. She came out to her family in 2020, and has talked openly about her very much nonlinear journey with her sexuality. “Owning my queerness is quite a recent development,” she shares. “I don’t know where my shame came from.” Still, the internet has a lot to say about a frank queer woman actively dating a man. In early TikToks, she would describe herself as a lesbian – something since used by people online as a ‘gotcha’. “That was my experience until that point. I found guys attractive, but I thought it was comphet,” she says. “I feel like there’s a burden on the LGBT community to represent correctly. I’ve always understood that anything could happen. Life is long.”
“I found guys attractive, but I thought it was comphet. I feel like there’s a burden on the LGBT community to represent correctly. I always understood that anything can happen. Life is long” - Madeline Argy
As a teenager online, ascribing identity feels paramount – to feel seen and find solace. “The LGBT community was my first community,” says Argy. “Now, my sexuality is just one aspect of me.” Her relationship with rapper Central Cee, soft-launched in the pair’s Instagram carousels and comments-section badinage, has sparked an avalanche of speculation among TikTok sleuths. “We kept it quiet longer than anyone realises. We were established. It’s still weird to say ‘boyfriend’ – I get a shock up my spine!”
“It’s really shitty that for women, who you date sticks to your name,” says Argy. “I had to give myself a fighting chance. I never wanted to be known as someone’s partner. I really wanted the time to establish myself. I remember looking on a girl’s Instagram he had previously been associated with. Her comments were dominated by ‘rapper this’, ‘rapper that’. Having a public relationship hasn’t been a bad experience for me – I thought it’d be worse. It’s funny, there was one girl’s video that really investigated us, and the comments are all ‘go outside, you’re crazy’ – she got our whole trajectory correct!”
Argy retains a sense of relatability and reality, even as life evolves outside her vibrating car. “When YouTubers I watched got big, I stopped caring because the content changed,” she says. “My reality is my three best friends and a life that only changes to facilitate ease. I don’t have to scramble cash together to pay for therapy sessions. I can fix my car. I can bring my friends along for the ride. Share the blessings.” She says she keeps industry scenes at arm’s length. More because she’s shit at socialising, and the headache of National Rail. “There’s a lot of people I’m excited for, a lot of women. I see people on the red carpet and in ads, like Amelia Dimz [Dimoldenberg].”
Argy’s sharp, confessional vlogging style is relatively new in the whorling history of the internet. Still, tick-box comparisons to YouTube veteran-turned-podcaster Emma Chamberlain, whose niche editing style and rampant self-deprecation defined an internet aesthetic, abound. “She’s her own genre,” says Argy. “I wouldn’t want to be in that shadow. I don’t think I have a unique style yet – hopefully, that will develop… the more I figure out how to use a laptop.” Sly, sardonic humour, too, is embedded in the Argy brand: “I don’t find myself funny, but I find I’m likened to a lot of people I consider funny!”
Amid the success stories, there remains no set course. Argy has only recently strayed from the idea she’d be doing a “big-girl job”. “I’d always geared myself towards a nine-to-five,” she says. “I was bored for a while with social media. You can gain a lot of followers on TikTok, but nothing is really happening with you. But it’s not just on my phone anymore, it’s real-world things.”
Argy tells me playfully that her hair length reflects her mental stability – early videos, in a “bad mental health era”, show her with a shaved head. Today, it sits past her shoulders. She’s going for a haircut after our meeting. “Depending on the project announcements, let’s see where it lands,” she says wryly. Opening her IG stories a week after Unwell’s launch, a mirror selfie shows Argy’s long hair in taut rollers, with a wide, wicked smile.
Hair JOHN ALLAN using L’ORÉAL PROFESSIONEL, make-up REBECCA DAVENPORT at LGA MANAGEMENT using MILK MAKEUP, photographic assistant OKUS MILSOM, styling assistant BRYDIE PERKINS, production THE PRODUCTION FACTORY