Hugs, sunshine, and flashy dance numbers persist throughout most of A Trip To Unicorn Island, the documentary created by, and starring popular Youtuber Lilly Singh, otherwise known as ‘||Superwoman||.’ The documentary recently premiered at the Isabel Bader Theatre to a sold-out crowd. The positivity emitted in her documentary stems from Singh’s personal outlook on happiness, which has been subjected to multiple challenges throughout her life.
“Happiness means that you understand that you’re going to have bad days and you’re going to have good days — life is not perfect — but you’re deciding that you’re worth working on and you’re worth loving yourself and you’re worth being happy,” Singh tells me, while walking down the red carpet before the screening of the film. These heartfelt words come from a place of personal experience; in her fourth-year studying psychology at York University, the Scarborough native fell into a deep depression.
She spent several difficult months battling her dark mood until one morning she woke up and had an epiphany. Singh realized that she understood she held the power to choose her own outlook on life, marking a turning point in her career. She took up vlogging on Youtube, a choice stemmed by her childhood passion to act.
At first, Singh admitted, “it was horrifying. My first video had 70 views. It was tough because I didn’t have a rhythm…a direction. And that’s scary to put yourself out into the entire world… It wasn’t until a handful of videos later that I found my voice.” In the end, her 7.9 million subscribers proved that her catalogue of hilarious, relatable, and inspirational content was well worth the risky investment.
Like the majority of success stories, Singh’s rise to fame was not an easy process. After graduation, both of her parents urged her to pursue a masters degree. But after seeing his daughter’s determination, Singh’s father relented. “We made a deal with Lilly,” Malwinder Singh, Lilly’s father, told me before the premiere. “She said, ‘dad give me six months; I don’t want to do a master[s].’ I said, ‘how ‘bout if I give you a year?’ And I thought, is it just a fluke? Is she going to get fed up in a few years? But no, she made it. Hard work pays off.”
In the early days, Singh assigned herself a regular schedule of posting new content twice a week. From listicle-style videos like “5 Real Ways To Get Your Work Done” or “Annoying People On Facebook,” to rants about societal issues like “5 Minutes of Real Talk: Guns, Religion, and Happiness,” to recurring bits, like impersonating her parents’ reactions to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” music video, Singh chose to find humour in everyday occurrences. “I’m always observing what’s happening in a relationship, or how people are behaving and taking notes,” she explains.
So, what does a tropical island named after a mythical creature have anything to do with all this? The name “Unicorn Island” became a place Singh frequently referred to in her videos. Simply put: it’s her happy place. “[Going to] Unicorn Island is when you realize that no matter what the circumstances are, you’re going to be okay,” she says.
She also acknowledges the whimsical silliness of the name. “It’s such a weird thing,” she observes with a self-deprecating laugh. Nonetheless, Singh decided it was something she wanted to bring to life for her fans by way of an ambitious world tour in 2015. She and eight dancers performed a show under the same name — which included song, dance, rap, skits, comedy, and more — that ultimately resulted in the creation of the documentary.
The documentary portrays the show’s formation from start to finish, leaving the audience feeling inspired and with a better sense of what hard work and perseverance truly entail. A few scenes depict Singh alone, huddled over her laptop late at night, editing scripts or shots long after the rest of her team has gone home. “I am so alone in my experiences,” she remarks at one point. In another moment, she is on the verge of tears, saying, “I don’t know why I’m doing this… I want to impact people but I want it to not be so lonely.”
Nonetheless, Singh — whose YouTube username has inspired her fans to call themselves “Team Super” — acknowledges the universality of the feeling of loneliness and, perhaps to remedy this,reminds herself of a quote throughout the film: “The only thing people remember is how you make them feel.”