Korty EO is the YouTuber documenting contemporary culture in Nigeria
There is stillness in Eniola Olanrewaju’s upscale apartment in Yaba, Nigeria. It matches the constant sense of calm that almost seems to envelop the 24-year-old as she retreats into her world. Eniola, popularly known as Korty EO, is one of the most popular faces of the post-digital creative taxonomy that has swept Lagos over the past half-decade. In many ways, she is an iconic figure of infinity that characterizes the bustle and restlessness of young people in Africa’s most populous city. For the past four years, she has worked as a graphic designer, writer, content creator and videographer. Today, she is one of Nigeria’s brightest YouTube talents, amassing nearly 200,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 100,000 followers on Instagram.
But Korty’s story didn’t start in Lagos. She grew up in Bodija, Ibadan.
“It was a safe area, but my home in Bodija wasn’t on the fanciest sides,” Korty said while sitting in a rocking chair in her spartan living room last month. “My parents were very protective but that’s because they knew our environment wasn’t the safest but if you asked me I was proud to say I lived in Bodija because it was a cool area but I would not take you to my house.” Growing up as the middle child in a family of five, Korty was aware of her parents’ limitations and struggled to find her way in. She began working as a graphic designer while enrolled in the University of Ibadan after a brief stint at Bowen University “I saw there was a lot I could do and I couldn’t even go to class if I wanted to,” said- she said, “I was just more free and able to do my thing.”
Her clarity of purpose meant she always knew she was going to have to move to Lagos to pursue some of her biggest dreams, even though she didn’t know what those dreams were at the time. An opportunity arose in 2018 when a modeling agency scouted her in Lagos to get a certificate from her IT attachment office. But Korty was hesitant to enter the modeling world. “I said no because I thought models were superficial,” she half-joked.
Eventually, Korty decided to give modeling a shot. She was grateful for the extra income and the opportunity to explore the creative community of Lagos that her constant visits provided. In the modeling world, Korty had to navigate a maze of toxic booking agents and haughty designers who treated her poorly. “You can usually tell when someone isn’t so comfortable in a certain place,” she said. “Because I wasn’t comfortable, a lot of designers didn’t choose me to walk their shows.”
Primarily observing other models strutting down glitzy catwalks, Korty began documenting their lives in short videos that piqued the interest of her fellow models. Shortly after, she joined Zikokowhere she worked as a writer and content creator before convincing her bosses at the time to let her lead a show named HIS which was dedicated to highlighting the often overlooked lives of women in Nigeria. In December 2020, after working with Zikoko for nearly two years, she left to join Mr. Eazi’s music accelerator program, emPawa, as responsible for the content. Where Zikoko had a large collaborative culture that emphasized creative cross-pollination, emPawa was structured more independently, giving Korty carte blanche to pursue projects and create work in her own image.
It was while managing emPawa’s YouTube channel that Korty began to see the platform’s potential for hosting the original confessional-style videos she really wanted to make. “I’ve always watched analytics and understood how the platform works,” she said. “After a while I got fed up and left because I realized YouTube was paying.”
Of course, she wasn’t paid immediately. The YouTube channel started to take off with a video documenting the thought process of leaving his parents’ house and quitting his job at emPawa to create videos for YouTube.
Korty’s YouTube channel has definitely taken shape, anchored around two shows: Flow, with Korty andlove and lies.
Photo credit: Ikechukwu Okonkwo
That was in 2020. In the months that followed, Korty’s YouTube channel has definitely materialized, anchored around two shows: Flow, with Korty, is an exploratory show about the lives of celebrities and trendsetters in the Lagos and wider West African cultural scene. While the most recentlove and lies, is a dating show that chronicles the drama and comedy that follows the setting up of random people on dates in Lagos. When photographing her subjects, Korty aims for submersion, looking for a way to remove all distraction from their immediate awareness and get as much information from them as possible.
“I put my camera away from them so they can forget it’s even there,” Korty said. “It’s usually me, my cameras and a photographer because most of the people I shoot are sort of celebrities and once they see too many people they get on guard but if you put them on comfortable, they can express themselves.” Editing, however, is where it all comes together as she applies her experiences while staying true to the mood of the shoot. This usually takes place over an active period of one or two weeks depending on how much footage she gets.
The distinctive contours of life in Lagos and the pervasive cross-generational tensions in the city weigh on Korty’s mind and ripple through his visual content. “I think Lagos is the center of a lot of things because there are a lot of people here so it’s easy to find different communities here,” she said. “Sometimes I’m very conflicted about my position because I’m an old Generation Z. I’m 24 and there are people who will be 18 in 2022. I often feel like I’m in the middle because where did the Class of 1998 fit into all of this. Yet the grind, restlessness and growing fearlessness of Gen Z youth in Lagos inspires him more than anything.” There is more evidence of people’s habits and lifestyles (in Lagos) because of the internet and it brings more exposure. I feel like the cultural awareness of Gen Z in Lagos is so strong that it carries over to other parts of the country, but Lagos is the pinnacle.
“There needs to be a better process for how people are monetized in Nigeria,” Korty said. “If YouTube says it’s for everyone in every part of the world, they should do that regardless of the country’s difficulties.”
Photo credit: Ikechukwu Okonkwo
Yet existing in Lagos can take its toll, and navigating the YouTube payment model as an independent creator can make it even harder. “It was very difficult,” she said of monetizing her channel – which isn’t the fastest growing in Nigeria. “They have to send a pin to a post office. It’s very easy for people abroad, but if you live in Nigeria, it’s very difficult to get your pin and your money. Korty had to make a video detailing her frustration with the monetization process before further relief arrived and she worries about the next generation of indie creators hoping to share their talents with the world via YouTube. “With new people coming onto the platform it’s really hard for them because they’re confused. There’s a procedure but the procedure doesn’t work unless you get your pin and that’s mentally devastating.
“There needs to be a better process for how people are monetized in Nigeria, if YouTube says it’s for everyone in every part of the world, they need to do it regardless of the country’s struggles I know it’s easy to say, but it’s just that, it shouldn’t be better in one place than another, and also I guess Nigeria should also care enough about these things to facilitate everyone’s job.
Earlier this year, a video documenting Korty’s attempts to schedule an interview with Wizkid for three days in Lagos went viral. And it was an experience that only solidified his resolve. “For me, the main thing is that only a few things can stop me in this life,” Korty said. and you walk towards it, either you get it or you really get close to it.
For all the inspirational themes in her videos and her character, Korty isn’t a filmmaker who really cares about coaxing her audience’s awakening, seeing her role more as a guide to the facts of a situation or a phenomenon. “I think for me, my role is to talk about certain things, bring it to light, and let people take whatever they want from the video,” she said. “That’s why I tell people that my goal is not to inspire. If you happen to be inspired, that’s on you.
Despite all his protests to the contrary, Korty understands the impact of his videos and is preparing for his role as the archivist of contemporary Nigerian culture. “When I do things I don’t have plans but they start to unfold and people start to see what it can become,” she said. “I’m just trying to be successful in life, I’m really not trying to be a culture change but I also feel like if that happens and people see a pattern, it’s now at me to see if I can accept this responsibility.
“I’m very aware that there is a growing responsibility and, if I don’t accept it, I might not grow, I might just stagnate.”
In many cases, Korty quickly dismisses the tags or titles, and as our conversation draws to a close, I ask her what she identifies with these days. “I’m starting to say filmmaker,” she said. “A lot of people would say where do I find the audacity to call myself that because I make videos on YouTube, but if you put me next to today’s YouTubers, there’s a stark difference This is also why I don’t like people calling me an influencer because I haven’t sat outside Eko Hotels for three days to be called an influencer Cinema is where I found myself In 2018, I was in fashion. Before 2018, I was drawing. Over time, I will come across something else. I don’t think I can do one thing in my entire life. But whatever I decide to do, I I will succeed and I will compete at the top.
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