Meet Social Media’s Secret Black Gay Underground, Bigo Live

Queering social media one platform at a time

Key Takeaways

  • The "main girls" are a slew of Black LGBT content creators who have transformed Bigo Live into a safe space for other Black queer talent.
  • Bigo Live is a relatively unknown app with unique collaborative tools that have allowed this Black queer community to grow in unforeseen ways.
  • This social media app has allowed Black queer creatives from around the country to come together and fulfill their dreams.
Someone laughing at while looking at an iPhone.
Tim Robberts / Getty Images

Enter social media’s influential Black queer underground, where reading, drama, and free self-expression are the price of admission. 

Complete with the complexities and connections of a long-form jigsaw puzzle, this world created by a small cadre of live broadcasters on Bigo Live is a complicated one that moonlights as a digital reality show. And the self-dubbed "main girls" are the leading attraction.

The Singapore-based live-streaming app is a little-known secret here in the West, not even cracking the top 20 most-used social media platforms, according to data compiled by Statista. In the East, it’s another story, however.

The live-streaming platform is one of the industry’s largest apps, with a user base exceeding 400 million. These Black queer creatives in America leveraged that cache and capitalized on the built-in mechanisms to reorganize an entire community, and reshape their lives for the better. 

"You have a panel of people and they come on there and you pretty much have a good time," Bigo live streamer and agency owner TaQuan Jones said in a phone interview with Lifewire.

"On Bigo, you can be yourself. You don’t have to fake it 'til you make it…you learn that you can change someone’s life just by pressing that LIVE button."

The Birth of Bigo

The self-proclaimed mother of the app, Jones, 23, is part of the collective known as "the main girls," a term coined by some of the most prolific and successful Black queer creators on the platform.

"I pretty much keep the lights on on the app glowing with the content...I’m basically the Wendy Williams," he said. Jones talks about the space these live broadcasters have created through a kind of "for us, by us" mentality.

I never thought I’d be making the type of money I’m making now and all our dreams kind of came true because we decided to go live one day and be ourselves.

Every creator in this sphere of Bigo cites the same person as starting the craze: Jay Nedaj. A well-known social media influencer and comedic YouTuber, Nedaj laid the foundation for this Black queer renaissance on Bigo through his 2019 creation of a panel-style broadcast known as Bad Boys Club, a play on the Oxygen reality television series Bad Girls Club, known for conflict. From there, it all took off. 

Panelists like Jones cultivated a following from this show through his personality, combative flare, and sleuthing skills. Another one of the panelists on the now-defunct Bad Boys Club to emerge as one of the "main girls" was fellow agency owner Jaybies. 

Jaybies, who told Lifewire she prefers to singularly go by her first name, is the daughter of well-known conservative political activist and former House of Representatives candidate Angela Stanton. Known as the businesswoman, Jaybies, 19, helped transform what was once just a hobby for bored young people into a six-figure business for herself.  

"We didn’t start the app, but we innovated and cultivated it to where we became the legends out of the group," she said.

"I was one of the first people to discover the business aspect of the app and help migrate people to a business standpoint. I also learned the backend of the app and little ways for us to completely monetize and capitalize on the entertainment we were already giving.” 

Defining The Bigo Brand

The popular app is financed primarily through in-app gifts purchased by supporters to send to their favorite broadcasters in explosive, screen-crawling displays. That’s how the creators earn a significant portion of their income. The relatively expensive gifts can be converted into cash for the streamers to pocket. 

Unlike its direct competitors in the market such as Twitch, Bigo is a more collaborative effort offering streamers the ability to host panels with other creators or go toe-to-toe battles to see who can acquire the most gifts from their audience within a given timeframe. With stylized, animated gifting features and a prominent chatbox filling up half the screen, Bigo prizes collaborative connection.  

A couple sitting on the couch looking at a smartphone together.

Zave Smith / Getty Images

It’s part of why it saw such massive growth during the pandemic as people were vying for quasi-connections due to the ongoing quarantine. In 2020, the app saw a 25% increase in global downloads and a 22% increase in stream length, according to a January press release.

It’s a masterclass in the monetization of parasocial relationships, which is the manifestation of one-sided relationships between audiences and mass media performers. 

"A lot of people have followers, but Bigo breeds supporters," Jaybies suggests, discussing what separates Bigo from other platforms.

"We’re constantly on live, reading comments, talking to them, and that builds a unique bond unlike any other app versus someone on Instagram with 100,000 followers that posts a picture and people post heart eyes. You don’t know those people; there’s no real connection there."

Reading Is Fundamental

Bigo is social media’s 21st-century ball analogue for a whole new generation of Black queer talent. In the 1970s, the ball scene emerged as a safe space for Black queer people away from normative society, which had shunned them and pushed them to the margins.

Despite this, they created a culture that reverberates today across fashion, pop culture, music, dance, and even language. Bigo Black queer space is a modern, digital iteration of that tradition.  

We didn’t start the app but we innovated and cultivated it to where we became the legends out of the group.

"There was never a time where we said it’s only for Black queer people, but it just became a 'for us, by us,' kind of thing. We were just making in-group jokes and other people from our culture found us and birds of a feather flock together." Jaybies said. 

Personality sells, and the community they’ve created on Bigo has that, and more, in spades. From creative clapbacks, better known as reading in the Black queer community, to innovative talent shows and fully produced panels, these creators know how to entertain.

"The LGBTQ creators were the most creative and consistent ones on the app. The gays pretty much can keep an audience. We can keep an audience and keep people entertained. Our community is the best when it comes to content on any social media platform. This was an app that we went to have fun and it turned into a job for us because of our personalities," Jones said.

Their numbers rival some of the most popular Twitch streamers on a platform with a fraction of the cultural cache and American consumer base. Jones said his streams average 2,000-4,000 concurrent viewers.

Other panel shows have reached peaks of over 12,000 concurrent viewers, essentially creating a brand new class of young, Black, queer media entrepreneurs and micro-influencers. 

Traversing Controversy

Critics have lambasted the Black queer space on Bigo as a place where drama breeds and toxicity festers. The creators don’t see it that way. "What is entertainment with a little bit of good ole’ drama?" Jaybies asked, dismissing critics’ concerns.

Instead, the platform has lifted countless creators out of poverty and into a space of both financial and personal security. Jaybies suggest she and her entourage over the past two years have earned "millions" from the app, alone—something she notes is a net positive for the Black queer representation in social media.

A screenshot from the Bigo Live app

Bigo Live

"I always wanted to work in a field where I can be myself and get paid for it. I’m not doing anything to make anybody else look good," Jones said. "I’m doing it for me. If I was living for other people that would be different, but I’m living for myself."

The community is built on reading, they said, which is the dressing down of others through witty retorts and playfully combative back-and-forths—something that is integral to the community’s history as a component of ball culture.

"It’s like old school Comedy Central," Jaybies said. "The jokes are harsh, you might get offended, but it’s funny as hell. With us being Black queer people we were not meant for everybody."

Bigo has become an unlikely place of refuge and free expression for those involved. When you log onto the app and come to the corner these Black queer people have cultivated, you see a diverse array of personalities and intersecting identities competing for attention, but also working together to help make each this difficult life just a bit more tolerable.  

"We’ve built a massive gang of Black queer creators," Jones said. "I never thought I’d be making the type of money I’m making now, and all our dreams kind of came true because we decided to go live one day and be ourselves."

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