Pony, real name Park Hye-min, is one of the most popular Korean makeup gurus, with 981,144 subscribers to her YouTube channel (At press time, Pony has reached 1 million subscribers on her YouTube channel). Her makeup tutorials -- in which she demonstrates themed makeup styles, ranging from looks of K-pop female idols and Christmas holiday makeup to everyday makeup for school or work -- have some 700,000-plus views each.
While her makeup videos are mainly based on Korean styles and Korean cosmetics, they are enjoying growing popularity overseas along with the global ascent of Korean pop culture.
Her fans are diverse, ranging from hijab-clad Muslim women to K-pop fans trying to emulate the looks of their favourite K-pop stars. She offers English subtitles that are detailed enough for a global audience to follow. Her overseas fans respond by leaving comments in English on her YouTube channel, praising her sophisticated makeup style and easy-to-follow techniques.
Photo: YouTube screengrab
"If there are no English subtitles, I get many comments from foreign viewers requesting them. I think there are more people outside Korea watching my videos than in Korea," said Pony, in an interview at her studio in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, on March 7.
In Pony's new studio, which opened in January, hundreds of makeup products that appear in her YouTube makeup tutorials are neatly arranged on a dressing table adorned with glowing LED lights. The shooting takes place in the centre of the studio equipped with cameras and other filming and editing equipment that turn Pony's makeup demonstrations into a well-crafted sequence.
Pony was an avid beauty blogger with design and editing skills in her early 20s, and has been using her school nickname as stage name ever since.
She was working as a graphic designer and posting makeup tips online from time to time as a hobby. Using her design sensibility and editing skills, she tried to make her posts as appealing as magazine covers, she said.
When she posted her portraits with different makeup styles on Cyworld -- a once-popular Korean social networking platform -- people sent her messages, asking her which products she used and how she created those looks.
"I began to add more information, such as simple makeup tips with the photos," she said.
Then she turned her hobby into a profession when, in 2010, she was approached by publishers who suggested she compile her makeup tips and turn them into a series of books.
"Makeup started getting more fun. I was young enough to try new things. So why not try something new?" she said.
She published three more makeup books in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Her books have been published in Taiwan, Thailand, China, Indonesia and Japan. One of the series, "Pony's Special Makeup" (2011) was translated into Japanese, a rare case of a Korean makeup book being released in Japan, where makeup skills are considered to be much more advanced than in any other Asian country.
In 2013, she launched her YouTube makeup channel, then titled "Pony's Beauty Diary." Episodes that featured celebrity makeup makeovers became instantly popular. She re-created the makeup of not only K-pop idols such as members of Girls' Generation and singer IU, but also global top stars such as Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Kristen Stewart and Fan Bingbing.
A tutorial whereby Pony transforms into popstar Taylor Swift recently uploaded has since gone viral, appearing in several international publications and attracting more than 3 million views on YouTube:
Pony's Ariana Grande inspired make-up look:Photo: Instagram/Ponysmakeup
"It takes a lot of practice before the actual shooting of the celebrity makeup style tutorials," she said.
The process of making a six-minute tutorial video on a celebrity makeup style takes many more steps than one might possibly imagine.
She downloads high-resolution photos of celebrities and examines the photos from various angles to figure out what colors and skills are used to create the look. Then she recreates the look on her face, and rehearses more than five times before she is ready to demonstrate for the camera.
"I have makeup notes. I write details of every makeup style I presented in my books and in makeup tutorials in notebooks, such as what products and colors I used on different parts of the face," she said.
She confessed that selecting products is one of the trickiest parts in the makeup tutorial production. "Products I use determine how much my viewers can relate to my makeup video," she said.
She seeks to maintain a balance in the use of makeup products, taking into consideration the diversity of the YouTube channel viewers.
"What I keep in mind is ages and nationalities," she said.
"Young audiences prefer affordable beauty items, while viewers in their 30s and older are more curious about global makeup brands at department stores."
She mixes affordable and high-end items in her tutorials, targeting both the viewers in their 20s and 30s.
She sometimes includes products sold outside Korea, such as those available at Sephora, so that her global viewers can easily find the products and follow the steps.
"Sometimes they complain that it's hard to find Korean makeup brands in the countries where they live."
Pony also tries to present a balanced mix of both strong and soft makeup styles for viewers with different makeup preferences.
"Mostly, people enjoy watching tutorials showing strong makeup, but then my viewers said they want to see more practical makeup styles. I try to present a variety of looks," she said.
Last year, Pony stepped into the fast-changing cosmetics business. She launched her own makeup line through Memebox, a subscription-based cosmetic curation company. Shortly after the release of her makeup line, Pony launched her makeup brand Pony Effect in November 2015. She has introduced basic makeup items such as foundation, powder compact, lip tint, eyeshadow and eyebrow mascara.
She tried to distinguish her brand from existing brands by including an easy-to-use sponge applicator that she designed. It creates the touch of professional makeup artist, she said.
"I think makeup should be practical. Every woman deserves a beautiful look and they should be able to create their looks easily," she added.
Pony also plans to upgrade her YouTube makeup tutorials with special effects and increase her upload speed to the Internet.
"I used to do editing all by myself. But now I work with two new staff members. We are preparing for upgraded features for my videos. The videos will be more perfect!" Pony said.