In a recent video on Safiya Nygaard’s YouTube channel, viewers are transported to a Florida lagoon as Nygaard, ’14, and her husband, Tyler Williams, ’12, spend a night underwater at Jules’ Undersea Lodge. Nygaard and Williams narrate as we embark on a diving safety lesson and detailed room tour. In one scene over lunch, the couple show off their local takeout lunches, delivered via scuba concierge. Nygaard peers through one of the room’s portholes as she bites into a coconut shrimp. “Sorry!” she calls to the sea life beyond.
Since 2017, Nygaard and Williams have worked both in front of and behind the camera on Nygaard’s YouTube channel, a stream of inventive and popular videos about fashion, makeup, crafts, and more. It boasts 9.5 million subscribers and, in five years, has garnered more than 1.6 billion combined views.
While the content on Nygaard’s YouTube channel tends to fall in the lifestyle category, it’s really whatever she and Williams find interesting.
“We follow a lot of Safiya’s inklings, and she’s been alarmingly correct on a lot of things that would not have jumped out to me as slam-dunk ideas,” Williams says. Those inklings include the most successful video on Nygaard’s channel, at 29 million views, “Melting Every Lipstick from Sephora Together,” in which they combine 603 lipsticks with the help of a hot plate and a blow-dryer to create a “Frankenphora” lipstick color in search of the average and theoretically “most marketable” color.
‘I felt like so much research and information went into her videos, in an age where a lot of misinformation is spread.’
Williams describes their format as investigative—much like one of Anthony Bourdain’s food shows, only for more diverse, niche topics, such as exploring a Hong Kong market selling knockoffs or making custom soap that looks like a cupcake. In one video, Nygaard wears a pair of Balenciaga’s 10-inch platform Crocs for a week to test stylishness and practicality. She dreams up experiments for the shoes each day, such as wearing them during a night out at Disneyland. She also discusses the history of platform shoes and Crocs.
Though silly premises are certainly one of the draws of the channel, viewers also note the care the couple put into the educational side. “What drew me to [Nygaard] was I felt like so much research and information went into her videos, in an age where a lot of misinformation is spread,” says Eryn Perkins, ’25, a fan of the channel. “She’s doing things that are not only informational, but really creative and fun.”
“My intention is not to influence people to wear a certain thing or buy a certain thing or do their makeup in a certain way. I’m not even trying to influence people’s philosophy,” Nygaard says. “The point of our content is to be an investigation into something and present an interesting topic and go on a deep dive together.”
At Stanford as a drama and English major, Nygaard showed her ability to capture an audience, says Amy Freed, an artist-in-residence in the theater and performance studies department. “She had loads of stage presence,” Freed says. “She was also generous and warm and self-deprecating and really, really funny!”
After graduating, Nygaard moved to Los Angeles, intending to eventually return home to Chicago to act in and produce plays. She worked odd jobs and joined a weekly writing group with other Stanford alumni who, like her, were hoping to have creative careers. One of them, Garrett Werner, ’10, worked at BuzzFeed and encouraged Nygaard to apply to its video internship program. “It was, at the time, a good intro-to-entertainment job because you did everything,” says Werner, who now writes for several former BuzzFeed co-workers on YouTube and in television. “You came up with the idea; you wrote it; you set up the cameras; you shot it, directed it, and edited it; and then you posted it and saw how it did.”
Nygaard joined BuzzFeed’s video department in 2015, staying on full time after the internship. There, she was thrown into the YouTube world. Most notably, she was a founding member and co-creator of the Ladylike series, whose videos regularly registered millions of views. Ladylike featured an ensemble of women who tried fashion challenges or tested makeup trends and products—say, by seeing how long a certain lipstick actually lasts. In creating Ladylike, Nygaard helped BuzzFeed identify an untapped potential: building series around stable casts of characters, who developed relationships with one another onscreen and a sense of continuity with their viewers. Previously, BuzzFeed had fed its channels with a “revolving door of faces,” Werner says.
Williams and Nygaard met in Greek life at Stanford, but actually got close after “remeeting” in Los Angeles. They disagree on whether their true first date was a Disneyland outing that Williams insists was meant to be platonic, but either way, that’s where he proposed to Nygaard in 2018—and the event was filmed and posted. In 2019, the two married, complete with a wedding vlog posted to YouTube (17 million views).
While Nygaard was at BuzzFeed, Williams worked on a digital media platform start-up that focused on vlogging and livestreams. So in 2017, when Nygaard left BuzzFeed to produce content for her own YouTube channel, it made sense to Williams—who had also appeared in some BuzzFeed videos with Nygaard—to work with her. Early on, Nygaard was the main on-camera personality, especially as Williams initially split his time with his start-up. “[At first] it was like, ‘Well, Saf’s a slam dunk, let’s just have her do it,’” Williams says. But over time, he has increasingly joined her in front of the camera.
The couple, who moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 2021, now make their living through content creation, and they often look to other YouTubers for ideas or guidance on operating practices. “You’ve got to scrap and figure it all out on your own. You’re always learning things you didn’t account for,” Williams says. Though they have producers and editors to help, the pair oversee each step of the editing process.
Nygaard hopes their videos get viewers thinking. To her, they’re not shallow pursuits, even if they’re intended to be light and fun. “I want people to approach subjects that seem like they could be surface-level with a little bit of, as Stanford likes to say, intellectual vitality,” she says. “When we talk about things that have been traditionally treated as fluffy or superficial—topics like beauty and style—with the same intellectual weight as we treat other topics that are considered more serious, there’s actually a lot to unpack there.”
Evan Peng, ’22, is a former editorial intern at Stanford. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.