YouTube vlogger Queen Naija knew she had a potential hit when she penned “Medicine,” an R&B groove about getting revenge on a cheating lover, in late 2017. With its hip-hop-infused beat, silky, lip-glossed vocals and Instagram caption-ready lyrics, the song checked all the boxes for chart success.
The only problem? That cheating lover in the song was inspired by her then-husband and YouTube channel co-star Chris Sails, and releasing the track would mean admitting to 2.2 million subscribers that the couple they’d followed for years was on the verge of breaking up.
The two began dating in 2013, and launched their relationship-focused vlog “Chris and Queen” two years later while living in Section 8 housing in Detroit, recognizing the potential monetary value of their large Instagram following. “We were couple goals,” sighs Queen, noting that their dozens of videos — with adorable titles like “SURPRISING MY HUSBAND WITH HIS DREAM CAR” or “DIRTY TRUTH OR DARE!!!” — regularly racked up close to one million views apiece. So after Queen created a solo channel last April and moved in with her brother, it wasn’t long before fans began asking questions.
“When they saw that I stopped doing videos with [Sails] on our channel, the fans were trying to put two and two together, like, ‘What’s going on?’” the 22-year-old remembers. “I didn’t want to answer. We were a public couple, and we had a big platform — it was embarrassing.”
Rather than film a video announcing their breakup, Queen turned to music — a former passion that led her to audition for American Idol in 2014, where she made it to the top 50 — but one she all but abandoned after getting booted off the show. “Medicine,” billed as Queen’s “explanation” to her followers, went live on her YouTube channel a few hours before midnight this past New Year’s Eve.
In the months since, Queen’s initial song post has logged more than 17 million plays, and an official music video released last month capitalized on the growing interest, already garnering 16 million views. She’s not the only YouTuber to venture into music, as 2017 saw vlog stars like Jake Paul and RiceGum land in the deep end of the Billboard Hot 100. But Queen’s own “Medicine” made an astounding No. 45 debut on the Hot 100 for the week of April 14, a feat for any emerging act — let alone an unsigned social media star who never intended to break outside YouTube. The track currently sits at No. 11 on Hot R&B Songs, down from a No. 8 peak. “It was supposed to be strictly for the fans,” Queen reflects, “but then it just went crazy.”
Part of the song’s appeal, she thinks, comes from addressing the double standard applied to women in heterosexual relationships. Or, as she puts it: “You know how a girl can cheat, and a guy will just leave them, but a guy can cheat, and a girl [is expected to] give them chance after chance? As soon as you give [an adulterer] a taste of their own medicine, they want to trip out — [as if] they didn’t do a million things to you.”
Over a simmering R&B groove, Queen flips the narrative: “How would you like it if I do the things you do?” she purrs, threatening through honeyed vocals, “Don’t get it twisted, I can play this game too.” From “putting you on disturb” to FaceTiming a Tinder feed of other dudes, Queen imagines the actions of a bolder, empowered alter ego, a 2018 variation on Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy.”
“Now, I can’t go anywhere without being noticed,” says Queen of her newfound fame as a singer, though she adds with a cheeky laugh, “I don’t mind.” She reveals that she’s currently fielding offers from several labels, and recently took a meeting at Warner Bros. — which she has since posted footage from on YouTube, of course. While Queen is staying in New York City at the moment, she’s considering getting her own place in Atlanta. And she finds herself vlogging less as she works on an EP: “I don’t want to just throw anything out there, but know I’m not a one-hit wonder,” she quips.
As Queen disclosed in a separate video posted just days after the “Medicine” official clip went live, she and Sails have since filed for divorce and plan to share custody of their three-year-old son. (Sails, for his part, took over the duo’s original account and continues posting vlogs for 2.9 million subscribers today.)
But music industry potential aside, Queen says releasing the intensely personal track — and receiving a wave of support in return — has given her the confidence to focus on herself as she re-enters single life. And she’s hoping it can serve as a dose of extra strength for listeners, too.
“It hurts to think you’re going to spend your life with somebody and you don’t, but life goes on. I’m doing things I never thought I could do without him,” she explains. “Just how Beyoncé said, the best revenge is your paper.”