It was in the mid-2000s that marked the instant rise of today’s famous YouTubers, the very internet starts that first redefined what it meant to be “viral.” FRED, Shane Dawson, and Jenna Marbles were one of the few original entertainers that have more than hustled their way to six figures a year. With 15 minutes of fame now collapsed to 60 seconds and audiences getting younger and YouTubers getting older, how do these pioneers keep the subscribers and views on a permanent high?
Shane Lee Yaw, or more commonly known under his pseudonym as “Shane Dawson,” got viral through his comedic sketches that featured several original characters: Shanaynay, S-Deezy, Ned the nerd, Aunt Hilda, and Shane’s Mom, all compacted with offensive racist, sexist, and homophobic humor with the occasional moral lesson.
While these were his claim to fame, following an accident on his leg that caused him to halt most of his video production, he started doing more taste-testing videos, paranormal rituals, explaining conspiracy theories, buying objects such as curious child toys and testing them out, do-it-yourself pintertests, and baking ginormous candy bars for his friends. Since then, his views escalated from a mere 100,000 or so to 900,000 or a million every upload. Compared to his previous videos that once dominated YouTube’s front page that continued in an offensive fashion, kids today have an acquired test. It becomes almost voyeuristic how much we want people to experience things for us. Kids like seeing their stars disgusted, scared, bewildered. It almost becomes sadistic in a sense. As Link Neal once said, “The internet loves a gag reflex.”
PewDiePie (Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg)
Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg is a swedish YouTuber that has been dominating the online sphere for the longest time. PewDiePie is a common household name in any talk of YouTube, and for a good reason: he is the largest most subscribed in all of YouTube land. His previous stint consisted of several Let’s Plays of horror games, namely Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Fatal Frame, and others. His consistent high-pitched screaming and inside jokes made his fame skyrocket, as not only was it funny, but it was also relatable.
However, it all changed once YouTube’s #censorgate, where YouTube had to demonetize several accounts due to non-family-friendly content, came to plan. When #censorgate happened, several fans were outraged that their favorites were forced to censor themselves. For a while, that included PewDiePie constructing family-friendly content. It wasn’t that the audience wanted lewd observations, rather, it was these flaws was what made them relatable, and in this day and age, it’s vital for any original content to be relatable so it can be shareable. Susanne Ault of Variety ran a survey in 2015 called Digital Star Popularity Grows Versus Mainstream Celebrities. Her study suggested that the younger audience’s emotional attachments to YouTubers are “as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity” for these reasons. Through this, PewDiePie refuses to subscribe to YouTube’s policies, and despite threats of demonetization, continues to act as rambunctiously as ever.
Danisnotonfire and Amazing Phil
Teens of today need ‘connection’ from their celebrities, and need to know that these starts are just like us, human beings that ‘err, however, more than that, they’re someone that kids can relate and talk to. Dan Howell and Phil Lester both fill that void. A couple of geeky posh boys from the U.K. has garnered millions of followers through their story time videos. Since the beginning, they’ve done several videos on existential crisis, animals that have attacked them in broad daylight, and many unavoidable awkward situations.
In retrospect, what captured the audience’s heart—and this may sound cheesy—are the content creators being their real, authentic selves. In 2014, Variety Magazine and Jeetendr Sehdev of the University of Southern California surveyed U.S. 13 to 18 year olds asking them to rate 10 most popular English-language celebrities. The survey concluded, “YouTubers were judged to be more engaging, extraordinary, and relatable than mainstream stars. […] Looking at survey comments and feedback, teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR Pros.”
The flow of virality in the internet space is a tough one to handle, and it becomes easy to get sucked in a void of constantly trying to be on the front page—in the words of Heidi Klum, “One day, you’re in. The next day, you’re out.” However, in a society where being oneself has sometimes caused sudden hate, YouTube has welcomed many to be their authentic and true selves and is revered in the platform. If traditional media could take a leaf out of YouTube’s book, and encourage unvarnished individualism, production studios can reach out to the younger generation and ultimately, to markets they have never even tapped before.