Taking a closer look at the phenomenon of YouTube stardom.
For parents, or those of an earlier generation, the celebrity obsessions of today’s teenagers can be mystifying. Back before the internet, celebrities were people who had been “picked”, so to speak, by the gatekeepers of the day. In other words, it was pretty difficult to become famous without TV producers, film directors, record labels, or modeling agencies giving you a contract and a chance to hit it big, and thus celebrities tended to be household names.
These days, when it comes to reaching thousands, if not millions, of people, there are virtually no barriers to entry. Online there are no gatekeepers, so if you have an idea for a comedy sketch or video series, there is absolutely no need to wait to start making it. All you really need is a camera equipped with a laptop, an internet connection, together with a good idea and the will to execute it. Nowhere is this more true than YouTube, where every single day more than one billion users watch hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube.
When it comes to teens and YouTube, this removal of barriers has created megastars on the vlogging site. Late last year, a report from Tubular labs found that there were more than 17,000 channels which had a subscriber base in excess of 100,000. Indeed, if you ask many teens which celebrity they are most obsessed with or the biggest fan of, it’s very likely they’ll name an internet or YouTube star rather than a mainstream actor or pop musician. This can be very bewildering to parents who don’t understand how a low-fi video made in someone’s bedroom can compete with films with multi-million dollar Hollywood budgets and special effects. But compete they do.
So why do YouTube stars reach teens in a way that mainstream actors, musicians, or comedians do not? The very nature of YouTube—watching a video made in someone’s bedroom—is in line with the intimacy culture of the internet. Teens feel more connected to YouTube stars who are closer to their age, aren’t mega-wealthy, don’t live in fancy penthouses in New York or LA, and who look like normal people. This relatability spreads like wildfire, and the YouTubers themselves feed into it by building a community around what they do, interacting directly with their subscribers and fans via the comments section of their channels and other forms of social media.
While many of these YouTube stars do try to cross over into more traditional forms of media or entertainment, it doesn’t always work out for them. Staying true to their original format and platform is very much rewarded among fans, and while product endorsements or ad campaigns do happen, they can often backfire when fans feel their beloved YouTuber is “selling out”. YouTubers can create an income from their channels from ads that play before the video or from direct investment from YouTube itself, which often incentivizes top creators with income. But it’s clear that the crossover to “making it big” doesn’t always work out when they leave YouTube.
So just who are the biggest YouTubers of the day? Here’s a look at some top YouTubers and their number of subscribers.
PewDiePie: The number one most subscribed channel on YouTube, PewDiePie is a baffling sensation to many with more than 43 million subscribers.
HolaSoyGerman: Second only to PewDiePie, this channel is massively popular in the Spanish speaking world.
Smosh: The American sketch comedy duo is YouTube’s third most subscribed channel, with nearly 22 million subscribers.
Jenna Marbles: A popular female Vlogger, Marbles’ comedic takes have earned her nearly 16 million subscribers.
Zoella: One of the UK’s most popular Vloggers is Zoella, with more than 10 million subscribers.
Many brands choose to collaborate with YouTube stars to get closer to their target market; a video product endorsement from one of these youngsters can be worth infinitely more than even the most well-placed, glossy magazine ad.