The Rise of the YouTube Star

When I (as a Millennial) look at what Gen Edgers are watching and sharing online, I scratch my head and wonder, how is this entertaining? And who are these “stars?" Then I remember that a show about a family of a deceased lawyer marrying a former Olympian is the hottest thing for my generation since Gen Xers created MTV.

The Kardashians on paper would never be popular today, but since the premiere in 2007, their show has become an icon in the reality-TV movement that we Millennials made so popular. So who am I to judge what should or should not be defined as entertainment and stardom? Youth across every generation have been instrumental in defining stardom. They've helped fan the buzz by doing everything from posting Teen Beat centerfolds on locker doors to learning all the moves to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Fame came to those who challenged the norm and, by doing so, generated a following of beloved young fans. Artists through the generations have capitalized on speaking, singing, and writing about the taboo and creating new subcultures and terminologies (“YOLO” was popularized from R&B star Drake’s song, The Motto) that spoke directly to their fan base.

Today the tradition of youth-defining stardom continues, just on a different platform. When Alfie Deyes walked out to his first book signing at Europe’s largest bookstore, he was greeted by 8,000 fans screaming his name. You are probably asking yourself, who is Alfie Deyes? Is he a musician? Comedian? Actor? Actually, none of the above. Alfie Deyes is a YouTube Vlogger who started the ever-growing PointlessBlog in 2009. The PointlessBlog YouTube channel focuses on… well… nothing, really. While part of the YouTube channel focuses on video gaming, it can be a random exploration of whatever Alfie wants to share. A video of Alfie eating American candy hit over 1.9 million views.

Even with 3 million followers and 160 million views on YouTube, he is still not at the top of the YouTube star food chain. Who is the winner of the largest following on YouTube? PewDiePie, a Swedish video game commentator with 23.9 million total subscribers and 3.69 billion views. He has built a community around his YouTube channel calling his followers “bros.” Most recently, PewDiePie has broken into the mainstream by becoming a special guest celebrity on Comedy Central’s South Park. Just like youth stars of old, these guys are not just doing this for the fun of it. They are getting paid big dollars for their time. It is estimated that PewDiePie rakes in $4 million per year after the 45% YouTube takes off the top.

And the #1 earner? DisneyCollectorBR, Blue Collection—a channel that simply opens and plays with a variety of toys. They are bringing in an estimated $4.9 million annually. While not necessarily a celebrity, they have developed a following that is strong and dedicated. Most are Millennial moms looking to keep their kids entertained. The second largest following of subscribers and viewers in the YouTube sphere is Smosh. The comedic duo is considered to be one of the first YouTube sensations. They have only furthered their popularity by opening multiple channels (a total of eight YouTube channels) and an app for their content. This multi-platform and multi-channel approach has brought 6.18 billion total views. Their newest channel, Smosh Games, a video game review channel, is bringing in 8,000 new subscribers each day. This following has also accrued a hefty annual fortune estimated at over $4 million. Feel free to insert the Smosh catch-phrase "shut-up" here.

Every generation has defined stardom differently. The emergence of the drug, sex, and rock & roll youth movement brought on rock stars that broke boundaries and defined Boomer adolescence. Millennials turned reality television stars like the Kardashians and Kelly Clarkson into mainstream superstars. Now, Gen Edge is using the internet social sphere to identify the next crop of superstars. YouTube is helping to define youth culture in new and exciting ways. As the Alfie Deyes and PewDiePies continue to redefine mainstream media, their impact on the emergence of Gen Edge into adulthood will only grow. How this will play out in the workplace and marketplace is anyone's guess, but what we are seeing is something new, different, and as subversive as ever.