Will Success Ruin All YouTube Stars?

You hear this all the time, and probably heard it about every five seconds at Comic Con. Kids today live in their own world, like, totally. 

Why don’t more people listen to their own words?

It’s all true. Earlier this week, Variety noted the “surprising” results of a study it commissioned that says six of the of the 10 most influential persons among Americans aged 13-18 are YouTube stars.

This is not startling, at all, but as far as goofy surveys go at least this is one that gets me to say, loud, “Seeeeeee?”

The thing is, people between the ages of 13 and 18 eventually become people between the ages of 24 and 35, and in the intervening years, they’ll find a bunch of other people they like a lot. It’s the age of discovery, and I don’t say it with an “oh-they’re-so-fickle” sneer. It’s just true. Some of their old favorites might make the cut, but others will be added.

Still the question is, why hasn’t the wider world heard of Ian Andrew Hecox or Anthony Padilla? They are, collectively, the guys who populate the Smosh YouTube channel with a sort of juvenile joyousness that, even if you’re momentarily offended, is inevitably low-rent and perfectly low-brow humor. (Oh, and more than 18 million subscribers and over 3 billion views.)

A little bit of Smosh may go a long way, but it’s only offered up in little bits. They know what they’re doing.   

Hecox and Padilla topped Variety’s list, as reported by Suzanne Ault.

The survey seems more than a little rigged, in truth. Variety’s poll was done by brand strategist Jeetendr Sehdev, who assembled 20 personalities the respondents would be asked about—half of them consisting of YouTubers with the most subscribers, the rest celebrities from film and TV who have the highest Q scores with 13-17 year old consumers.

Variety says 1,500 test panelists were asked how those 20 “stacked up in terms of approachability, authenticity and other criteria considered aspects of their overall influence.”

In other words, the respondents had a glam, but limited, pool to choose from, so don’t think badly of Today’s Wayward Youth that President or Mrs.Obama, or John Boehner for that matter, didn’t make the cut.

The point is, after Hecox and Padilla came the Fine Bros. (Benny and Rafi), and Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, who the YouTube world knows as PewDiePie, followed by KSI and Ryan Higa. The only non-YouTubers on the list are Paul Walker (he’s now dead), Jennifer Lawrence and Katy Perry (who certainly is no stranger to YouTube, but probably wouldn’t be described first and foremost as a YouTube invention.)

The other YouTuber on the list is weird YouTube comedian/parodist guy Shane Dawson.  

Sehdev deduced that the top scoring YouTubers have traits of all good influencers: relatable, engaging, intimate, authentic, candid, risk-taking. (Want that all in one package? Watch this Shane Dawson YouTube post from five days ago.)  

Those are all the things, that, most of the time Hollywood stars aren’t, with (for the sake of this list) the notable exception of Jennifer Lawrence, who sometimes seems to be re-living the sitcom life of Lucille Ball.

Variety’s Ault seems to lament that all those good YouTube traits risk getting lost when and if those channel hosts become stars, and that’s probably more than half true.

We might get a good chance to find out when YouTube star Grace Helbig—perfectly lovable, perpetually seemingly unprepared—shoots a comedy talk show pilot for E!.

It’s an interesting box for Helbig or other YouTube stars that the unvarnished, low-budget, shot-from-the-bedroom “qualities” of YouTube are exactly what it is likely to get lost on a more mass-market stage and almost certainly at a  by-the-numbers joint like E!  that lives by exploiting packaged PR-driven/trendoid schlock.

And so it goes, as it did back when there was a music business and raw indie bands got signed and over-produced into obscurity.

Someday…someday…there might be a reliable way to get a mainstream audience for a non-mainstream talent, but it’s not easy. You kind of wish Helbig, and Smosh, can find a next level without losing themselves. Right now, that’s probably what makes them relatable to a bunch of young YouTube viewers who, in their own lives, face the same age-old dilemma.

pj@mediapost.com

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