Are YouTube stars real celebrities?

Upside down world: Hollywood stars discover YouTube for themselves

by Rüdiger Sturm

We have to imagine PewDiePie as a happy person - actually. Until 2019, the 30-year-old Swede was considered the most successful Youtuber on the planet. 102 million subscribers brought him annual sales of 15 million dollars. But now the superstar no longer likes it. “Very tired and pumped out,” he complained in December. That is why Felix Arvid Ulf Kjelberg - as his real name is - will close his channel in 2020. In October 2018, his wife Marzia, one of the most successful channel operators in Italy, had already disconnected from the network.

Tired? Pumped out? There is speculation about the real reasons. The multimillionaire, mainly known for his gaming clips, got into trouble with cooperation partners such as Disney, who terminated his collaboration, because of a racist and anti-Semitic scandal. To make matters worse, he received encouragement from the wrong side: The assassin who killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, advised on Facebook: “Subscribe to PewDiePie.” All of this is bad. In addition, attention, the feeling is spreading: Do you even need someone like him on the platform?

Because there have long been Youtubers whose charisma far exceeds that of all PewDiePies, Jacksepticeyes and Markipliers, thanks to a system that is decades old. The new icons of the network come from the most established cadre forge in the entertainment world: Hollywood.

One who apparently saw the signs of the times in time is Will Smith. The now 51-year-old has shown several times over the course of his career how well he can reinvent himself. Broke as a rap star, he became a television phenomenon before moving to the cinema, where he became one of the most popular actors of the late 1990s and 1990s. This status was a bit scratched after various bad flops, so that he fled into the superhero genre and to Netflix. But at the end of 2017, he began to let off steam in a new playground: first he uploaded simple clips from an advertising tour on his YouTube channel, and more and more elaborate videos soon followed. Inspirational messages, insights into family life or stunts like his bungee jump over the Grand Canyon, which has been viewed around 20 million times so far. If it started with 163,000 subscribers, it is now around 7.8 million. This is far from PewDiePie's league, but it's not bad either.

Smith is by no means the only Hollywood actor on Youtube. His colleague Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has - as of March - 4.8 million subscribers. Jennifer “From the Block” Lopez puts both of them in their pockets, which has 12.5 million permanent viewers. Well, Lopez at least has clips of her songs to offer and has therefore been active on YouTube since 2007.

Attract 2 billion users

There is no doubt that such activities primarily serve to polish one's own brand. Interestingly, all three of them recently gave their film careers a new push. Smith came up with his first blockbuster in 2019 with "Aladdin", which grossed over $ 1 billion. Johnson was the world's most commercially successful actor in 2019 with an income of over $ 89 million. Lopez, on the other hand, recently achieved a surprise success with the stripper comedy "Hustlers", which brought in many times its cost and was hailed as one of the best films of the year by "Time Magazine".

But back to the short clip streaming: The obvious mass effect of the YouTube platform - which has two billion users - naturally also want to use other colleagues who have not yet fully penetrated the same fame stratosphere. The tempting thing about it: You almost always play the main role in your own YouTube video. That makes the medium even more interesting for all those actors * who have not yet been able to play in the very top ranks in the traditional studios. Example Zac Efron: He has 1.1 million subscribers. The former teen idol (does anyone remember "High School Musical"?) Has tapped into a niche as a supporting actor ("Greatest Showman"), but thanks to Youtube he is a permanent protagonist. He shows fitness exercises on his channel and takes fans on extraordinary trips with "Off The Grid". His first video over four days with friends in the desert was clicked 1.12 million times within a week.

Of monsters and girls

Jason Momoa, on the other hand, is expanding his "Aquaman" fame on his private channel (so far 680,000 subscribers), where he talks about his private life, sometimes shaves off his beard or takes off his jeans, but also tries to promote ecological awareness . Noah Schnapp may be the pitiful boy in “Stranger Things” who is allowed to smooch with monsters rather than girls, but his private program with contributions like “I Made My First Pizza (And It Was Great)” has a proud 2.3 million viewers *Inside.

For this kind of actor, however, it is true that they have to regard the medium as a continuous show. Going down the hill every now and then - like Will Smith does - and talking into the camera as a senior isn't enough. You have to open up and show yourself. For example Madelaine Petsch from the series “Riverdale”, which reaches almost five million subscribers with back videos and personal messages, or Shay Mitchell (from “Pretty Little Liars”), who spread pregnancy and childbirth in front of over four million fans, among other things . Among the men there is a Josh Peck who, for example, made his way through dubbing roles in series such as “Lego Star Wars: All-Stars”, but thanks to around 3.5 million YouTube subscribers he can somehow be considered a star.

But even the real celebrities have to adapt. It is not enough just to post commercials for your own projects and otherwise keep a low profile. The best example is Jennifer Lopez, who only used the usual promotional material when she started YouTube in 2007. The other day it was said: “Now you will get more from me. Namely: Jennifer, the person. ”It's a bit of a misnomer, because she's still doing advertising - for cosmetic products, for example. But for this the fiancé has to appear in the picture, and there are shots of praying or camel riding.

Will Smith, for example, shows footage of his daughter's 19th birthday. And that's strange. Because superstars are usually looking to retreat at any moment and want to protect their privacy. This self-presentation runs counter to all learned behavioral patterns: Who wants to complain that paparazzi are ambushing them when they invite the world to come into their home? "I don't do home stories" was the motto of many celebrities in the past. That seems to be over. On the contrary, they are now making themselves tour guides through their own private lives.

"A whole generation is used to seeing content online," says Chris Jacquemin, head of the digital department at the artist agency WME. “That's why everything is moving in a direction where stars show themselves completely differently.” And that is what their regular clientele demands from them. The Petschs and Pecks of this world can, thanks to their talents for self-portrayal, hope for further acting assignments, which are then also well silvered.

Actors' followers have long since established themselves as the currency in the young talent sector. Skill is only one factor when it comes to roles. When in doubt, Hollywood studios will then choose the candidate who has the larger following on social media.

At the same time, this star power is also an opportunity for YouTube to assert itself in the competition against Instagram and Tiktok. Because the show industry does not sleep, but tries to find ways beyond cinema and television. With Quibi, for example, ex-film mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg launched a platform for mini-films and series - 7,000 of which are planned in the first year alone. Steven Spielberg, for example, is developing a horror series for this, and Zac Efron is trying his hand at being a reality TV star.

The fact that more Hollywood celebrities are now making their presence felt on YouTube is no coincidence, but the result of a targeted strategy. Already in 2011 they had allegedly invested 100 million dollars in a so-called Original Channel Initiative to get people like Pharrell Williams or Sofia Vergara. In 2018, the fashion expert Derek Blasberg was hired, who, for example, launched channels with Naomi Campbell, Alexa Chung and Victoria Beckham. In 2017, the Public Figure Partnerships team started to advise celebrities on how to present their content in the best possible way. Even if you don't necessarily talk these people into creative questions, there is still a clear maxim. Preeya Khanna, head of the department, puts it like this: "The more genuine, more intimate and consistent the connection to the fan base, the more likely they are to support the person's projects."

Bring the crossover

This also means that YouTube brings the old stars together with the new ones. The best example of this is Smith's bungee stunt. The three creators of the “Yes Theory” channel challenged the superstar to the adrenaline-pumping number - and he accepted. "That bridges the gap between traditional and digital media," says Thomas Brag of "Yes Theory".

However: The Youtube natives could fall behind in the invasion of the money and image strong superstars. In terms of numbers, Smith has already overtaken his partners of “Yes Theory” with their 4.8 million subscribers. The friendly cooperation may end in the battle for advertising dollars. The author Didi Rankovic wrote on “Where are all the independent creatives, the homegrown ones?” Her warning: The old stars swim with the wave of success, and there is a risk that they will ultimately sideline the younger generation. Because unlike the more difficult to control Youtubers, who - see PewDiePie - are always good for costly scandals, traditional celebrities know the mechanisms of public appearances inside out.

Admittedly, there is a parallel trend in the opposite direction: Youtubers who are pushing their way into the film and TV business. Steven Spielberg cast the female lead in his "West Side Story" with online star Rachel Zegler. But often the results are modest. Eighth Grade, the directorial debut of digital celebrity Bo Burnham, grossed just $ 263,000. Kian Lawley (3.4 million subscribers) was to take on the male lead in "The Hate U Give" and was fired when a video with racist jokes was published.

Seen in this way, a gentrification of YouTube by the greats of Hollywood could be imminent. But that doesn't have to be bad. It depends on what the old stars do with the options. The best example of this is Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("The Dark Knight Rises", "Snowden"). With "HitRecord" he created a platform also available on YouTube, on which creatives from various areas can work together and redesign content. “Anyone can come. No artist needs to be pigeonholed with us, human creativity knows no limits. ”He follows a principle that many Youtubers - whether old or new school - should be a horror:“ I want to draw attention in the right direction. But it's not about getting as much attention as possible. "

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