The YouTube Stars Most of the World Doesn’t Know

There's a new kind of celebrity today, featuring entertainers who are earning millions — can you name one of them?

It’s hard to imagine such entertainment icons as Clint Eastwood, Katherine Hepburn, Harrison Ford, John Wayne, or virtually any other major celebrities who built their names before the year 2000 baring their souls (and not their characters’) to a single camera as if their entire fan base were encased in it.

It’s even more difficult to imagine these people chatting breathlessly into said camera about their shopping hauls, crushes, makeup application tips, video game strategies, or even mundane to-do lists and personal problems — all with an urgency and vulnerability that can feel awkwardly intimate for anyone over the age of, say, 35.

But consider the wave of reality TV, distinctively based on personal drama, that took over Hollywood more than 15 years ago. Then consider YouTube, which takes all of that drama and packs it into individuals’ personal lives.

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As a result of all this, virtually anyone can become a celebrity today with the help of YouTube or other video-streaming platforms. But it’s a new kind of celebrity — one without a heavily controlled PR image. It lacks polish, flawlessness and untouchability. It even lacks the perk of a household name.

Sometimes YouTube sensations do go on to become major headliners in a more established sense. Justin Beiber and Carley Rae Jepsen are just two examples. But most “megastar” personalities today aren’t well-known beyond their loyal fan base.

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While parents of 30 years ago probably didn’t listen to their kids’ musical choices or care about Tom Cruise, at least they likely knew who the stars were simply because entertainment and pop culture were more limited back then. But today, social media and YouTube stars such as Stampy Cat (aka English video game commentator Joseph Garrett, star of “Stampy Does Minecraft”) aren’t exactly headlining in the news — even though Stampy has 8.2 million subscribers and more than 5.7 billion (with a “B”) views on his channel.

Many YouTube stars excel at vulnerability, authenticity, affinity, and (often) goofiness in front of the camera.

And unlike many older celebrities, the new online stars focus on developing more personal relationships with their viewers — or at least behaving as if they do, since they’ll never meet most of their adoring fans, who often consider them friends. Many YouTube stars excel at vulnerability, authenticity, affinity, and (often) goofiness while in front of the camera — and, possibly, they’re genuinely talented, too.

In a world in which such traits are vital, it’s easy to see why the private, stoic, classically trained actors might not have made it had they come up in the current entertainment scene.

YouTube stars such as makeup tutorial wizards Michelle Phan and James Charles, CoverGirl’s ever-enthusiastic and bubbly “CoverBoy,” have also signed multimillion-dollar deals with various companies that want to cash in on their youthful following. Comedians such as Mamrie Hart (of “You Deserve a Drink” fame), Jenna Marbles (aka Jenna Mourey, star of “Drunk Makeup Tutorial”) and Lilly Signh (aka IISuperwomanII) also make plenty of money with their own YouTube channels. It’s been reported that Jenna Marbles alone makes $4 million a year from her online comedy. But has the average adult ever even heard of her?

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You don’t even need to be a human to achieve some sort of celebrity today. April the Giraffe is located in New York, but millions of eager viewers watched a livestream of the previously pregnant animal in anticipation of the the birth of her calf. YouTube announced Monday that the livestream was the second-most watched in the company’s history and was taken in over 232 million times. April had her baby (her fourth calf) on April 15.

And who (or what) is PewDiePie, currently the world’s biggest YouTube star, with 54.1 million subscribers and an estimated salary of $15 million a year?

Based in Europe, 27-year-old PewDiePie, or Felix Kjellberg, as his family calls him, is the hottest gamer around. Swearing and shooting virtual villains “with” fans (whom he affectionately calls “bros”) and cashing in on his charismatic personality, Kjellberg is a good example of the YouTube industry and the new form of celebrity it brings.

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After making anti-Semitic jokes on his YouTube channel, PewDiePie refused to apologize when The Wall Street Journal called him on his behavior. Rather than back down, he flipped the newspaper off … very literally … in an angry video. Disney then cut business ties with him, despite the fact that he remains on YouTube.

His online following even continues to increase despite the kerfuffle.

What ultimate effect this plugged-in, vulnerable, and chatty fame will have on culture is up for debate, but it’s safe to say new stars won’t become the strong silent types of the 20th century anytime soon. Greta Garbo and her ilk are long, long gone. If you want to hang onto that type of old-time Hollywood mystique, forget it and get used to the rawness of YouTubers.

That’s here to stay — at least until another social media phenomenon, or something entirely different that we can’t yet imagine, sweeps the globe.

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