A study of 1,000 teens aged 13-17 by SurveyMonkey found that not only do 64% of teens prefer visual media over reading, but 50% get their news primarily from YouTube, which has 500 hours of video uploaded every minute, and recently surpassed 31 million channels.
In a day and age where the majority of teens get their news more frequently from social media sites than directly from news organizations, it’s important to know who is at the top of each platform.
Sitting at the top, the most subscribed to YouTuber in the world is a controversial video game commentator. Not only is he a household name among most teenagers, but he recently shocked the world in January of 2020 by announcing he was taking a hiatus from the site. Although he isn’t currently producing any new content, his videos and influence remain and he is someone you should definitely get familiar with as a parent. His name is Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie.
The King of YouTube
PewDiePie, which is pronounced rapidly and rhymes with “cutie pie” (“Pew” like a laser gun by the way, not the kind we find in churches), is a Swedish YouTuber who started making videos in 2006 and quickly rose to stardom with his dark humor and reactions to a wide variety of video games. His rapid ascent to 103 million subscribers has made him one of the most well-known and wealthiest people not only on YouTube, but on the entire Internet.
For context, Justin Bieber is the most subscribed to musician on YouTube, and he has less than half the amount of subscribers that Kjellberg possesses. The number of people subscribed to PewDiePie’s channel is more than the subscriber base of Hulu, Apple Music, and the New York Times combined.
Kjellberg started his popular PewDiePie channel in 2010, and his daily videos featuring absurd and exaggerated gameplay mixed with unpredictable video editing quickly gained him an international following. As the world of video game streaming began to evolve and explode through the decade, PewDiePie was on the forefront.
Creating Consistent Content
PewDiePie has a number of successful video series on his channel, but the main gist of his content is a straightforward, popular concept: he plays video games and commentates on them as he plays. As he grew in popularity, he expanded the variety of his videos, but what sets him apart in his content is his authenticity. Kjellberg’s ability to weave his humor, personality, and goofy voices into his videos and making his commentary sound like he’s spending quality time with you, a close friend, is what attracts teens to his channel.
Another reason for his rise on YouTube was his commitment to consistency. Staying consistent with video uploads is a key factor to a successful YouTube channel, but Kjellberg’s dedication to daily uploads for more than a decade, had his face popping up all over the site.
He has his own cult following (“The Bro Army”), fashion line, book, and even inked a deal with Disney in 2014 (more on that later). He engaged in a battle for the most YouTube subscribers with an Indian music company known as T-Series that reached epic proportions, with fans buying billboards, hacking printers and even wearing shirts with his name on them to the Super Bowl to try to help PewDiePie’s subscriber count end up on top.
But Kjellberg’s rise to the top has been marred with scandal along the way, to the point where his notoriety has become more attributed to controversy than content.
When Memes Go Too Far
PewDiePie’s videos have been viewed more than 10 billion times, but unfortunately, a good number of those views have been people watching him say “sorry.” From mocking a celebrity dealing with a drug overdose, saying racial slurs while live streaming, allegations of antisemitism, and even having some of his videos banned in India, Kjellberg has run the gamut on controversy.
The playful, zany tone of his videos, filled often with deadpan mockery, is regularly sprinkled with offensive humor that a viewer can almost become desensitized to through his regular usage. Whether it’s using terms such as “retard” and “autistic” as playful insults or making rape jokes, PewDiePie is 30 years old but speaks with the crudeness of an unhinged middle schooler.
The allegations of anti-semitism were enough to end Kjellberg’s joint venture with Disney, shutting down his co-ownership of a multi-channel network connected with Disney’s Maker Studios. An investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that nine videos with a six-month span contained either antisemitic jokes or Nazi imagery, including one that featured two men holding a banner that stated: “Death to all Jews”.
Kjellberg also made international headlines when one of the suspects in the March 2019 Christchurch attack in New Zealand mentioned his name before opening fire on the mosque. Wearing a helmet-mounted camera that was streaming to Facebook, the attacker is heard saying the phrase “subscribe to PewDiePie”, which had become a well-known meme thanks to being the rallying cry of his followers during his aforementioned battle with T-Series. After hearing about the attack, Kjellberg tweeted that he was “sickened” to have his name uttered by the gunman, and voiced his support for the victims and families of the tragedy.
PewDiePie’s flimsy filter when it comes to offensive content and penchant for controversy is a troubling factor for someone with such a large following of highly-impressionable youth.
What To Know About What’s Next
Whether burnt out from his rigorous upload schedule or wanting to take a step back from the spotlight, PewDiePie made waves with his YouTube hiatus announcement in January of 2020. His video titled “It’s been real, but I’m out!” garnered nearly 1 million views per day during his break.
Kjellberg returned in late February to his daily uploads, discussing topics such as the Coronavirus, fellow YouTuber Jake Paul, and other timely topics that had run through the social media cycle while he was away from the site.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of PewDiePie, you’re now up to speed! His break from YouTube was a significant event and is unlikely to happen again soon (at least on his own accord), but before the next controversy arrives, it’s a great time for you to have read this blog and gotten familiar with this unpredictable social media juggernaut.