During the last stages of the 20th century, many of us suspected that DJs would become gods in a few years’ time. We heard surreal stories about private jets that crossed several countries for a demigod of the plates to offer several sessions on the same night earning dizzying amounts. We thought that Carl Cox or Richie Hawtin would end up ruling the world in no time and that being a DJ was an appealing profession because it didn’t need a lot of effort and one could become spectacularly rich.
Today, Steve Aoki, Calvin Harris and Thomas Bangalter are loaded thanks to their DJ-ing skills and wit, but in the meantime something very curious has happened: lots of kids can DJ too, and almost all of them do it quite well. The only thing you need is an electronic device. Some computer programmes allow you to do truly amazing tribal filigrees! And this closeness, this technical ease has enabled technique to be available for anyone and hence the competitiveness among DJs has arisen and their average honoraria have lowered. Being a remix superstar is no longer something original, leading a subculture with a certain intergenerational incomprehension.
We, who enjoyed (some more than others) the boom of electronic music back on the day have grown and have kids (some more than others as well…). And we tend to still feel young and linked to culture, subversion and counter-culture.
But it’s time to open your eyes, my friends. Know that we’ve been completely left behind. Entertainment has created new codes, precisely thanks to the close availability of the Internet and of digital culture, and lots of kids (someone looking over their shoulder at them would call them brats), far from being conscious of the range of their interests, are becoming millionaires thanks to a high index of silliness (comedy?) in the videos they post. Or, to put it another way, the YouTube universe is having a heyday just now.
The business management expenses are minimal, access is mega-easy, and the benefits (all coming from advertisement, practically) are huge and proportional to the number of followers. Anybody can be a YouTuber… Anybody?
It seems you need to be under thirty (and under twenty in some cases) to get loaded. The 2015 Forbes list included for the first time the richest YouTubers on the planet (and we know that the monetary factor us always a great bait for those curious/masochistic people who always want to know who earns the most, how and why).
Top of the list is PewDiePie, actually a Swedish twenty-five year old guy called Felix Kjellberg with 42 million followers, and around a net benefit of twelve million dollars. This young millionaire is a distinguished and good-looking ephebe with an Aryan look who left his job as hot-dog seller when he realised that the video amusement could give him more money. He shot himself doing gameplays, which means commenting videogames while he was making ends meet to pay for his university degree.
Felix is close and natural, nice and pleasant, and affirms to feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of followers he has. He looks like a good kid. He sometimes reminds me of a rock star, when he says that he doesn’t care about money all that much and that being a millionaire is not so important. He’s one of the most spontaneous gamers, and that’s his greatest merit: making the kids that follow him as if he were a god from any corner of the planet have a good laugh. His videos are about games, absurd rankings or simple more or less witty monologues.
The closest thing we have in Spanish is HolasoyGermán (26 million followers), Germán Garmendia’s channel, a twenty-six year old posh kid from de Chile, who out of sheer boredom one day uploaded a video called Las cosas obvias de la vida [The obvious things in life]. Germán’s direct and casual style has trapped millions of children (yes, children) from around the globe, who adore him. In hi three channels he comments games, makes confessions in an egovideoblogging style, does rankings, performances and bloopers. Everything is edited in a crazy way, without time for silences, a bit like programme Españoles por el mundo. Germán is a vegan and compromised with humanitarian causes, and his commonplace and at times stereotypical sense of humour perfectly connects with the world of children. And, yep, he’s a millionaire too.
The case of Lindsey Stirling is somewhat strange: with more than seven and a half million followers and twenty-nine years old, this dancer and violin player from the US who looks like a manga character is a 360º composer covering pop, hip hop and many others styles, and her videos have a dream-like quality very much to the taste of Asian viewers. And she’s on Forbes too, of course.
I say it’s strange because the woman leading YouTube are usually beauty counsellors. Like Michelle Phan (twenty-eight), a US girl from Vietnamese parents who went from being a make up artist who told her tricks on-line and waitress at a sushi restaurant to a first range net celebrity. This beauty and trend guru has now her own line of skin care products and is a successful business woman with more than 8 million followers who, as you might have noticed, are the way to measure success in this enterprise.
In Spain, the first one to do this was Isasaweis (352.000 followers, thirty-nine years old), a computer engineer who uploaded some beauty videos while she was preparing for her public examinations and started having huge amounts of females visits. Her girl-next-door look and homely interests made her a household name for home products, diet books and local television channels that have very little or nothing with an ever younger and eager for novelties audience. When she had her own kid and broadcast her correct, sponsored and strict pregnancy, she increased her target including women without many intellectual concerns and today her trace is lost among the thousands of other bloggers offering more fitting contents for the youth sector. But her video on how to comb your hair in a bun with a sock or tricks such as adding olive oil to mascara when it’s finishing will go down in history.
When it comes to the male (and young) sector, our local YouTube scene is represented above all by RubiusOMG (16 million followers, twenty-six years old), a chatty and shabby videoblogger, and Vegetta777 (Samuel de Luque), who with 12 million and a half followers and twenty-six years uploads a bunch of live videos, always about games, narrated with a squealing tone of voice and never edited. These gamers have created a whole empire around their image: books, sponsorships and even awards.
Awards, indeed, because we, the adults who don’t have a clue what this story is all about, disguise as talent anything that produces benefits. We don’t understand what’s so special about these kids playing Minecraft on the Internet, we don’t get their filled-with-punch-lines humour, as if they weren’t sure themselves where the joke is (and not even professional comedy scriptwriters are able to find it), we don’t understand their new visual language, supposedly coarse (jump cuts, weird discontinuities, the repetition of the same vulgar bedroom scene…), etc. An absolute intergenerational gap, yes. But they get many “plays” and generous earnings thanks to advertisement. And for this reason we accept without a doubt that what they do is something more than just attention seeking and let these kids educate our own, in parallel, in matters such as violence, sexism and a hierarchical system according to followers. As with many other things, we accept it so as not to question childhood idolatry, similar to the one produced by football players: demigods that only perpetuate power and alienation stereotypes.
A while ago I worked with Aless Gibaja, an Instagrammer (and YouTuber) closer to the adult and commercial world. He’s an admirably polite and sensitive boy, he supports campaigns against bullying and, I can assure you, he can’t walk down the street without being recognised every two steps. Anybody under twenty-five will approach him to get a selfie with him and a “Hola bebés” salutation. He patiently pleases everybody and says with a smile: “it’s my job,” because, indeed, it is. He has two agents and in some occasions needs security personnel to accompany him. His messages always become viral, and I’m surprised by the fact that kids laugh at him so much as adults do. His iconic image has become a sort of parody even for children, why is that? Because we follow standardised criteria in which we laugh at anyone different, instead of promoting diversity.
Internet is an infinite well, and youth, we know, needs references. A majority of sheep-like kids follow a trend; it’s no matter how good or bad it is, because what’s more interesting is the feeling of being part of a community, of belonging, of integration, somehting that is vital for the youngest, and some adults aren’t still over it.
My children, like half of their classmates, are also YouTubers. Although I don’t like this hobby too much, I recognise that it gives them precise tools for communication and self-learning (I wish I’d had such technology at hand at their age!). I just asked the younger one what’s the worst thing about being a YouTuber and he, without thinking, has responded: “haters”. And when I asked about the best, he said: “When a celebrity follows you”. When he says a celebrity he doesn’t mean Cristiano Ronaldo or Pablo Iglesias, but a flimsy YouTuber that will make him shine. I’m horrified! (Of course, I have to say that I use pedagogical methods to counteract these and other effects produced by mass culture impacts on my descendants).
YouTube as bait for easy fame; YouTube as a tool for social triumph, and YouTube as a replica of our unfair and aspirational society. At least that’s how Risto Mejide’s young girlfriend has used it (since then, he keeps on defending this video channel and its most famous protagonists, even though he doesn’t understand its communication principles). Laura Escanes, that’s the name of the girl, appeared in YouTube doing a monologue that contributed absolutely nothing new, but a great deal of shame. The parodies, of course, didn’t take too long to pop up.
Even the most specialised videos become super hits. For example, unboxing (the moment you unpack or unbox a product) has created true media stars and several different YouTuber trends… From the unboxing of Kinder eggs (there are several specialised channels) to unboxing and installing a PlayStation, or even supermarket groceries. In this category we can find Conchi Córdoba and her ex-friend Encarni. They are YouTubers women who talk about what they purchase with “finalised products” and different comparisons. The success of these users has to do with their closeness: a cute girl might be paid by a brand and is not trustworthy. Conchi and Encarni (who fell out because of YouTube, by the way) talk openly of each product’s quality-price relationship and even try them on in front of the camera. Their chatty and close style make them true opinion leaders and they even dazzle the average viewer who reaches them out of sheer entertainment and makes their videos viral as a parody.
Since February 2005, when YouTube started, the thing has suffered exponential mutations. No one foresaw that YouTubers would become superstars entering the Forbes list; no one foresaw that the democratization of the audiovisual world would take us to such an overexposure, and no one would have thought that parties would end with more or less funny viewings of YouTube videos.
Luckily, we can also find great talent and great ideas and solutions, even magnificent YouTubers that put great effort into tutorials and useful and entertaining videos. In ten years, YouTube will probably a very different thing (and maybe it won’t be a phenomenon anymore: some people say that YouTubers are already in decay). Today we consider it a normal tool, but our children will see it as a sociocultural extension of the world. And that, like everything else, has something good and something bad.
Meanwhile, in this exact moment, thousands of boys and girls are shooting, editing and posting videos, dreaming about having their heyday, as years ago used to happen to DJs. And as happened with them, some will become successful and many others will fall along the way, leaving behind them, though, a digital trace for the already oversaturated posterity.