YouTube stars paid millions to be “just like us”

Rebekah Devorak | Asst. Opinions Editor

YouTube is addictive. Everyone’s experienced searching for a math tutorial but somehow ending up three hours later looking at baby pandas sneezing. The bar of recommendations on the side of each video is a dangerous black hole.

An eMarketer study from 2013 said that the average person watches over 380 minutes worth of YouTube videos each month. According to the same study, 21.7 percent of U.S. Internet users visit the video-sharing platform every single day. As far as teens are concerned, 81.9 percent of those aged 14 to 17 do the same.

With statistics like those, it’s no wonder that YouTube’s status has shifted. What once was considered the ultimate site for vegging out on cute cat videos has emerged as the premiere breeding ground for the next big celebrity.

What YouTube, and essentially all social media, does best is self-promotion. It’s a place where someone can literally broadcast themselves on their channel to a willing audience, 24/7. With that kind of constant exposure, channel subscribers grow to feel incredibly connected with that YouTuber. They admire them, feel invested in them and even try to be like them.

But are YouTubers really that different than the rest of us out there? After all, some of the most popular and successful YouTubers founded their fame on ordinary, everyday terms: They create makeup tutorials or fashion hauls, play video games, post song covers and film themselves going to the grocery store.

For example, Bethany Mota is a 19-year-old YouTuber who posts content under the username “macbarbie07”. Her shopping hauls, MAC makeup tutorials and DIY holiday decoration videos were so popular with her “Motavators” that in 2013, Aeropostale named her the face of its new marketing campaign. She’s also worked with Seventeen Magazine, competed in season 19 of Dancing with the Stars and was hired by the White House to promote President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address. With over eight million subscribers, Mota is arguably YouTube’s most popular beauty “guru.”

Let’s also not forget Felix Kjellberg, whose approximate 35 million subscribers under the moniker “PewDiePie” make him the most popular YouTuber in general. The Swedish content creator amassed an army of “Bros” larger than Canada’s entire population with his candid video game play-throughs and animated sketch comedies.

Not to mention, a handful of YouTubers rake in paychecks that rival those of some celebrities. Business Insider estimates that Kjellberg makes an average $8.47 million each year. In comparison, Leonardo DiCaprio made $2.5 million dollars (just under $4 million today with inflation) for his role in Titanic.

While new-found stardom is working out for YouTubers, the viewers are not so impressed. YouTubers now attend major award shows, red carpet events, movie premieres and late night talk shows. They are magazine editors, television actors, clothing designers and business moguls. They even have their own Wikipedia pages and talent agents. Not only does that drive a rift in relatability between the viewer and the creator, but it fosters skepticism within the community. Do YouTubers create videos because they are passionate about what they do or because they are passionate about the perks that come from it?

As with most things, there’s never a clear line to divide the two. But, viewers are growing increasingly dissatisfied with YouTubers like Mota, whose fame renders them too busy to upload new videos. For example, Mota published 71 new videos on her channel during 2013. However, after her deal with Aeropostale was finalized at the end of that year, the number dropped to just 29 videos in 2014. Subscribers, who really are the sole reason why YouTubers become famous in the first place, feel like they deserve consistent uploads in return for their loyalty.

Subscribers are also relentless in criticizing YouTubers who almost exclusively publish sponsored videos. While the content comes frequently, there seems to always be a hidden sales pitch, and viewers are beginning to question whether what’s actually being said is honest. Blair Fowler, a beauty video blogger under “juicystar07” with over 1.7 million subscribers, is one who repeatedly comes under fire for this. Out of her past 20 uploaded videos, 11 of them are sponsored.

Not all YouTubers are simply battling it out Hunger Games-style for recognition. There are plenty who succeed on the platform while still doing good by their subscribers. Mark Fischbach, a gamer with 6.8 million subscribers on his channel “Markiplier”, holds various challenges with his subscribers to raise money for charity. In 2013, he raised over $35,000 for the Cancer Research Institute. Even Kjellberg has found ways to make sure his millions are satisfied.

But I’d hate to see YouTube become a place for spotlight-starved people looking for quick ways to make a buck. I don’t want fame, success and wealth to be the underlying intentions of everyone posting videos. At the end of the day, YouTube began as an outlet for creativity; it was never meant to be Hollywood 2.0.

YouTube’s co-founder and former CEO Chad Hurley said, “YouTube is becoming much more than an entertainment destination.”

I just hope that “much more” is going to be a good thing.