It’s very easy to get on the defensive when it comes to the YouTube community. Because every few months or so, it feels as if there is a fresh new hot take in the media; as a disillusioned journo exercises their writing skills with 1,500 words on why YouTubers are actually talentless money-hungry demons, out to enchant your children. It’s been this way since the creator community rose to prominence around 2009; and chances are it won’t die off too quickly.
But even the most seasoned YouTube fan can admit – in at least a few cases, they aren’t entirely wrong. There has been an unstoppable tide of a “new gen” of creators in recent years; sun-kissed Gen Y kids that have learned the get-rich-quick formula of a chiselled jawline forming a shocked expression next to a video titled “UBER DRIVER SHOT MY DAD??? (Not Clickbait)”. Honestly, this is the reality: it doesn’t take a great deal of talent to be a successful YouTuber anymore.
Dark YouTube feels appropriate here.
But is talent overrated?
While frustrating, it’s still very easy to let this new generation of online stars drag our reputation down. But regardless of your stance on the level of talent that YouTube currently has to offer, there is a much more significant point of discussion – and that’s the very particular set of skills YouTubers have. Skills they have acquired over a long career. Yep, sorry – we’re going full-on ‘Taken’ here.
Not every YouTuber has a background or education in production, writing or social media management; in fact, it’s an embarrassingly small percentage that actually will. But through both time and the evolution of hundreds of channels, we have proven one thing; through the medium of YouTube, a person can learn all these things. And better yet – f*cking own them.
Take Ryan Higa.
In 2006, a chronically teenaged Higa and his friend Sean began uploading lip sync videos to the YouTube channel “nigahiga”, before moving on to home movie style sketches. 11 years, 19 million subscribers and one abandoned nuclear medicine degree later, Ryan is the head of his own media powerhouse. He has produced a number of short films, launched multi-talent projects such as the YOMYOMF Network, and is releasing his debut book “How To Write Good” this month.
To summarise: this evolution of a successful writer, editor, producer and business owner all came from a 16 year-old syncing to Queen’s ‘The Great Pretender’ online because he didn’t know how to burn DVDs.
And it isn’t all about video/media/industry skills, either.
Over the years, we have seen the meteoric rise of a one-woman lifestyle brand; a creator who has in turn become the poster girl for the traditional media’s YouTuber vendetta, and the litmus test by which to gauge every other rising creator. She needs no introduction.
Let’s be frank: We know on the surface that there is a lot to question in terms of Zoe Sugg’s “talent” level. Her day-to-day content is comprised of unchallenging challenge videos, and daily vlogs that have very likely been traded off to an assistant editor. And we can harp on about how little of her series of novels Zoe has actually written, until the cows come home and take our net neutrality. But the reality is, none of it is relevant; in comparison to the robust and formidable set of skills she has honed and refined in her growth as one of the UK’s biggest household names.
Starting from humble beginnings, Zoe’s style blog sparked a YouTube channel; and through collabs, trends, and a dilligent social media presence, ignited the brand we know today. In one quick bio, that’s at least half a dozen crucial skills listed; skills that, were Zoe to ever step out of the limelight, could be translated into an enormous number of careers.
But as her influence has expanded, so has her preservation. And above all, this has led Zoe to acquire a level of media training that would make a politician jealous. She handles her social media presence with poise and grace; even when fans are banging down her door and newspapers are blaming her for daring to have a nice house.
There’s still room for growth.
Ultimately, most established YouTubers started the way that many of the new gen are now; kind of clueless teens who were trying out a new platform. Is the intent different? Absolutely. Now that “being a YouTuber” is as mainstream as it gets, there is a significantly higher level of scrutiny and cynicism in watching someone on their internet famous baby legs stumble into notoriety.
But regardless of what the jaded press says; as long as we can prop up the conversation about how much a person can learn, rather than how much talent they offer, we can hopefully maintain a much healthier and more creative community. Not clickbait.