It’s hard to believe that YouTube has only been around for seven years when you consider the huge impact it’s had on our culture at large. But in internet time, where things move much faster than in the “real” world, seven years may as well be a lifetime. The YouTube of 2005, which mainly existed so you could upload that cute camera phone video of your cat to share with your friends, is vastly different from today. Sure, you can still upload your cat video, but the friends you share it with could number in the millions and YouTube, itself, is a billion dollar, worldwide behemoth.
And YouTube will continue to evolve and change at an even quicker rate than it already has with such initiatives as its new premium channels program of which our own YOMYOMF Network is a part of. At this pace, the YouTube you may be enjoying a year from now may bear little resemblance to the YouTube you’re enjoying now.
But one thing that has remained consistent from the very start is that Asian Americans rule on YouTube. We make up YouTube’s largest audience and many of YouTube’s biggest stars are Asian American. This is the one medium where we are #1. The successful launch of our network earlier this month would not have been possible on any other platform.
But that may change as well. Just because Asian Americans dominate YouTube now doesn’t mean that will always be. Which puts folks like our YOMYOMF Network partners and top YouTubers Ryan Higa, KevJumba and Chester See, as well as our own network, in an interesting position.
Everyone talks about how YouTube and new media in general is currently akin to the Wild West—it’s a wide-open and “lawless” frontier where there are no hard and fast rules. We’re still trying to tame this wild frontier (i.e. figure out how to effectively and consistently monetize it while still creating content on our own terms) with no road map or playbook to guide us. That may be true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a previous precedent we can learn from. So along those lines, ladies and gentlemen, I give you…
Rock n’ roll!
When rock n’ roll music was first “invented” circa 1955, it was derided by the establishment as subpar and simplistic music—barbaric noise. It was disposable entertainment by and for kids/teens with no substance or longevity. The intelligentsia proclaimed that it was just a fad and would soon die. Sound familiar? All arguments levied against YouTube especially in its early years and sentiments that many in the “establishment” still hold. If film and TV is “art,” YouTube is the antithesis—a place where the masses can post videos of their pets and their neighbors getting hit in the groin by a baseball, but certainly not “art.” To which I say–fuck you very much.
Anyway, by 1962, a mere seven years after rock n’ roll first burst onto the landscape, the world saw the emergence of acts like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the artists signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records (founded just two years prior in 1960)—acts that would not only revolutionize the music and youth culture, but all of pop culture by elevating rock n’ roll to “art.”
But in 1962, the “art” part was still a few years away. Groups like the Beatles were still basically teenybopper acts; playing catchy but simple songs about falling in love and holding hands to screaming, mostly female, fans who were barely out of puberty.
Now, by no means am I comparing any of our YouTubers to an act like the Beatles. I think guys like Ryan and Chester would be the first to say that such a comparison is unfounded and, well, lame. But for our purposes, there is a parallel here. Most of our current YouTube stars are young as are the majority of the fans. All you have to do is look at the numbers for our own YOMYOMF Network and you’ll see that our audience is disproportionately young—our core is in the 13-18 year-old demographic. And these fans are as rabid in their loyalty to their favorite YouTubers as the young fans must’ve been for the Beatles back in 1962. Believe me—I attended a YTF concert (featuring performances by Ryan, Kev, Chester and other YouTuber friends) a couple of months ago and my ears are still ringing from all the screaming during the show.
So let’s say for argument’s sake that the comparison I’m making between the YouTubers of 2012 and the rock n’ rollers of 1962 is valid–what does that mean for our online future? To that, I turn once again to the Beatles.
There were a lot of teenybopper musical acts back in 1962 and many of them were just as big, if not bigger, than the Beatles—Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon and many others—so how were the Beatles able to break out from the pack and become the biggest musical act in history while many of their contemporaries are all but forgotten today?
Simply put–the Beatles weren’t afraid to take chances. They wanted to experiment and push the boundaries of what they could do. They trusted that their audience—those very teenyboppers—would grow and mature with them and if they were going to alienate some of their fans in the process, so be it. They were after bigger fish.
Just a few years after their debut, the Beatles began to rebel against their clean cut, teenybopper image—they grew beards and their hair long, they took psychedelic drugs to expand their consciousness, they embraced a previously unseen complexity both in their musicianship and in the themes interwoven in their songs. No longer were they just singing about falling in love—now they were singing about loneliness and alienation and loss and sex and politics and death and taking acid and going on these gloriously trippy…trips. And yes, there were stumbles along the way—for example, when John Lennon casually remarked that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus (which was actually true), there was a backlash that resulted in events like the mass burning of Beatles records by fans offended by Lennon’s statement.
But despite these growing pains, the Beatles became even more popular than they had been before. Not only did their young fans mature alongside them, but they attracted new fans who had previously dismissed rock n’ roll music. The Beatles’ pinnacle was the release of their 1967 album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—still considered by many to be the greatest album ever recorded and a prime example that the Beatles could make complex and, yes, weird music that could still have wide appeal.
The irony was that many of their contemporaries did not change or grow for fear of alienating their young fans and those were the very acts that got left behind. They were no longer relevant.
So here we are in 2012 and in many ways this is a crossroads for our YouTubers. Like the Beatles, I think the only way our popular YouTubers will survive and thrive is to break out of their comfort zone, take chances, push the boundaries of their art and trust that their audience will follow them even if there are massive growing pains along the way.
And I’m happy to see that our partners—Ryan, Kevin, and Chester—seem to be willing to do this. They’re hungry to grow and take the kind of scary risks that could result in failure, but could also lead to something amazing and revolutionary. And I’m convinced the fans will follow. They may be young, but I think it’d be a mistake to underestimate them.
So we’ll see where we end up in 2017—will we have created our own version of Sgt. Pepper or will we have crashed or burned? Only time will tell. But I can promise this—the YOMYOMF Network will be a platform where we will be pushing those boundaries. As we continue to grow in the next months and years, you’re going to see things on our YouTube channel that you haven’t seen before. I can’t say that everything we do will be good or even work, but it’ll be…interesting. So stay tuned. Oh, and subscribe (click here to do so—yeah, it’s a cheap plug but so fucking what?).
I’d like to make one final point before I conclude about another parallel between YouTube and rock n’ roll. Rock n’ roll had its roots in African American culture, specifically in the blues and jazz. While there were black rock stars like Little Richard and Chuck Berry, rock n’ roll only truly became a pop culture juggernaut when it was co-opted by white folks. As great as the Beatles or the Stones or Elvis were—they were essentially “copying” their black idols and found a level of success that eluded many of their black counterparts.
So let that be a cautionary lesson for Asian Americans. We may rule YouTube now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be marginalized. But if you think YOMYOMF is going down without a fight, you obviously don’t know us that well.