The masters of Youtube
YouTube has provided an outlet to many who are not usually represented in mainstream media since its start in February of 2005. One year after its launch, some of YouTube's most subscribed users began their YouTube careers by signing up and posting their first videos. Today, the most subscribed channel on YouTube with 3,691,388 subscribers is NigaHiga, belonging to Ryan Higa, who started posting lip-synching videos in 2006. He gained more attention after posting videos "How to be a Ninja," How to be Gangster," and "How to be Emo."
Since then, he has been posting a variety of comedy shorts; his most recent about a pop star named Rustin Hieber.
Eleven of the hundred most subscribed YouTube users of all-time are Asian, with videos ranging from comedy, music, and even to makeup and fashion tips. Michelle Phan is the most subscribed female on YouTube with 1.3 million subscribers. Her makeup tutorials have even led to her becoming a Lancome spokesperson in 2010.
According to a study released in May by Nielsen Media, Asians are the most active Internet users, spending nearly 80 hours on PCs and averaging 10 hours and 39 minutes of streaming online video. The national average of time spent online is 55 hours, the mean amount of time spent viewing streaming media is 4 hours and 20 minutes.
Higa and Phan aren't the only Asian Americans with over one million subscribers on YouTube. KevJumba and Freddiew (Freddie Wong) have 1.5 and 1.4 million subscribers respectively. With the mainstream media lacking in Asian representation, YouTube is serving as a beacon for those who want to be seen.
"Everyone that does music is on YouTube because that's the only place you can be heard," said David Choi, the ninth most subscribed YouTube musician, in between Justin Bieber and Rihanna. "It definitely leveled the playing field."
"Being Korean, you're either forced to play violin or piano, or cello," said Choi. "I'm pretty sure if you ask any Koreans they'll tell you the same thing." Choi had played classical music since childhood but credits his start in songwriting to fellow students in high school.
"I had a history class where some kid brought in a CD of electronic music he made," said Choi. "I went home that day and started writing, composing with a keyboard at home." Choi was eventually signed to Warner/Chappell Music to write pop songs for two years.
At the end of his contract, Choi decided to go in a different direction. "I just decided to wake up one day and post a video of me performing a song about YouTube. That's kind of how it all started," said Choi.
Since then Choi, known for keeping an expressionless face, has been collaborating in comedy and music videos with various YouTubers like Boyce Avenue and fellow Asian Americans Wong Fu Productions, Kinna Granis, and the most subscribed Filipino/a HappySlip (Christine Gambito). Wong Fu have also recently released a series of comedy shorts featuring Harry Shum Jr. from The LXD, most widely known as Mike Chang from Glee. "Everyone's willing to work with everybody, it's just a matter of finding time," said Choi of the inclusive attitude of YouTube.
Mainstream media in the U.S. has been notorious for lacking in minority representation, more so in instances in which white actors play minority characters, such as in Prince of Persia or The Last Airbender. The new fall TV lineup doesn't have any new shows featuring Asians as main characters.
As an Asian American, Choi didn't see many role models in the mainstream media. "Not that I was even really searching for one, but when I think about it, there were none at the time and there still aren't," said Choi.
Though many of the same typecast roles are being given to Asians in the mainstream, Choi sees some progress. "Asians in commercials that aren't in Chinatown and stuff like that," said Choi. "It's kind of cool to see that progress, but I think there's still a little ways to go."
As for the idea that YouTube personalities could be seen as role models, "It's definitely a thought in the back of everyone's mind," said Choi. "Everyone's looking at you."