By Patrick McAuliffe
Regular Vox readers and anyone who is invested in YouTube culture will know the competition I want to talk about. Felix Kjellberg, also known as Pewdiepie, is frantically racing the Indian entertainment corporation T-Series for the most YouTube subscribers of all time. As of this article, both of them have over 82 million subscribers, which is far above most YouTube channels. Pewdiepie even surpassed YouTube Gaming, the general channel collecting various gaming streams, news videos, and playthroughs. Before you finish my article, go onto YouTube and subscribe to Pewdiepie. If you need more convincing, let me tell you why this is a battle for the soul of YouTube itself, and may have implications for more platforms across the Internet.
The massive jump in subscriptions to T-Series is due to a few different sources, primarily from the sheer money and means of the corporation. India has expanded access to the Internet on a massive scale, jumping from 278 million in October 2014 to around 500 million in June 2018, as reported by the Times of India. T-Series puts out several videos a day, from music videos to movie trailers. This amount of output puts them in the direct view of India’s new Internet users, growing their fanbase much faster than the one-video-a-day Pewdiepie. However, as alleged in Pewdiepie’s T-Series diss track “Bitch Lasagna,” and by many Reddit users and Youtubers, T-Series seems to be using a number of spam accounts and sub bots to try and close the gap between them and Pewdiepie. This was confirmed by Metro when YouTube removed 200,000 spam subscriptions from T-Series’ sub count on December 14th (Pewdiepie only lost 40,000).
Lots of YouTubers see the struggle between the two channels as a battle between independent content creators and corporate media outlets. Pewdiepie became the most-subscribed YouTuber at the end of 2013 and has held the title almost uninterrupted since then. He got famous from “Let’s Play” videos and eventually became more of a personality YouTuber. Most of his videos today are reaction videos, whether to Dr. Phil or Tik Tok, among others, and scrolling through his very own subreddit, r/PewdiepieSubmissions. He asks his fans, whom he lovingly refers to as “the nine-year-old army,” to make memes and submit their fan art for his weekly show LWIAY (Last Week I Asked You), a knockoff of YouTuber jacksfilms’ YIAY (Yesterday I Asked You). Even though he is criticized for his seemingly unoriginal content and his occasionally abrasive statements, these types of videos help him directly interact with his audience and build a fanbase full of loyalty. The memes on his subreddit are topical to his content as it changes, and fans’ art is posted with love and admiration.
This loyalty to Pewds has been the biggest driver of him staying atop T-Series in subscribers. MrBeast (14 million subscribers), a YouTube vlogger, will often pull outrageous stunts to encourage people to subscribe to Pewdiepie, such as buying every billboard in his town with the “Subscribe to Pewdiepie” message. Keemstar, founder of the YouTube news channel #DramaAlert (4.7 million subscribers), has recently joined the fray in taking to Twitter encouraging support for Pewdiepie. Meme channels Grandayy (1.9 million subscribers), Dolan Dark (1.3 million subscribers), and FlyingKitty (1.5 million subscribers) have whipped up support through video memes and jokes about T-Series being in league with YouTube to take down Pewdiepie. Even ordinary people do their part to make sure Pewdiepie stays on top; at the beginning of December, 50,000 printers worldwide were hacked by an anonymous person encouraging their owners to subscribe. The grassroots nature of the “Subscribe to Pewdiepie” movement makes its supporters even more fervent.
This fierce loyalty was evident with the release of YouTube Rewind 2018, a video released every year by YouTube compiling the best moments and fastest-growing creators on the platform. This year’s video became the most-disliked video in the history of YouTube, primarily because it didn’t seem to reflect the actual big moments of the year. There was no mention of Pewdiepie vs. T-Series, celebrity cameos from Will Smith, Trevor Noah, and John Oliver seemed out-of-place, and an overemphasis on Fortnite (both the dances and the inclusion of Ninja, a Twitch streamer) felt very forced. A scene with several YouTubers grouped around a campfire probably holds the title for the cringiest moment of the video, lauding an increase in Asian representation for some reason and one woman emphatically saying, “I am so proud of this community.” Much like when corporations use social justice to push a product, the public backlash against YouTube clearly showed that the platform is gradually deviating from what its users actually want to celebrate and emphasize.
Pewdiepie has been the subject of several controversies, usually stemming from his carelessness with words or not realizing possible problematic actions by people and channels he supports. I don’t think he believes the alt-right mentality many news outlets ascribe to him, usually by association. Despite the problems he may have, his supremacy as YouTube’s most popular channel is the last bastion of the public’s representation on YouTube. Although some cynics are consoling themselves on Pewdiepie’s eventual defeat by T-Series, it is now more important than ever to double down and support original content creators over distant corporate media. #SubscribetoPewdiepie