There's something going on with YouTubers...
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Lately, I’ve come to notice that many YouTuber have been taking stock of their role in the platform and they way they’ve molded themselves to fit the platform. In a way, they’ve modeled their content to complement the algorithm.
And I think that’s why I have such an issue with the idea of “content” in general as a descriptor for what people create on YouTube - it’s more about creating something that feeds the algorithmic beast rather than a true expression of what they want to create and how they want to connect with their communities.
But just in the last few months, a lot of YouTube creators seem to be reassessing this way of working, and noticing they way it burns them out or leads to inauthentic videos.
This trend really seemed to take shape following the evolution of vlogging in the 2010s. Before that, YouTube seemed to be a wild west of ideas and expressions, but as the rise of full time YouTubers, monetization, and algorithmically-driven recommendations exploded throughout the 2010s, the vast majority of YouTube creators became extremely formulaic. This trend from vlogging expanded into all the other niches that YouTube was particularly well suited to: tech reviews, commentary channels, cooking, etc. - they were all more or less regurgitating the same styles and ways of working.
Beyond leading to a stagnation of original ideas, this also seemed to lead to creator burnout. Creators were essentially forced to maintain a rigid schedule & rigid niche in order for the algorithm to look favorably on them.
But now, at least in the corners of YouTube I frequent, people seem to be rethinking if that’s really how they want to create videos.
Look at this screenshot of videos from Emma Chamberlain’s channel. Earlier in the year, all her videos displayed very Peak YouTube™: posed thumbnails with graphics, clickbaity-titles written with an inexplicable use of capitalization, consistently hitting a >15min duration, doing challenges and collabs. Then, all of the sudden, the thumbnails are just frames from the video, the titles are simple, the durations arbitrary, and (most importantly) the content suddenly feels like what she actually wants to say. The videos are much more just showcasing slices of her life and her thoughts than trying to hop on the latest trends. She’d gone back to editing her videos herself and the storytelling is slow, simple, and deliberate. This whole new style of video is now living on a new playlist on her channel simply called “evolving.”
YouTube’s existing model locks successful or up and coming creators into a box and forces them to stay that way if they want to find an audience. But video creators are artists and no artist remains the same day-to-day let alone over the course of their career. There’s only so many ways you can do the same thing before there’s essentially nothing left to say.
It shouldn’t have to be that way.
This realization is happening all over the place.
Van Neistat recently published what I could only describe as a magnum opus in understanding the role of the “creator” in the larger body of work of their videos and how that facilitates connection and understanding to other people and ideas.
There was this very delicate idea that you could put yourself in your work, so long as you were careful enough not to be narcissistic. And to this day I struggle with that line between narcissism and universality.
Ryan Ng just brilliantly unpacked the history of vlogging, the issues with the state of YouTube, and his intentions for what he actually wants to spend his time making.
Sometimes, I feel like we’ve completely replaced the beauty of mundane lives with spectacles for clicks. Because for some reason, a normal life, with normal problems, and normal jobs isn’t that much fun to film or talk about anymore.
Heyxnatalie took stock of her if she really achieved her dream of being a video creator, with the type of video she became. And she told the story in an absolutely beautiful montage of self expression.
What does this mean?
Honestly, I don’t know.
YouTube as a platform is like a 12-headed dragon breathing capitalist fire. But YouTube is also nothing without its creators.
I’m sure this is happening in many other pockets of the site, and many types of videos of unaware of. But right now I’m so excited to see more and more video creators fight back against creating content to feed the beast, and instead make what they want to make.
I would love to see a reversal of the feeling of stagnation from the recent years of YouTube into a florishing renaissance of the personal and real people of early YouTube, but the impressive evolutions in how they shoot and produce those videos.
I’ll leave you with just a few more breaking-out-of-the-box pieces and channels I’ve found interesting lately:
- Joel Haver creating feature films, silly short skits, and incredibly personal vlogs truly embodies the spirit of “fuck you, I’m making what I want.”
- Answer in Progress putting a decidedly gen-z spin on educational content and investigative pieces is so refreshing. Everything from their honest presences on camera, to their “lazy” video chapters combined with their truly intelligent conclusions is such a wonderful example of how to create a channel that explores far and wide without getting bogged into a niche.
- I’m seeing so much of what I could only call “YouTube, but make it ✨cinema✨” such as Ro Ramdin’s crazy witty commentaries combined withy really beautiful production abilities, Serr’s vlogs that feel more like a still life painting, or MaKenna Greene’s stunning works of visual poetry.
If you, dear reader, happen to be a video creator, I hope you find the courage to do what you want and don’t get dragged into playing “the game.” There’s no happiness at the end of that, but there is happiness in pure self expression. And I want to see your pure self expression, I promise.