There has never been a better time to be a YouTuber. When YouTube pressed play on its operations back in 2005, no one could foresee that the video-sharing site would one day become the rice bowl to a generation of tech-savvy youth. Some started regular uploads as a way to chronicle their lives in a new city, while others were more focused on dedicating their channels to a particular subculture. Either way, we have found ourselves a decade later with a motley crew of inspirational webstars, celebrities who have risen to fame in the most organic way possible. Meet #TeamInternet: vloggers by day, and the opinion leaders of tomorrow.
Like the global platform it is, the rags-to-riches YouTube story has played out in Singapore as well. Some members of the main cast from director Jack Neo‘s “Ah Boys to Men” films have YouTube to thank for their big break: Noah Yap, Ridhwan Azman, and Tosh Zhang all had their start on YouTube.
Also notable in Singapore’s YouTube A-listdom are Hirzi Zulkiflie and Maimunah Bahgarib, who form comedy duo MunahAndHirzi. The founding prince and princess of Singapore’s YouTube scene (their words; we agree) have gone on from thick-skinned public dancing to more… collected occupations (though we’re pretty sure they dance at work too). Hirzi turned scriptwriter for Hossan Leong‘s 2013 production “The Hossan Leong Show – Flying Solo“, while Munah serves up the latest in sporting news on FOX Sports Asia. All while releasing #qualitycontent like their Parody Video of the Year award-winning “MINAHCONDA“. Not bad at all.
Speaking of ventures into the music industry, homegrown singer Joel Tan (a.k.a. Gentle Bones) made history last week as the first local artist to be signed to Universal Music Singapore. Gaining a sizeable following among Singaporean youth with his soulful covers and – of course – his five-track debut EP, Joel has truly benefited from what The Sam Willows has referred to as a “renaissance” in the local music scene. All this a fantastic result from starting out on YouTube years ago.
Acting as a bridge of sorts (both figuratively and as a link for this story) between the local microcosm and the global macrocosm of YouTube, the YouTube FanFest Singapore held over the previous weekend struck the perfect balance between the two worlds.
While last year’s edition of the YTFF was undoubtedly a huge crowd-puller (due to big-name creators such as Troye Sivan, Superwoman, Jenna Marbles, Ryan Higa, and Tyler Oakley… who sat down with us for an interview), this year’s festival saw a more… cosy lineup that also featured a better representation of YouTubers from Southeast Asia.
The less intimidating environment also paved the way for fun collaborations, like this impressive cover by Benjamin Kheng (of The Sam Willows) and YouTube’s resident producer Kurt Hugo Schneider!
On the international stage, some of the biggest YouTubers have begun their foray into mainstream media, an entity that hasn’t been at all supportive (and sometimes just outright condescending) of their existence. But by the sheer size of their fans, it is impossible for legacy media to ignore their presence, especially when they succeed. Let’s just start with sass queen Tyler Oakley getting on The Ellen Show last week. After countless Tumblr posts from the #TeamInternet fandom pining for the day Tyler gets on Ellen, it finally happened.
While every YouTuber on this planet and Mars is releasing books, Hannah Hart‘s hardcover is probably one of the most special. The creator of the My Drunk Kitchen series is one-third of the “Holy Trinity” of YouTube (the other two being pun-tastic mixologist Mamrie Hart and queen of the deadpan Grace Helbig… who we’ll get to in just a minute), and has had quite a colourful life.
Quitting her job at a translating firm (her second degree was in Japanese language) after becoming a YouTube partner, Hannah is now the proud author of a self-help cookbook titled “My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut“, complete with recipes like “Pizza Pie Chart” and “Naan Of Your Business”. So while other YouTubers’ books might just make you chuckle, this one can actually feed you. Or at least teach you how to feed yourself.
Taking a rather alternative route to the YouTube A-list is Grace Helbig. Entering YouTube with her close friend and then-housemate Michelle Akin (née Vargas) as duo GracenMichelle, Grace later signed a five-year contract with MyDamnChannel, who offered a flat salary for her daily uploads on the now-defunct DailyGrace channel. Following a messy fiasco that was highly publicised within the fandom when said contract ended in 2013, Grace was forced to leave her own channel to start afresh.
Today, Grace is still a regular feature on screens – but not just on laptops and desktops! In one of the greatest success stories among the YouTube community, Grace now helms a weekly half-hour talk show on E!. While her fans in the US have been enjoying the first season since April, us fans here in Singapore can finally
stop trying to watch illegal screengrabs on YouTube catch The Grace Helbig Show on E! starting tomorrow, 26th May @ 11pm, and every Tuesday after that!
So love them or hate them (how dare you), YouTubers are definitely here to stay. With millions of fans – young and old – at their backs, pushing them ahead, the hardworking YouTube community will one day earn the respect of the naysayers. If YouTube plays its cards right, the self-sustaining entertainment model that they have created will welcome even more creators to achieve celebrity status – in a system so democratic no other medium can compare. This is #TeamInternet: where you get to press play on others’ dreams.
P.S. Here’s Flula in Pitch Perfect 2 to close things off.
More details about The Grace Helbig Show on E!:
The Grace Helbig Show premieres Tuesday, 26th May 2015 @ 11PM on E! (mio channel 328, StarHub channel 441)