YouTube’s most impactful moments of 2018 differ depending on who you ask.
Most creators would probably point to Logan Paul’s controversy surrounding his time in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, a multimillion-dollar boxing match between some of YouTube’s most prolific individuals, and the seemingly never-ending battle between PewDiePie and Bollywood production company T-Series. There were also multiple breakups between adored YouTubers, the rise of Johnny Johnny Yes Papa as a phenomenon, and Shane Dawson ruling the digital space by reimagining what YouTubers could create.
None of these moments appear in YouTube Rewind, the streaming service’s year-end wrap-up video, but that isn’t too surprising. YouTube Rewind is an annual look back at the trends, creators, and moments that YouTube executives and employees consider the most noteworthy. It’s a presentation of what makes YouTube unique, specifically designed to market its creators to advertisers in the hopes of securing large deals. The lack of these moments reiterates the divide between how the platform wants to be seen and the actual culture that creators participate in.
This year, those people include actors like Will Smith and comedians like Jon Oliver. It includes mainstream stars like Fortnite’s Ninja, and some of YouTube’s most notable creators who have worked in traditional Hollywood — Casey Neistat, Lilly Singh, and Liza Koshy. These creators are beloved and influential, but most importantly, they’re not controversial. They work with big brands and big celebrities, and they represent the switch to a digital MTV that YouTube is trying to become.
The message from YouTube to marketers was clear: these are the people you want to invest time to watch and whose videos you should run ads on.
Jake and Logan Paul don’t appear in this year’s Rewind. Neither does KSI. PewDiePie, David Dobrik, Shane Dawson, and Erika Costell — some of the most talked-about YouTube creators this year — are also absent. It’s unclear who was asked and who wasn’t, but their absences are some of the biggest questions fans have after watching the video.
The reaction from the YouTube community is openly hostile; there are more than 250,000 downvotes on the video at the time of this writing — nearly 100,000 more than those who upvoted it. It’s not that YouTube’s video completely misses the mark. There are references to trends like mukbang videos (a popular food challenge), conversations about creator burnout, spotlights on popular collaboration teams like Sister Squad (Emma Chamberlain, James Charles, and the Dolan Twins) and, of course, Fortnite.
Ignoring the moments that YouTube’s community cares about and pays attention to, like a boxing match that brought in nearly 1 million live viewers, hides an enormous part of the platform’s cultural shift. It feels disingenuous, like YouTube is hiding its uglier side under a carpet while showing guests around.
This is something that’s happened before, and, as more attention is paid to creators who participate in controversial activities, it will continue to arise.
Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg addressed YouTube Rewind absentees in 2017. It was the first time in three years that Kjellberg wasn’t invited to star in the video — a big moment for the platform, considering he’s their most popular independent personality. His disappearance followed Kjellberg’s most controversial year. Videos that included anti-Semitic imagery led to Kjellberg losing his YouTube Red series, Scare PewDiePie, and his removal from Google’s top ad platform. Most importantly, it kicked off a wave of concerned advertisers running from the platform.
Kjellberg may be YouTube’s most prominent creator and someone whose videos bring in millions of views, but he couldn’t appear in a marketing video. YouTube’s most popular creator was too much of a liability. A year later, that’s still mostly true.
“It wasn’t because I said no. It was because I wasn’t asked,” Kjellberg said in 2017. He said he understood that YouTube didn’t want him in it because of that year’s controversies. “At the end of the day, I care more about YouTube. I care about what’s good for YouTube, what’s good for the platform than me being in it and I don’t know … pissing people off?”
That’s also why the Paul brothers, whose videos still bring in millions of views and who are both within the top 10 wealthiest creators of 2018, aren’t in the video. Same with KSI. Possibly even Dawson, whose controversial past and focus on controversial creators — Jake Paul, Tana Mongeau, and Jeffree Star — isn’t exactly what YouTube wants to present to advertisers.
None of this should matter. A company’s promotional material for advertisers and investors is usually pretty boring. Except that YouTube Rewind is often seen by creators and the community as an acknowledgment of people and trends who made a difference on the platform. On a platform where a sense of authenticity and genuine dispositions are valued above anything else, having the company disregard YouTube’s actual culture never sits right with people.
“All I know is YouTube better have asked Shane Dawson to be in rewind this year,” YouTube creator Keemstar tweeted, acknowledging the incredible impact Dawson’s documentary series had on the platform’s culture. “The KSI vs Logan Paul boxing match was clearly the biggest YouTube event this year. For Rewind not to have any reference of this is just wrong.”
“How the fuck they gonna do a mukbang moment and not have Trisha Paytas,” Dawson tweeted about one popular YouTube creator and mukbang aficionado, whose content might also be deemed less than savory for advertisers.
There are tons of creators in this year’s Rewind, and it seems that YouTube did listen to criticism from last year and lean into featuring more creators than traditional celebrities. It’s also increasingly apparent, however, that YouTube is trying to sell a culture that’s different from the one millions of people come to the platform for, and that’s getting harder for both creators and fans to swallow.