A Decade on YouTube: The Biggest Stars, Videos, Trends and More from 2010-2019

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As the 2010s come to a close, people are taking stock of their media consumption. From Spotify's "Wrapped" playlists to the always-controversial "Best Of" countdowns, it's time to recap all the things we watched and listened to this decade.

Perhaps no medium shaped the years between 2010 and 2019 more than internet video, and leading the charge was YouTube. The video-sharing platform, launched in early 2005, was already registering around two billion views per day just five years later. Today, that number sits around five billion, with about 500 hours of new content uploaded every minute.

As with any platform, with massive growth comes both positive and negative side effects. As YouTube increased its reach around the globe, creators met each other online in a totally new way. Popular music from places like India, South Korea and Latin America gained visibility in the U.S., and a global platform to reach new a whole new audience. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community found safe spaces to tell their stories, as well as people who shared their experiences and could offer perspective perhaps not readily found in their nuclear community. 

YouTube has also faced its share of criticism, around its management of copyrighted content and channel monetization, as well as the evolving imperfections of its algorithm and restrictions on video content and comments sections. It has become a major component of pop music marketing campaigns and political uprisings alike, influencing everything from brand loyalty to nationalist radicalization.

No matter your opinion, it's impossible to deny that YouTube has changed media forever. From increasing worldwide visibility for all types of users to birthing its own new subgenre of celebrity -- the content creator -- the platform is constantly pushing itself forward, into live video, original content and more.

As we wait to see what the next decade holds, here's a look back at how YouTube has evolved over the last decade -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

THE BIGGEST VIDS

Then:

In 2010, YouTube was still mostly a free-for-all mashup of music videos, comedy sketches, parodies and "look at this!" moments. Top videos of the year included the infamous "Double Rainbow" discovery, an Old Spice commercial, the trailer for Twilight: Eclipse, young Greyson Chance's impressive cover of Lady Gaga's  "Paparazzi" and OK Go's wildly ambitious Rube Golberg machine video for "This Too Shall Pass." And the site was already well on its way towards its status as a ubiquitous meme-maker -- the most-watched clip of 2010 was the Gregory Brothers' remixing of Antoine Dodson's "Bed Intruder" viral news clip -- aka the "Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wife" song -- which clocked around 47.5 million views by the end of 2010. 

Now:

In their 2019 YouTube Rewind, the site broke their numbers down a little differently -- ranking the most "liked" creator videos of the year rather than most-viewed (excluding major label music videos and brand-promoted clips and commercials), a Top 10 ranking that included longtime creator Shane Dawson's "Conspiracy Theories" pilot, and YouTube mega-star PewDiePie's wedding video. Topping the list, which was limited to one video per creator, was a meta monster titled "Make This Video The Most Liked Video On Youtube," which was a part of the bizarre "Egg Gang" social media campaign that turned out to be a marketing stunt aimed at raising awareness about mental health.

The 2019 ranking showed how diverse the video site's offerings have become -- while there were still some stunt and parody clips, the top 10 also featured a craft tutorial on making slime, one of SethEverman's humorous "How To" videos and an Andymation flipbook -- and showcased how significantly YouTube's reach has spread worldwide over the last decade. Included in the Top 10 most-liked list was an "Anything You Can Carry, I'll Pay For" challenge video from Russian creator A4, and a manic Bird Box riff from Brazilian comedian Whindersson Nunes. At the end of the decade, YouTube truly is everywhere and everything at once.

 

THE BIGGEST STARS

Then:

The top creators of 2010 were almost exclusively comedy channels -- run almost exclusively by men. In fact, for the first three years of the last decade, the top five most-subscribed channels were a shuffling of the same five names: Ryan Higa, aka "nigahiga"; "Fred," a comedy series about the character Fred Figglehorn, played by Lucas Cruikshank; Ray William Johnson's eponymous channel; Shane Dawson's first channel, "ShaneDawsonTV"; and "smosh," a comedy channel created by Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox.

In fact, it took until July 2012 for a female creator, JennaMarbles, to crack the top five. Most of these popular channels followed the sketch/comedy format, whether serialized or through one-off videos, but as the decade progressed, channels like "freddiew," "mysteryguitarman" and "EpicMealTime" began to crack the top 10 with more specialized content in gaming, music and food, respectively, a sign of things to come.

Now:

The most drastic change for the top creators of 2019 -- beyond, again, a reflection of the platform's more globalized reach -- is the idea of YouTube as a viable and legitimate social media channel in its own right. Individual music artists, as well as record labels, now have verified channels for debuting new songs and music videos, with many of them topping the most-subscribed list of 2019. 

Channels for professional wrestling and children's entertainment also crack the top 10 nowadays, an indicator of the evolution in media consumption that's taken place over the last decade. No longer do people simply watch a funny video at their desk, they have YouTube streaming to home televisions and portable devices as a primary media source. 

And as the consumption grew, so too did the creator base. Now, there are entire genres and subsets of YouTube uploaders -- from performers like Todrick Hall and JoJo Siwa to stunt entertainers like the Try Guys and Dude Perfect to gamers like Jelly and PewDiePie and Jelly and makeup artists like Jeffree Star and James Charles (more on them later). Comedy is still also a viable path towards YouTube fame as well, with character performers like Colleen Ballinger's Miranda Sings and unique uses of the YouTube format, like the Fine Brothers' "React" series.

 

THE TOP TRENDSETTERS

Then:

As evidenced in the trends in top creators and videos, 2010 on YouTube was mostly about getting a clip to go viral. That meant posting something surprising, silly or impressive enough to hook fans. Channels like AnnoyingOrange and Fred maintained that sweet spot for a bit, garnering a large viewer base with their own webseries and parlaying it into bigger projects in more mainstream film and television channels. But over time, the shine would fade from most of the top channels, as their creative minds moved on to different ventures, sold to to larger companies or simply fell out of favor with the growing viewer base.

Then, in fall 2013, along came PewDiePie. The Swedish YouTube star, real name: Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, took the top spot and didn't look back until 2018, when Indian record label T-Series began encroaching on his subscriber numbers. The two have gone back and forth ever since, with fans locked in a war to keep their favorite on top.

Now:

In 2019, YouTube stardom has become about building a brand within a genre -- doing something that might not be original on the platform, but stands out to a specific, returning audience. Building a devoted fanbase is crucial to monetization in this era of social media. Every passionate YouTube fan has their favorites, whether it's makeup, gamers, stunt performers, musicians, ASMR artists, cooks or anything else imaginable. There's something for everyone on YouTube, but not everyone on YouTube can be something -- that takes a particular combo of visibility, hustle and luck.

And of course, there is a whole new subset of YouTube celebrity these days -- the vlogger. These content creators are people who are YouTube famous simply for being YouTube famous; call it the Kardashian Rule of Clout. Their videos document their daily lives -- which seem to consist of doing stuff worth making videos about -- from makeup challenges to mukbangs, shocking stunts, "story times" and more. It may seem a vicious circle of confusing content capitalism for anyone upper-millennial and older, but to the younger generations, web stars like the Paulbrothers, Trisha Paytas, David Dobrik and newly-minted Creator of the Year Tana Mongeau are some of the biggest celebrities out there.

 

THE GURUS

Then:

Makeup artists didn't top the most-viewed charts back in 2010, but that's not to say they weren't out there. Some of the biggest names in makeup were already creating content at the start of the decade, proving that, like a stunning beat, YouTube success starts with a good foundation. One of the earliest beauty pioneers on YouTube, Michelle Phan, began publishing videos to the platform in May 2007, and as of July 2019, still ranks among the Top 10 most-subscribed beauty YouTubers. Bethany Mota got her start in 2009 and as of 2019, is the No. 6 ranked beauty channel. Even Mexican vlogger Yuya, who is currently the most-popular beauty channel at 24 million subscribers and growing, started her channel in 2009, when she was just 16 years old.

Now:

In 2019, Beauty YouTube is a universe unto itself, with some of the largest-scale monetization of any genre both online and in the real world -- most of the major names on the scene these days don't just have their own lines, they have their own brands.  Makeup influencers like Jeffree Star, Jaclyn Hill, James Charles, Huda Kattan, Laura Lee, Manny MUA and more make their money not only by advertising on their super-popular channels -- where they showcase "Getting Ready" routines, specialized looks and how-tos, unboxings and more -- but by creating and launching their own eyeshadow and blush palettes, lipsticks, highlighters and more.

 

THE GAMERS

Then:

Apart from comedy clips, probably the biggest pathway to YouTube fame at the start of the decade was through gaming videos -- most often, "Let's Play" tutorials and animation videos based on fan-favorite games.

In fact, one of the only non-comedy creators to creep up the most-subscribed list in the early 2010s was "machinima" the channel of Machinima, Inc. -- a company channel after the unique cinematic productions that gamers were able to create using real-time graphics and characters as their set and actors.

Now:

These days, PewDiePie rules the YouTube gamer roost -- despite his recent proclamation that he would be stepping back from his channel in 2020, following his wedding and the robbery of his Tokyo home. However, while PewDiePie is the tops of the three gaming-focused creators to be featured in the 2019 Top 10 -- the Swedish-born YouTuber was the year's most-viewed creator overall and recently showed off a plaque he received from the site for hitting 100 million subscribers -- there's an endless stream of gaming content being uploaded every day.

In the 2019 Rewind video, rather than ranking gaming creators, the site chose to rank how much content was uploaded for each of the games themselves -- though gamers Jelly and LazarBeam were the year's No. 4 and No. 8 most-viewed creators, respectively -- providing an interesting look into the demographics of the YouTube gaming community. Though expected titles like Grand Theft Auto and Fortnight made the top five, it was the sandbox building game Minecraft that took the top spot, totaling over 100 billion views, more than 40 billion ahead of the second-place game.

 

THE SCANDALS

Then:

In 2010, YouTube was beginning to be taken seriously, both as a revenue stream and a platform for building notoriety and audience reach. It was around this time that the site began to forge a profitable relationship with their content creators.

Of course, with great power (and even greater revenue) comes great responsibility. As YouTube's numbers went up, so did their accountability, most notably to copyright holders. However, content policing was largely left up to the users, creating problematic blind spots that persist to this day. Even still-popular creators like Shane Dawson have offensive videos in their past (in Shane's case, sketches featuring several "urban" characters and more than one video in which he appeared in blackface). 

Now:

There's been no shortage of YouTube scandal in recent years, whether it's internal drama amongst platform stars or more severe real-world consequences. James Charles' response video to Tati Westbrook's call-out was one of the most-watched and most-liked videos of the year, and feuds amongst popular YouTubers are not uncommon (or surprising, given how the view counts rise at any sign of drama). 

But the real danger of YouTube fame lies in the escalating demand for views, and for some, the sudden rise to notoriety can lead to a steep fall-off. Creators have accidentally filmed their own deaths -- as in the case of Ryan Perez -- or tragically warned the world of their plans for suicide, as was the case with gamer Etika earlier this year. Real-life legal consequences have come down hard on channels like DaddyOFive, which featured parents filming increasingly cruel pranks on their children, and the popular Dolan Twins recently quit YouTube altogether, explaining in a lengthy goodbye video the toll their devotion to the platform had taken on their mental health and wellbeing. 

Most tragically of all have been the real-world applications of the "trolling" techniques used by many content creators, but specifically, PewDiePie. The popular YouTuber has been put in the spotlight more than once for invoking hate speech on his channel, and when a mass murderer in Christchurch, New Zealand, invoked his name -- declaring "Subscribe to PewDiePie" before opening fire in a mosque, killing 51 people and injuring at least 50 more. In response, PewDiePie initially pledged $50,000 to the Anti Defamation League in the wake of the shooting, but quickly rescinded the money, telling fans that he had "messed up" in hastily choosing which group to donate to. He never offered further explanation or another donation.

 

While a lot has changed since 2010 when it comes to YouTube fame and visibility, some things have remained consistent. Justin Bieber, for example, hit something of a fame sweet spot when it came to YouTube's growth this decade, after infamously being discovered on the platform by manager Scooter Braun. The video for Bieber's first major single "Baby" was one of the most-watched music videos of 2010, and the singer still has one of the top 10 channels on the platform in 2019.

Shane Dawson has maintained his status as a top creator throughout the decade by evolving from one of the dime-a-dozen sketch comedians to a more serious documentarian of himself and his fellow stars. Makeup artists and gamers have also built their followings into major brands, and there's always an audience for the newest, hottest music video.

YouTube will likely always be a place to watch, or re-watch, the latest meme or moment, but its evolution over the past decade shows that the next 10 years will take the platform to places we can't even imagine. One thing's for certain: everyone will be watching.

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