A common facet of being a celebrity is that, in addition to your avid fan base, you’re often recognizable to people who aren’t your fans or who don’t even follow you that closely. I couldn’t name you a single Justin Bieber song but I know what he looks like and some general details about him. We even recognize B and C list celebrities on the street even if we can’t quite remember their names.
But YouTube is creating a new kind of celebrity: One who has millions of fans but is recognized by virtually no one outside of that fan base. Even someone like me, who spends a fair amount of time on YouTube every day, would never be able to recognize the vast majority of YouTubers who have over a million subscribers. Fast Company’s Sarah Kessler visited VidCon, an annual conference attended by thousands of screaming teens who flock en masse to get a glimpse of “celebrities” that few outside the conference have even heard of.
A sea of girls is hoisting cell phones into the air. It’s impossible to tell whether it’s a line or whether there’s something extremely interesting toward the center of the mob. A scream erupts from a far corner. “What’s happening?” I ask a tall blonde girl next to me. “I don’t know. Someone came out,” she says.
I wander over to the next group and poke my head into their circle for clarification. “Hey, is this a line?” I ask. It is a line–a line to get into other lines that will lead to specific YouTubers’ autograph signing booths once they open (the word is “YouTubers,” by the way, not “YouTube celebrities” or “YouTube stars”).
“Who are you here to see?” one girl asks. Nobody in particular, I tell her, you? “The British YouTubers.”
Who? There are enough successful YouTubers that it would be impossible to know every star, and one person’s hero can be, to another teenager, a total unknown. “You know, Jim Chapman, Alfie Deyes, Joe Sugg, Caspar Lee, Marcus Butler,” the girl says. I don’t know, and my blank expression is met with exasperated disbelief. It’s time to move on.