The death of YouTube Rewind, revisited.

This 12 months, YouTube is attempting one thing new: a 24-hour, gamified three-part interactive livestream known as “Escape2021.” Like YouTube Rewind, the ill-fated annual video occasion that preceded it, Escape2021 celebrated the 12 months’s prime content material tendencies and featured some of the platform’s hottest creators, in addition to main artists like BTS, Blackpink, Doja Cat, and Olivia Rodrigo.

YouTube clarified that Escape2021 was not meant to “substitute” Rewind, to which I say: tomayto, tomahto. 

YouTube officially canceled Rewind in October, however the format died years in the past. A sore spot for creators and followers alike, 2018’s Rewind was the platform’s final earnest try at a year-end video that celebrated the creator group whereas additionally wooing advertisers. As a substitute, it turned a logo of how YouTube had misplaced its method, leaping the shark to the tune of “Baby Shark.” The web burned it to the bottom, making it the most-disliked video in YouTube historical past inside per week.

[Disclaimer: The author worked as a consultant to YouTube’s Culture and Trends Team from September 2017 to January 2020. She provided suggestions around each year’s top-trending content but was not directly involved in the production of YouTube Rewind.]

It wasn’t all the time this manner. Rewind was initially a celebration of all of the issues that made YouTube nice, a joyous group year-in-review. 

Initially a easy “prime movies” record in 2010, by 2012, YouTube had debuted the Rewind format that may grow to be normal: a recreation of the 12 months’s prime music movies, memes, and moments in vignettes that featured creators themselves. It was celebratory, self-aware, and foolish. Yearly, the price range for Rewind grew larger, the manufacturing slicker, the references extra strong. As YouTube advanced into an trade juggernaut and an promoting machine, Rewind remodeled from a real year-in-review right into a showcase of YouTube’s shiniest, least offensive components, a business for the platform itself. That always meant its most colourful creators have been sidelined in favor of sanitized options. The quantity of featured creators ballooned, as did the inclusion of late night time discuss present hosts and mainstream celebrities.

By 2016, the video opened with The Rock and closed with James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.

In 2017, YouTube confronted an existential disaster: the “adpocalypse,” a platform-altering debacle wherein advertisers pulled their spots after discovering that they generally ran alongside extremist and hate content material. To placate these manufacturers, YouTube provided new filtering choices that excluded large swaths of content material from operating alongside adverts. This variation impacted the earnings of some of YouTube’s most prolific and beloved creators, who watched their revenues drop as their belief in YouTube dwindled. Then Swedish gamer Felix Kjellberg, in any other case often known as PewDiePie and the platform’s most-subscribed creator on the time, made anti-Semitic feedback and defiantly sparred with the Wall Avenue Journal. Advertisers fled.

In consequence of this fallout, there was immense strain on the platform to make YouTube Rewind 2017 as brand-friendly as ever. It opened with Stephen Colbert asking Lele Pons and Lizy Koshy, two innocuous Vine stars-turned-YouTubers, to inform him about 2017 to the tune of a “Despacito” and “Form of You” mashup. The video featured no less than half a dozen different Vine alums, together with Logan and Jake Paul, and ended with creators smiling broadly and sliding by means of slime. There was solely a single indication that YouTube was conscious of the 12 months it had endured: Kjellberg was notably absent for the primary time in 5 years. 

Creators Lele Pons and Lizy Koshy sitting side-by-side

Pons (left) and Koshy (proper) opening YouTube Rewind 2017.
Credit score: YouTube

As 2018 approached, it’s doable that YouTube thought the worst was over. Then, on Dec. 31, 2017, Logan Paul uploaded what is often known as his “suicide forest video,” a vlog wherein he encounters, movies, and reacts to a physique hanging in Japan’s Aokigahara forest. Paul, one of YouTube’s top-earning creators on the time, endured scathing criticism and fumbled by means of a set of apologies. As YouTube scrambled to react, copies of the video appeared on the Trending Tab for a portion of users. The website in the end took greater than per week to handle the debacle in an “open letter” on Twitter, which was extensively derided. YouTube’s moderation insurance policies have been known as into query, with long-time information commentator and YouTube watchdog Philip DeFranco opining that “YouTube is both complicit or ignorant” within the video gaining greater than 6 million views earlier than Paul took it down.

Earlier than YouTube might catch its breath, Infowars’ Alex Jones twisted February’s Parkland taking pictures into conspiracy principle fodder. A video suggesting that Parkland survivors were crisis actors reached YouTube’s Trending Tab, additional eroding public and creator belief within the platform’s skill to average itself at scale. June introduced Tanacon, August the much-publicized Logan Paul vs. KSI fight. After which, on Aug. 29, Kjellberg posted a video playfully calling on his viewers to assist him defeat a looming risk: the Indian manufacturing studio T-Sequence, whose YouTube channel was set to go his personal in subscribers. Kjellberg’s “bro military” waged an all out guerrilla battle: hacking printers and buying billboards encouraging the general public to subscribe to Kjellberg and unsubscribe from T-Sequence, in an try to stave off the inevitable.

The PewDiePie vs. T-Sequence marketing campaign would final greater than seven months, with Kjellberg admitting defeat in April 2019. It was not a lot a battle between one of YouTube’s most recognizable, beloved, and problematic creators and an Indian manufacturing studio because it was an allegory for the tip of an period. Kjellberg was held up because the final bastion of the previous YouTube guard. If he succumbed, the YouTube we grew up loving — politically incorrect parodies, dwelling movies, and double rainbows — now not belonged to creators and the group that had constructed it.

SEE ALSO: T-Sequence lastly surpassed PewDiePie in YouTube subscribers

PewDiePie vs. T-Sequence additionally highlighted the rising divide between the calls for of advertiser-friendly content material and creators’ skill to maintain up. Giant studios like T-Sequence might produce extra content material in per week than a single creator might in a 12 months. Celebrities have been opening YouTube channels with groups of producers and backing from YouTube itself. Tormented by burnout and worn down by demonetization, creators discovered themselves teetering on the sting of an uneven enjoying discipline.

YouTube Rewind 2018 tried its finest to create a shimmering spotlight reel of a horrible 12 months. The outcome was, as tech creator Marques Brownlee put it, a “chaotic barrage of clips that’s actually exhausting to look at.” The video opened with a (much-memed) Will Smith cameo and went on to cowl Fortnite, parody Ok-pop, after which pause for a clumsy phase acknowledging a bevy of social points, together with psychological well being, Asian illustration in leisure, the “empowering artwork of drag,” training, girls’s empowerment, and “individuals who put apart their variations.” 

The flub led to an almost-inspiring unification of fandoms. PewDiePie followers have been upset that their idol and efforts to defeat T-Sequence had not been acknowledged. Creators have been upset that they’d been portrayed as unbearably cringey. Pushed by a mixture of anger, embarrassment, and disappointment, they started to dislike the video en masse. They have been finally joined by the BTS Military, who have been disgruntled after view depend freezes and the removal of tens of millions of views from BTS music movies (a outcome of YouTube’s perpetual fight in opposition to spam views) sophisticated their streaming efforts and jeopardized their record-setting goals

Collectively, they made YouTube Rewind 2018 the most-disliked video in YouTube historical past. In 2019, YouTube returned to its record format and in 2020, they pointed to the worldwide pandemic as a cause for skipping Rewind altogether. Lastly, in October 2021, YouTube introduced Rewind wouldn’t be returning and that they might be highlighting creator-made rewind movies as a substitute.

So, is Escape2021 an enchancment over Rewind? I believe so. In the end, Rewind tried to be too many issues to too many audiences. “The downside with YouTube Rewind,” defined Brownlee, “is fairly easy: YouTubers and creators and audiences see it as one factor” — a celebration of the perfect moments on the platform — “and YouTube… sees it as one thing utterly totally different” — an advertiser-friendly spotlight reel.

YouTube can’t make everybody pleased, and Escape2021 is aware of that.

In the end, Rewind tried to be too many issues to too many audiences.

The occasion featured notably brand-safe creators and tendencies. Mark Rober made an elephant toothpaste volcano, with an help from Mr. Beast, as a gaggle of schoolchildren appeared on. Soccer fan content material creators AFTV commentated a nail-biting marble race crafted by Jelle’s Marble Run. A really charming magician duo confronted off in a check of their abilities. And there have been at least 4 “Actual or Cake” guessing video games that includes Sideserf Cake Studio. Most of these segments have been accompanied by interactive gameplay for viewers within the reside chat. This creator-centric content material was offset by video games and music video trivia highlighting artists like The Weeknd, Blackpink, Doja Cat, and The Child Laroi. The finale featured a digital live performance with Maneskin and BTS, hosted in Minecraft. The tempo of the occasion was relaxed, even gradual at occasions. It was fantastically produced and palatable and, most significantly, it didn’t really feel compelled. 

Julia Alexander, who reported extensively on YouTube for The Verge and Polygon from 2017 to 2021, and whose work is referenced all through this piece, says Escape2021’s format is smart. 

“YouTube is on the level the place their creators exist in their very own infamy, they variety of do not have to be concerned,” she says. “If we take a look at YouTube’s trajectory over the past 5 years, what they wish to put emphasis on as a model, it is simply grow to be rather more music-focused.” 

An illustrated image of someone looking at a notebook with

A lo-fi scene from Escape2021.
Credit score: YouTube

So placing on a present with huge artists and spotlighting brand-safe creators is a great path ahead. “That method, it is exhausting to argue YouTube as being inauthentic,” Alexander provides. “You’ll be able to argue YouTube is making an promoting play, and they’re. However on the finish of the day, that is nonetheless higher protection than what they’ll get out of Rewind [which is] merely, ‘It is cringey.’ And that is the most suitable choice.” 

In response to Alexander, there’s not an enormous distinction between YouTube Rewind and Escape2021. “One is in celebration of YouTube,” she explains, “and one is in recognition of YouTube.”

As I contemplated the stream, and watched a large knife reduce into an inanimate object for the tenth time to disclose whether or not it was made of cake or not, I spotted what she meant. Whereas Rewind sought to encapsulate the tradition of the platform, Escape2021 seeks to seize the content material. Creators signify a wild spectrum of views and personalities; they’re sophisticated, tough to foretell, and messy in all of the methods humanity might be. Content material, however, is a commodity. Content material might be managed.

Whereas Rewind sought to encapsulate the tradition of the platform, Escape2021 seeks to seize the content material.

Nonetheless, Julia thinks it will be clever for YouTube to spend money on a brand new method of celebrating all of its creators, even those that don’t meet its advertiser-friendly requirements, “in a method that isn’t only a business on NFL Sunday.” That’s particularly essential when Black and LGBTQ+ creators report feeling that demonetization impacts them disproportionately. 

The query is, “What [do] you try this celebrates [creators] and reiterates that you’re one of the few firms [providing them with] an excellent income cut up? these varieties of positives,” she says, would be the key to rebuilding that relationship.

If you wish to discuss to somebody or are experiencing suicidal ideas, Crisis Text Line supplies free, confidential help 24/7. Textual content CRISIS to 741741 to be related to a disaster counselor. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday by means of Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, or electronic mail [email protected] You too can name the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Right here is a list of international resources.

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