The latest wax figures to grace the halls of Madame Tussauds are of Alfie Deyes and Zoe Sugg, a couple in their mid-twenties. These millennials are two of a growing group who have found success through YouTube. Combined, the YouTube channels of Deyes and Sugg have nearly 15 million subscribers - a number not easily ignored.
So it’s with good reason that Tussauds have created a new ‘YouTube’ section for this fresh brand of star. These millennials stand out from their waxy peers because, unlike other celebrities created through a culture of idolisation, young YouTube stars generate followings as a result of their accessibility and normalness.
YouTube is perceived as a place inhabited only by videos of cute pets or weird kids, waiting to go viral. But beyond the viral videos are tools – in the simple form of a subscription, commenting and messaging system – to create huge social networks where one vlogger can create a personal-feeling relationship with millions of viewers.
Deyes, Sugg, and their managers strive to maintain a trustworthy relationship with their audience (even if it means turning down lucrative offers). The millions of subscribers stick around because they perceive these bloggers as trustworthy friends. Just as you trust a friend to recommend an experience or product, millions turn to the likes of Zoe ‘Zoella’ Sugg for lifestyle recommendations.
You might consider this to be insidious: millions of kids are being influenced by people they’ve never met and probably never will. But consider the recent backlash against Sugg after it was discovered that she used a ghost writer for her novel. Sugg’s ghost-writing controversy reveals a savvy generation that gives currency to transparency and complete openness. We need to look at the internet not as an abstract, isolating entity, full of dangerous corners. It’s a place in which genuine (albeit hyperreal) relationships can be created.
YouTube is a place for video content paired with dialogue and growth. Transactions between vlogger and viewer go beyond one-way entertainment and education. These brands of normalcy are best thought of as akin to small communities, villages even, which thrive on neighbourliness and the camaraderie of the local marketplace. Sales are less to do with having competitive prices and more to do with whether you are liked and respected, emotions which are gradually formed through constant engagement and response.
The importance of this lies in how we think of the modern mediums we use. Potential audiences are huge, but this needn’t mean that tone, content and style should be impersonal. Popular channels (such as ‘Zoella’ or an international contemporary like Connor Franta) have eclectic content, from encouraging their viewers to donate to charity to buying music and merchandise to educating their audience about anxiety, depression and sexuality. These YouTubers show that the tools at our fingertips are most effective when we blend the professional and the personal.
Perhaps the epitome of this is GiGi Gorgeous, a Canadian Youtuber with nearly 2 Million subscribers. Mad Men, a programme about advertising, found it difficult to incorporate product placement into the show. Yet GiGi has videos which get millions of views precisely because she’s promoting products, all intermixed with videos that span her entire transition from male to female where she gives tell-all accounts of her surgeries and stories.
The genius of those who make a living through YouTube is that they don’t have loyal viewers but loyal friends. A seamless blend of brand and person allows a viewer to celebrate a YouTuber’s success as they would that of a friend, translating joy to action by commenting, liking and favouriting, or going even further to buy featured products. In repeating all the actions which made the YouTuber so popular in the first place, a perfect storm is generated in order to create this self-fulfilling prophesy of success.
If you do visit the creepy wax replicas at Madame Tussauds, it’s worth taking a moment to stop in wonder at the vision of Deyes and Sugg sitting on their bed. Despite their innocuous appearance, they’re at the front of an internet generation who are digitally rewriting the rules of everyday life. Just don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe.