YouTube's Throwbacks and Comeback Kids are Worth Revisiting

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Whether or not you support the culture and ethics of YouTube—the insensitive and salacious clickbait, and outrageous thumbnails—you understand that it's no different than TV and Netflix, or any other form of media you use to entertain yourself...

YouTube—a playground for the terminally bored, and the website you visit to learn how to make poached eggs—is a DIY platform where regular people jump online for ten minutes to talk about their weird Uber experiences, clothing hauls, new horror game releases, and quirky sugar daddy experiences. YouTube is the platform that best represents what millennials are all about—the "StoryTime" videos, the countless scare pranks where unassuming men and women are harassed in elevators, and teenage girls and boys garnering Beiber-esque fandom from vlogging, are all a mirror of Generation Y. Yeah, that YouTube, where the bully in your English class is somehow paying rent for his studio apartment on a schedule of three video uploads a week.

Whether or not you support the culture and ethics of YouTube—the insensitive and salacious clickbait, and outrageous thumbnails—you understand that it's no different than TV and Netflix, or any other form of media you use to entertain yourself after work, on the weekends, and during bouts of chronic procrastination. The catch is that your next-door neighbor is streaming his/her life online as a job. When dead bodies in the Suicide Forest aren't used for clickbait, or random exclamations of the N-word aren't accidentally blurted during a live-streaming shootout, YouTube can be a place of unbridled creation, DIY comedy, and unimpeded debate. But a website dedicated to the tides of culture—the newest drama online, hyped products on Instagram, and trending, social media fodder—is a website that introduces new starry-eyed college grads just as fast as it trades 'em up for baby-faced high schoolers.

Before you slam your head against your keyboard, declaring millennials as lazy, privileged brats, consider how millennials capitalized off of an of-the-moment market, a landscape where everyday charm is profitable to millions of subscribers. YouTube has some of the most noteworthy comeback kids in popular culture: regular people screwing up and miraculously recovering with heartfelt apologies and tweets (the type of contrition reserved for A-list celebrities). But not all of YouTube's celebs are publicly chastised after idiotic slip-ups; some simply take a break, you know, for personal reasons. And some have stuck to their grind, sharing their ups and downs with the world.

Ray William Johnson

Remember Ray William Johnson and his popular web series Equals Three (stylized as =3)? He reviewed viral videos, usually people falling, tripping, and slamming into things. He was one of the biggest YouTubers with nearly 10.4 million subscribers and billions of views total on his video archives. Johnson took a hiatus from Equals Three after publicly announcing he wanted to explore other business ventures—filmmaking (Riley Rewind), and developing a script with FX. Johnson also produced hilarious music videos under the name "Your Favorite Martian," a collection of pop-inspired tracks that were actually catchy and worthy of download on iTunes.

Charlie Puth

Before Charlie Puth was a celebrity pop star, making hits with Meghan Trainor and G-Eazy, he was a nerdy boy on YouTube who made comedy skits and music videos featuring his friends and family. If you're curious to see Puth's earlier work ("Who threw this pickle at me?!"), you'll be sad to know he deleted all of his original content. Puth is doing big boy things now, for big boy money. RIP Charlie Puth's YouTube vids.


Far East Movement's "Folk Music" opened Kev Wu's videos that were filmed in his house, often featuring his charismatic father, and everyday household props. Watching KevJumba was like watching the kid on your cul-de-sac you've never talked to—the one in basketball shorts and Nike sandals with socks, blasting hip-hop from his windows, with Sailor Moon in the background. He made uncool things very cool, and average parts of life hilarious and endearing. His recent upload on Christmas day confirmed rumors that his hiatus wasn't a weird stint in a religious cult, but a spiritual journey learning about Buddhism.

Julian Smith

Jellyfish…jelly fish…jellyfish. Julian Smith was the king of whimsical humor. Uploads of an odd and quote-worthy character named Jeffery Dallas brought in millions of views. Whether Dallas was making hot Kool-Aid, peeing with the door open, mispronouncing milk, or arguing about waffle equality, his quest to be heard never went unnoticed. In his latest video, Smith details why he took a one-year break from YouTube, and it's a refreshing take on Internet fame and popularity. Word of advice, don't eat a live jellyfish, lest you end up a Jeffery Dallas. In Smith's humble words, "I MADE THIS FOR YOU!"

Shane Dawson

The OG. (A classic YouTuber to those of us who graduated high school in 2013.) Shane Dawson is the boy who wore lipstick and wigs, and made millions of people laugh with his extensive theater of outrageous characters on "ShaneDawsonTV": Shananay (a drug addict and sex fiend), S-Deezy (a wannabe wanksta), Paris Hilton (a hilarious impersonator), Amy (a girl desperate for popularity), and Switch (a poster child for Emo kids everywhere). He's amassed 20 million subscribers in his career and is still going strong. Dawson has also ventured into TV and has one memoir, I Hate Myselfie: A Collection of Essays, and a book titled, It Gets Worse. Through the years, Dawson has remained one of the most entertaining voices on YouTube.

Simon and Martina

Your favorite Canadians turned Korean and Japanese expats hosted "Eat Your Kimchi," a channel exploring the differences between Korean and Western culture. A favorite among American K-pop fans, and a go-to destination channel for high schoolers who enjoyed every new Big Bang single, or Hyuna music video, "Eat Your Kimchi" was like the TRL of YouTube. Husband and wife, Simon and Martina Stawski, reviewed the latest K-pop singles and albums, commenting on the fashion and music videos trending in Korean pop culture. Their videos were (and still are) light, fluffy, and everything that makes YouTube special. Plus, their pets are adorable (and worth turning off your Google AdBlock plug-in to their support their channel).

What's your favorite channel on YouTube? Leave your interesting or creative responses in the comment section below.

Ray William Johnson


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.

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