YouTube has only been around since 2005 and already it's completely changed the way we look at content creation. YouTube influencers can become multi-millionaires, 20-year-old pranksters are buying Calabasas mansions, and OG vloggers have graduated to major motion pictures and mainstream media gigs. Even two years ago, if you had said that Tana Mongeau and Jake Paul's engagement would be plastered across Cosmo and InStyle, you would've been committed, but even their *fake* pregnancy found its way to TMZ in 2019. YouTube has been changing alongside the media landscape it has transformed. While some of the YouTube stars we stanned during its early days have really gone through it, there are a few who are still thriving.
Dan Howell and Phil Lester, better known as danisnotonfire and amazingphil, have been regular collaborators since Dan started uploading in 2009 and have also been roommates since 2011. For the uninitiated (aka people who were normal in the sixth grade), Dan has over six million subscribers, while Phil has around four million, and the pair have dabbled in radio, voice acting, books, comedy tours, and their own YouTube Red series in the past ten years, however, Dan notably dropped off the face of YouTube a year ago before reappearing in June 2019. Confirming a constant "phan" theory, Dan came out of the closet in his YouTube return, while Phil, who still regularly uploads to the site, followed suit with his own video a week later. The pair didn't address the fact that they're obviously dating and in love during their big reveals, probably because it's none of our business.
Toby Turner, who began his YouTube career as Tobuscus, still has over six million subscribers on both his main channel and his gaming channel, but he's not as relevant as he was in 2006 when his YouTube career began. Back in the old days, Toby collabed with other big names like Annoying Orange, Phillip DeFranco, and Shane Dawson while working closely with mainstream advertisers like NBC, Disney, and Fox. He recently completed a four-book deal with Harper Collins and appeared on American Dad in 2016, so apparently, no one cares about rape allegations these days. In 2016, Toby's ex-girlfriend accused him of drugging and raping her in a lengthy Tumblr post, in addition to regularly cheating on his partners and having a major drug problem. Toby quietly lost a few business partnerships, including a voice role in the Marvel Avengers Academy video game, but his channel hasn't suffered much following his ex's statements.
In 2011, Charlie McDonnell of charlieissocoollike became the first British YouTuber to reach a million subscribers, but now his 2.2 million subs don't seem like as big of a deal compared to stars like Jake Paul's nearly nineteen million fans. Charlie's channel evolved from vlogs, challenge videos, and music videos for his vlogbrothers-approved, Doctor Who-inspired rock band yikes to short films and educational videos about science, but his new direction never really found its audience, with some uploads even struggling to reach 50 thousand views. Honestly, we would sell a kidney to regularly get 50 thousand hits on YouTube, but Charlie announced his retirement from YouTube via Twitter in March 2019.
Michelle Phan is the matriarch, patriarch, and Original God of YouTube beauty channels. Maybe that's why everything in the Beauty YouTube world has gone to sh*t recently — they've spent too long existing in a God-less void with no guiding voice of reason, and now it's just a lawless climb to the top while James Charles, Nikita Dragun, and the likes try to occupy the throne Michelle had left empty. Michelle's YouTube career landed her on 2015's Inc. and Forbes 30 under 30 lists and made her the first Vietnamese Lancôme spokeswoman in 2010, but the pioneer took a nearly two-year hiatus from the site due to exhaustion and image issues. She returned to YouTube in June 2019 with a 24/7 radio Livestream of curated songs, but Variety made it clear this doesn't mean she's going to start vlogging again any time soon.
Not only did Smosh shut down, but they took a whole lot of brands down with them. We're just kidding, it's not Smosh's fault that their parent company, Defy Media, went out of business in 2018, and the Smosh brand is still releasing content after being bought by Rhett and Link's Mythical Entertainment banner, but this isn't the same sketch comedy channel we loved when we were 12. Smosh was the most-subscribed YouTube channel for a few months in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2013 (a simpler time, before that honor was given to a suspected white supremacist for over five years), but their content just hits different following co-creator Anthony Padilla's 2017 exit, citing a lack of creative freedom and frustrations with Defy as reasons for his split in an independently-produced vlog.
Ryan Higa, who has been posting under the moniker nigahiga since 2006, was the most subscribed YouTube channel from 2009 until 2011, but he was killing the YouTube game long before he became one of only 19 channels to ever claim the most-subscribed title. nigahiga is still ridiculously popular, with 21 million subscribers on his main channel and four billion views, a number-one single on the K-pop charts, and a few feature film roles under his belt. Ryan has also been dating Teen Wolf star Arden Cho since 2015, which is a clouted-up relationship if we've ever seen one.
You can count Tana Mongeau amongst Shane Dawson's long-time fans, with the MTV reality star regularly sharing that Shane's channel was her saving grace as a tween. Shane started out as a sketch comedy channel in 2008, but his career went in a different direction in 2015 (which, on an unrelated note, is the same year Shane came out as bisexual) when he started his highly-popular conspiracy show. Shane has now added docu-series to his arsenal, with his most recent installment on Eugenia Cooney receiving praise from the YouTube community and mainstream media. That's not to say Shane hasn't had his share of controversies over the years — obviously, any real friend of Tana's has — but somehow he's managed to side-step any real backlash from what he's described as his former "shock jock" comedic style.
The Vlogbrothers Hank and John Green uploaded a video in July 2019 titled "Why Are We Still Doing This?" which is probably the most relatable thing they've said since 2012. Since their channel began as a way for the brothers to communicate without their phones, the Vlogbrothers and their Nerdfighter community have become an integral part of the YouTube landscape, with Hank creating the occasionally controversial West Coast convention Vidcon and John inadvertently blossoming into the most popular teen romance novelist since Sarah Dessen. It's been over a decade of the brothers posting two videos weekly, and they show no signs of stopping. Since every generation will, undoubtedly, have smart kids who feel misunderstood, the brothers will probably keep "doing this" for new audiences long after their first batch of Nerdfighters have grown beyond their nerdy middle school personas and birthed nerdy middle schoolers of their own.
Raise your hands if you also forgot about Fred. Fred, also known by his birth name Lucas Cruikshank (which is much harder to say and even *harder* to spell), was the first YouTuber to reach one million subscribers. Since that fateful day in 2009, the Fred brand expanded to include movies and a television show on Nickelodeon, but after Fred: The Show was axed, Lucas decided to retire the character permanently. Lucas said in an interview with Tube Filter that his decision to stop making Fred content was because it was becoming forced and redundant, but Lucas still posts as himself on his personal channel, Lucas.
Zoe Sugg, aka the beauty vlogger Zoella, doesn't seem old enough to have been around since we were in our early tweens, but the author, businesswoman, and IG influencer has been uploading to YouTube since 2009. Zoe has nearly 12 million subscribers on her main channel and made bank through her Zoella Beauty and Zoella Lifestyle product lines (which she chose to discontinue beginning in 2020) and continues to diversify her portfolio with photography apps, a brand agency, a ColourPop collaboration, and a Young Adult novel series, although Social Blade shows that her views and subs have been on a steady decline since 2017.
Jenna Marbles went viral multiple times in the early 2000s, and most of us probably found the proud dog mom through "How To Trick People Into Thinking You're Good Looking" or "How To Avoid Talking To People You Don't Want To Talk To," which respectively have 68.8 million and 36.6 million views and were featured in The New York Times and on ABC News in 2011. Her more recent videos haven't reached similar astronomical highs, but Jenna still has a solid following of nearly twenty million subscribers, and she's just as goofy and topical as ever.
Nicki Swift wrote a fairly savage takedown of Tyler Oakley's current career, noting that a failed development deal with Ellen DeGeneres in 2016 was likely the beginning of the end for the advocate and early YouTube partner. Tyler appeared on The Amazing Race that same year and has done videos with Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, but, as Nicki theorized, his attempts to reach beyond YouTube into mainstream media lead to a decline in his YouTube channel with an average of 100 thousand of his seven and a half million subscribers actually watching his videos.
Colleen Ballinger is BFFs with Ariana Grande and appeared in the "Thank U, Next" music video, so clearly the mind behind Miranda Sings is on a roller coaster that only goes up. Miranda Sings recently celebrated a decade on YouTube, following a short-lived Netflix sitcom, Haters Back Off!, a number-one best-selling book, and an appearence alongside Jerry Seinfeld on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Miranda has over 10 million subscribers and released a live comedy special for Netflix in 2019 because she's still hilarious.
Ray William Johnson started posting in 2009 with a web series called Equals Three, which made him the most-subscribed YouTuber to appear at Hank Green's first VidCon in 2010 and eventually led to shoutouts from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter in 2013 for his online comedy series. Ray left Equals Three in 2014 to focus on film production, acting, and his own vlogs. Ray's vlogging channel got significantly fewer views than Equals Three, and he seemed to have stopped uploading entirely in 2018.
Bethany Mota was in middle school while we were in middle school, which makes her early YouTube fame in 2009 even more impressive. Bethany's first haul video got over five million views, and her profile has only grown since then through partnerships with J.C. Penny, Forever21, and Aeropostale, joining YouTube's first advertising campaign, and interviewing then-President Barack Obama following his 2015 State of the Union Address. Outside of YouTube, Bethany made it to the finals of Dancing with the Stars with champion coach Derek Hough, was a guest judge on Project Runway, and is a brand ambassador with UNICEF.
The first VidCon bragged that featured creator Phillip DeFranco's The Phillip DeFranco Show had more regular viewers than Anderson Cooper 360, and he's still hosting the four-days-a-week news show with six million subscribers and roughly a million views on each video. Still, Phillip's days on the show may be numbered. Philip announced at VidCon 2018 that he intended to leave the show in the next three years, finding new people to continue his legacy in front of the camera as he explores other online ventures.
Ze Frank is one of the earliest YouTube stars, with his year-long news experiment The Show with Ze Frank appearing only a year after YouTube's launch and, as Vidcon 2010 noted, popularizing a lot of vlogging techniques that we now consider standard. Ze Frank left YouTube in 2014 to become a big whig at BuzzFeed and an adjunct professor at ITP/NYU, Parsons School of Design, and SUNY Purchase, but he randomly returned to YouTube four years after leaving BuzzFeed and has been sporadically uploading new installments of his True Facts YouTube series.
Another star pulled from VidCon's first featured creator lineup, Natalie Tran's half-a-million subscribers made her one of the biggest YouTube stars of the late '00s. Better known as communitychannel, Natalie used to be one of Australia's biggest YouTubers, but she's never broken two million subscribers. Social Blade shows that Natalie's channel has averaged less than a thousand new subscribers for the past two years, probably because she stopped uploading all together sometime in 2017 without so much as a goodbye tweet.
The Gregory Brothers are the voices behind Auto-Tune the News, who you probably remember from YouTube's most popular video of 2010, "Bed Intruder Song." When they're not climbing in your windows or snatching your people up, looking at double rainbows all the way across the sky, or backin' up, The Gregory Brothers are still songify-ing the news, movies, and various holidays for their three million subscribers. Every so often, their hilarious autotuned creations will still go viral, but nothing has beat "Bed Intruder Song" and its 144 million views.
Grace Helbig became popular through her daily vlog channel run by My Damn Channel in 2008, reaching 2.4 million subscribers by 2013, which was a pretty big deal back then. Although, to be fair (again), if we got 2.4 million subscribers on anything we would literally sh*t ourselves, so big congrats to Grace. By 2014, Grace split from My Damn Channel to make her own main channel, it'sGrace, which passed one million subscribers only two and a half weeks after Grace's departure from her My Damn Channel DailyGrace vlogging channel. Grace still regularly uploads, often with regular collaborator Mamrie Hart, and very briefly had her own comedy talk show for E!, but somehow she's kept a fairly low profile in the mainstream compared to other modern YouTube personalities.