The baffling brilliance of PewDiePie, YouTube’s biggest star: 10 billion views and counting
Felix Kjellberg’s videos range from game reviews to conversations between him and his girlfriend
The Washington Post
‘PewDiePie’ – the first person to ever hit 10 billion YouTube views. Photo: SCMP Pictures
If you don’t know Felix Kjellberg, you may be in the minority.
In the past three months, the 25-year-old YouTuber has scored a lengthy profile in ESPN and the cover of Variety. He’s written a book for teens that is already among Amazon.com’s most popular – a full month before its release.
And on Sunday, he added a new record to his resume: He’s the first person to ever reach 10 billion YouTube views.
Despite all this, Kjellberg isn’t exactly a household name. The majority of his fans are teenagers with a keen, pre-existing interest in video games. When another YouTuber asked adults to watch Kjellberg’s YouTube channel for a reaction video in 2012, he caught a mix of incredulity, bewilderment … and annoyance.
“The humour, I just don’t understand it,” Kjellberg’s own mother once said. “I’ll see in the comments, ‘Check out 4:26. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.’ I’ll go there and don’t find anything that resembles a joke.”
Kjellberg, who goes by the moniker “PewDiePie” online (“pew” for the sound laser guns make, “die” for death, pie for … no particular reason), was born in Gothenberg, Sweden, in 1989. His parents are both high-powered corporate executives.
While he did study industrial engineering for a time, Kjellberg far preferred making art and playing video games. Dropping out to play games full-time on YouTube was, he has said, “not easy” to discuss with his parents.
From more or less the beginning, though, Kjellberg’s videos were a hit. He founded PewDiePie in 2010 and began uploading videos of himself playing horror games, which he would narrate in absurd, exaggerated ways.
By 2011, he had attracted an international following. By 2012, he had moved out of his parents’ house and begun dating one of his fans, an Italian woman named Marzia Bisognin.
Since then, Kjellberg has built YouTube’s largest audience and signed to Disney-owned Maker Studios. In 2014, Kjellsberg made more than US$7 million – so much that he felt he had to justify it in an explanatory six-minute video.
That video, published two months ago, makes a good example of Kjellsberg’s range – someone whose appeal lies in his lifestyle and camera-ready demeanour.
His short, under-produced pieces can pivot from first-person game reviews, to conversations between him and girlfriend Bisognin, to lengthy, stream-of-consciousness updates about his pugs and his personal life in Bristol, England.
To many people, Kjellsberg’s mother included, this makes for a baffling performance. Kjellsberg isn’t a particularly witty or nuanced comedian. His commentary on gaming isn’t all that incisive.
Instead, he embodies a cultural value that’s particularly important to the YouTube generation: He comes across as 100 per cent authentic.
“YouTube breaks the barrier between the audience and the creator,” Kjellberg told Variety, when the magazine named him its No.1 digital star over the summer. “They feel a connection to the one they’re watching.”
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 September, 2015, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 September, 2015, 10:53pm