It took me a long time to get “into” YouTube. In the early days, I remember people at work showing each other videos of people falling off skateboards and of animals doing adorable things and I didn’t really see the appeal. And until 2009 I was living with internet from a Vodafone dongle and my internet wasn’t fast enough to play video. Imagine that. I was happy with internet that wouldn’t play video. For years. Those were different times.
This all began to change in the autumn of 2010. One Direction were on the X Factor and I was falling for them. Hard. I still remember being so pumped and so excited after their first live show performance (of Viva la Vida) that I couldn’t stay in my seat. At this stage, I had started to use YouTube to watch music videos and I spent most of the next week watching One Direction’s first performance again and again. And the same happened in later weeks, YouTube began to catch on and started suggesting other videos to me.
One Direction were recording video diaries every week of the competition. My five boys would sit on the stairs and answer questions and chat and goof around and I got to know them. I watched these videos multiple times too. Sainsbury’s were doing a weird promotion with the X Factor that year too and were posting videos of the contestants being taught to cook. There were a lot of extra videos being churned out with One Direction and I was lapping them all up like the the thirsty monster that I am.
I wanted them to be my friends. They were so much fun. When I was a teenager and was obsessing about Pulp or the Beatles or Robbie Williams, I couldn’t really get to know any of them outside of their music. Being a fan in 2010 was different. I got to know each of the boys well, or at least I got to know the side they presented to YouTube well. They got more polished and media-ready as time went by, but there is a realness to how they presented themselves back then.
And the number of videos kept on increasing. There are thousands of hours of One Direction on YouTube. Maybe more. There are videos of interviews they did, and videos of them being papped and there are videos of them at their concerts and at publicity events. And then there are fan videos. Videos that “prove” that Louis and Harry are in love, videos to show moments that Niall made the others laugh, videos that compile all the moments that Zayn was broody, videos of Liam’s arms flexing over and over again. One Direction have a massive army of fans, and you really never need to not be watching One Direction videos on YouTube if you want to be.
YouTube somehow figured out that I enjoyed videos with good-looking young men and one morning in 2012, it suggested I watch a video of three young men discussing internet slang. It’s a silly video. But it was my portal to the world of “YouTubers”.
YouTubers are people who create content for YouTube; stereotypically they’re young and they have nice hair and perfect skin and they make a living by making videos and uploading them to YouTube.
I watched the video above two or three times. They were all just lovely boys. Lovely, lovely boys. YouTube suggested some more videos I could watch. I soon lost interest in the two twins and got invested in the boy in the middle, who goes by the name “DanIsNotOnFire”.
Dan makes videos in his London flat about his life and his opinions. They’re entertaining and funny. Some of them are very Project Connorish – his series of videos about why his life is a disaster (Reasons Why Dan’s a Fail) as well as his semi-frequent existential crises. I identify with him. But I also enjoy spending time with him.
He dropped out of university (he was studying Law in Manchester) and became a full-time YouTuber. He makes a lot of videos with his friend and flatmate, AmazingPhil. It took me longer to get into Phil’s videos than Dan’s, but by late 2014, I was fully invested in both of them. A lot of their lives ends up on video. And of course it’s produced and edited and selective, but there’s such a great volume of it that, as is the case with One Direction, you can’t help but get to “know” Dan and Phil better than any TV star.
Dan and Phil have been extraordinarily successful, each of them having millions of subscribers. They have published two books, they had a weekly BBC Radio One show and then gave it up so they could do a world tour. A world tour. And I have consumed all of the content that I could. I’ve watched hours of their radio show on YouTube. They started a “gaming” channel, where they play video games together. I don’t play computer games. I have no interest in computer games, but I watch every single one of their gaming videos because I just enjoy their company. They do live YouNow shows almost once a week (Dan on Tuesdays, Phil on Thursdays), where they just sit in their respective bedrooms and chat and answer fan’s questions, and if I don’t catch them live, one of their many internet fans will record it and post it to YouTube, so I’ll watch it then. If I can’t, fans also post text summaries of their YouNows on GoogleDocs.
Internet friends are gloriously dependable and undemanding. They don’t know that I exist, but I know so much about them. I can describe the furniture in their apartment better than in any of my brothers’ or sister’s houses. I know the foods they like and dislike, the TV shows they’re watching, what they’re reading, what their travel plans are. It is kind of like having friends.
Of course, there are hundreds and thousands of words of Dan and Phil fanfiction out there and of course, I’ve spent hours reading it.
Dan and Phil are both publicly straight. Dan in particular has said in many older YouNows that he is straight. Dan’s celebrity crush is Jennifer Lawrence and Phil’s is Sarah Michelle Gellar.
However, that doesn’t stop fan theories. I’ve watched the videos “proving” that Louis and Harry from One Direction are a couple and I don’t believe that they are (even though those boys do touch each other an awful lot). The proofs in the case of Dan and Phil are a bit more persuasive, and there is an awful lot written about it.
And Dan has started to leave clues. In a video with his friend Louise, he referred to himself as “sexually ambiguous” and then he transitioned his celebrity crush from Jennifer Lawrence to Jennifer Lawrence as a girl crush and Evan Peters as a boy crush, and then just to Evan Peters. And then there was the night of the anime videos. Dan posted two sponsored videos that he made for an anime streaming service and he very deliberately recommended an anime about a boys’ swimming team that he watches because he enjoys all the cartoon abs.
What a moment! I subscribed to the anime service immediately, watched two cartoons, was incredibly bored and unsubscribed. But that didn’t matter. Dan had basically just come out.
I tweeted an older YouTuber that night. He’s not really a YouTuber. He’s a journalist who made a YouTube series about YouTubers, but he doesn’t really post his own stuff on YouTube. He tweets a lot about Zayn from One Direction and about Dan and Phil. Surely, we would be friends. I sent him an emotional tweet after Dan’s anime video, asking him if he thought it was normal that I was this old and that Zayn and Dan mattered to me this much. I meant it in a hyperbolic, gay-on-the-internet kind of way, but he took it seriously and recommended I seek help. I was so mortified that I unfollowed him.
Anyway, I continue to be enchanted by Dan and Phil. And they introduced me to the world of YouTube. And through them, I discovered more that I love. I love Louise “SprinkleOfGlitter” and her beauty and lifestyle videos. She has a tooth gap just like me. And I love Tyler Oakley and his loud and overly-confident gay celebrity-driven videos. And I love Natalie Tran and her clever comedy videos. And I love Owen Jones and his socialist ranty videos. And I love Davey Wavey and his shirtless gay lifestyle videos. And I love Obese2Beast and his weightloss videos. And I love Movie Bitches and their RuPaul’s Drag Race reviews. And I love Mark Parsons and his One Direction cartoons. And I love Chez Lindsay and her angry cultural and film analysis videos. And I love Willam Belli and her bitchy takedowns.
YouTube is where light entertainment lives. TV is dead, as far as light entertainment goes anyway. And YouTube has eaten it.
I’ve been getting more and more obsessed with YouTube as the last few years went on. It provides me with comfort and warmth and humour and education and information and fun. At first it was just as a watcher, but in recent months and years, I’ve been thinking more and more about creating my own stuff. And it may be awful and cringey and unwatchable, but I have three very definite ideas for three different YouTube channels and now I’m in London and I’m saying yes. I’ll have my first video up this week.
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