Ah, YouTube. You’ve had a rough year so far. From Logan Paul’s video of a dead human body to Logan Paul’s video of himself tasering a dead rat, the worst of YouTube culture has been in the spotlight.
I’ve written a lot about what’s wrong with YouTube over the past several months. But it is also true that I watch a lot of YouTube for fun — just not the same channels that make the news for doing something awful on the regular.
So, to highlight that not everything on YouTube lives in the abyss of humanity’s worst impulses, I asked my co-workers, YouTube creators and other journalists who cover the platform to recommend a channel to me — and to you, the reader. Someone they’ve watched, for fun. Someone, maybe, a bit under the radar. Here are their answers.
[Note: some of the videos embedded below contain non family-friendly language]
Jenny Nicholson is part of the Star Wars fandom, yet she also loves to tear into the fandom. Think Natalie Portman’s Queen Padme character is smart? “I know hindsight is 20/20 and everything, but it seemed kind of extremely obvious that Anakin was turning evil.” She’s been on YouTube talking about Star Wars (and My Little Pony) for years, but she’s riding the crest of the new Star Wars wave, hosting her own show, “Millennial Falcon,” on ScreenJunkies. She’s made Star Wars part of her brand, but she often chimes in on other geeky pop culture moments. Her breakout hit is “Suicide Squad Sales Pitch,” in which she pretends to be a government agent selling the feds on the very dumb idea of freeing and arming supervillains to do covert ops missions. “Why would you do this with bad guys? I don’t know.” Another can’t-miss episode: “How to make up your own Star Wars name.” Her channel is a testament to why blindly holding up a brand on a pedestal will never be as fun (or as smart) as taking it apart. — Gene Park, social media editor at The Washington Post
YouTube has become known for teens pulling outrageous stunts, and 19-year-old Elle Mills, a vlogger from Ottawa, has definitely participated in her share of pranks (she legally married her own sister’s boyfriend in Las Vegas once for a vlog). But unlike other high-profile YouTubers, Elle never crosses the line. Her channel is honest, hilarious, refreshing and outrageously creative. She breaks the mold when it comes to women in comedy on YouTube. Her videos are also some of the most earnest short films you’ll come across on the Internet. If you missed her viral coming out video last fall, it’s definitely worth a watch. Elle recently surpassed 1 million followers and has been getting high-profile promotion from top YouTube talent like vlog legend Casey Neistat. There’s no end to her creativity and enthusiasm, and her videos always put me in a great mood. — Taylor Lorenz, tech and culture reporter at the Daily Beast.
Sometimes it feels as if tech YouTubers are only talking to each other. Watch a few different phone reviews, and you’re bound to hear the same jargon parroted straight off the manufacturer’s website and similar product shots, right down to the fake plant on the all-white table.
That’s not the case with Brownlee. His videos are informative, aesthetically pleasing and, in my opinion, easy to understand. I’d recommend his channel to tech enthusiasts and average consumers alike. He doesn’t appear to be in the pocket of any particular company but instead seems as though he truly wants to inform his viewers about new tech. — Ric Sanchez, social media editor at The Washington Post
YouTube is hard to parse. It’s designed to satisfy a niche’s hunger, not for people to aimlessly browse. YouTube houses so many different, vibrant and strange communities, it’s difficult to identify what defines YouTube culture. Is it pranks? Vlogging? Gaming? Beauty? Why do YouTubers frame their channels a certain way? Why is one person popular and another, who partakes in the same type of content, not? What exactly is a react channel?
Bobby Burns is a 21-year-old YouTuber who’s quickly become the most insightful mouthpiece on these important questions. His channel used to be dedicated to breaking down and explaining film theory but pivoted to commentary on YouTube culture. Burns’s first major recognition from the greater YouTube community happened last year when he took on the disconnect between company executives and YouTube culture as seen in the annual Rewind highlights video. Burns has since then demonstrated how YouTubers manipulate their audiences when delivering important announcements, and staged his own satirical talk show to point out the favoritism YouTube gives to popular late-night series in its Trending tab.
Commentary channels are becoming increasingly more valuable as newcomers to YouTube culture try to understand the intimidating behemoth; Burns is one of the best. He doesn’t hold back his biting opinion but uses enough evidence and visuals to help explain why a certain trend is suddenly everywhere. His genuine interest in understanding Internet culture helps him deliver commentary without coming across condescending. There are other commentary channels, but Burns is someone I check on regularly.
Burns curates an important channel with interesting, educational content that’s beneficial to newcomers and daily users alike. The laughs I get out of watching his videos are just an added bonus. I would, frankly, be lost without him. — Julia Alexander, senior culture reporter at Polygon
I have to be honest: I’m about 90 percent sure that the first time I ever saw a Sailor J video was on Facebook, via one of those random “Who did this!?!?!?” Facebook meme pages that get millions of views from stealing other people’s content. I laughed and felt guilty at the same time, so I tracked down the video to its original source. I’m so happy I did.
Sailor J is a beauty YouTuber in the same way that current-era Jenna Marbles is a beauty YouTuber: Makeup is an important prop for her online persona, but the joy of her videos is in the juxtaposition of a familiar YouTube format with something unexpected. The result is a comedy channel — mostly. Her breakout series, “How to be a ______,” dunks on each zodiac sign, and she’s also in the middle of a similar, equally good series on Hogwarts houses.
But she’s also used the same makeup tutorial structure to comment more seriously on the world around her. After the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, Sailor J uploaded a trenchant review of the “Thoughts and Prayers” makeup line. — Abby Ohlheiser, Internet culture writer at The Washington Post
Stevie Boebi, Michelle Khare
Stevie Boebi makes LGBT sex education videos that are entertaining and desperately needed. Her videos help young queers who often don’t have the resources or means to find out anything about safe sex or their own bodies. We’ve heard from tons of kids who said Stevie’s videos were essential in their coming out process. Unfortunately, under YouTube’s ad policy, her videos are often demonetized and/or not given the placement or support they deserve.
Michelle Khare makes high-quality, intense fitness and lifestyle videos often featuring stunts like racecar driving and superhero training regimes. Michelle puts so much work into her videos that each one is a mini-movie, and she puts her body through hell and back to make high-quality content because she cares so much about what she puts out. She shows young girls it’s cool to be strong. — Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin, co-hosts of “Just Between Us.”
Ingrid Nilsen is probably best known for her tearfully candid coming-out video — “Something I Want You to Know” — from June 2015. It’s been viewed more than 17 million times, a significant number of views by anyone’s standards, but even more significant when you consider Nilsen’s follower count clocks in just shy of 4 million. Before coming out, Nilsen built her brand as a popular beauty vlogger with a successful channel full of the exact types of content you’d expect from somebody in that category. Think helpful curling iron tips and product recommendations. But after coming out, Nilsen’s channel saw a marked shift, one that only made me a bigger fan. (It’s worth noting as a queer, 20-something woman that I’m smack in the center of Nilsen’s target demographic. Still, a good YouTuber is a good YouTuber, and Nilsen is a good YouTuber.) Sure, Nilsen’s content is still a lot of the same “basic” videos of makeup picks, morning routines and apartment tours, but she’s also established herself as the kind of YouTuber who will, in the same breath, tell you which foundation will look good on your oily T-zone and also about the time she interviewed President Barack Obama about marriage equality and domestic terrorism. Both of which she does with equal prowess.
Videos about social issues, such as women’s rights, growing up in a mixed-race family or what it’s like to be Asian — Nilsen’s mother is Thai — and gay, are just as common as videos about lob haircuts and shopping hauls. As an added bonus, Nilsen has a very good dog, a Pomeranian named Tayto, and she’s never once angered her neighbors by lighting a swimming pool on fire in the name of creating a video. (Looking at you here, the younger Mr. Paul.) — Madison Malone Kircher, Internet culture writer at Select All.