I sommarnumret av ICON reser vi hem till Laird Hamilton och hans familj på Hawaii för ett unikt möte med världens främste big wave-surfare genom tiderna. Vi intervjuar Alfred Hitchcocks musa, skådespelarikonen Tippi Hedren, i dag 85 år, om hur hon levde med vilda lejon i hemmet under 1970-talet. Målsprutan Lotta Schelin siktar på VM-guld. Dessutom: SVT:s Hanna Stjärne, Fotografiskas bröderna Broman, John Cleese om humor, Erik Videgårds high five och Ellie Kempers fascination för Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. Vi visar sommarmode från ett Kuba i förändring, svarar på frågan vad som smakar gott och lär dig allt du behöver om olja, det svarta guldet.
In spring of 2007, 17-year old Felix is sitting in his room at home in Gothenburg. His computer is on. His character in World of Warcraft, an orc warrior, has reached 70, the maximum level. Felix has played World of Warcraft for two years now and he’s very competitive. He devotes all his free time to game strategy and thinking about gaming. Given the choice between gaming and meeting up with friends, he always goes for World of Warcraft. He has almost finished his second high school year at the Social science & Economy program at Göteborgs Högre Samskola. Now that his character has reached the maximum level, he begins the process of creating a new character, to start it all over again. Suddenly the realization hits him.
– What am I doing? For real, what do I get out of this? Now that I’ve reached the highest level, should I start over from scratch? This whole thing is just killing my time, says Felix Kjellberg.
– The gaming had had a negative effect; I had become introverted and passive.
Instead, he began focusing on his studies. In just one year, he turned his mediocre grades into top ones.
– Whenever I get involved in something, I get extremely engaged. I don’t quit until I reach my goals. Achieving what I want is all I think about, says Felix Kjellberg.
It’s late in May. There’s a light drizzle in Brighton. We’re sitting in the home Felix shares with his girlfriend Marzia Bisognin. It’s been seven years since he had his revelation about how gaming had changed him. Since, Felix has turned from a lonely, introverted WoW-gamer to something completely different: Pewdiepie.
Just reaching Felix Kjellberg took months. It required more than 10 phone calls to his parents and even more e-mails sent to several inactive mail addresses before finally getting in direct contact with him. He has no manager, no assistant or friend to help out with work-related contacts.
The truth is that Felix Kjellberg doesn’t need to do this interview.
All those faces you see on the cover of magazines are there for a reason: They have something to sell. A message or a product. They need to stay on good terms with the media, and at times with various advertisers or sponsors. By doing interviews, they want to reach more people, a new audience.
Felix Kjellberg sells something too: his YouTube-channel and his YouTube-alias Pewdiepie. Icon magazine has a circulation of roughly 18 000 issues and a readership three or four times larger than that. Pewdiepie gets more subscribers than that – every day. From November of last year till May this year, his subscribers increased from 16 million to 27 million. That’s almost a new person each second, somewhere on the planet, who chooses to subscribe to his channel.
Today, close to 31 million people subscribe to his videos. Pewdiepie makes let’s play-videos, that is to say that he films himself playing various games while commenting on them. His close to 2 000 videos have been viewed more than 6,1 billion times. He’s easily the world’s biggest YouTuber.
Barack Obama? Beyoncé? One Direction? Not even together do they come close to Felix’s numbers (if combined, they reach only about 20 million subscribers). No daily paper, TV-show or news site in the world can touch his reach. In order to ”sell” his YouTube-channel he doesn’t need to do interviews – he can speak directly to his own audience.
Previously, he has also turned down – or rather neglected to reply to – all the interview proposals he receives every day. This is his first cover interview ever. In recent months, magazines like Variety, New York Magazine and Fast Company have put YouTubers on their covers and written about ”the great new entertainment phenomenon”. TV-shows like The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon and Skavlan have also asked Pewdiepie for interviews, but he has consistently turned them down.
How come you agreed to meet with us?
– So many people know ”Pewdiepie” that I thought it would be nice if more people would get to know what I am like as a person too. You were also flexible when it came to meeting times, and I appreciate things like that, ha ha.
We meet up at 08.00 am in Brighton. Felix has already been up for two hours, editing. Despite the fact that he and his girlfriend – who, under the name CutiepieMarzia is also a huge YouTuber in her own right with 4 million subscribers –– could travel in luxury all over the world on a never-ending tour attending events and gaming conventions, he turns it all down in order to work.
The couple are just 24 and 21 respectively, something you wouldn’t be able to tell from their decorating style. Their Victorian apartment has three small rooms and the living room ceiling is five meter high. With all the stucco and architectural adornments, the living room is reminiscent of an elaborate cake. In the living room, gilded baroque furniture stand next to a carved antique cabinet with hand painted floral decorations (”We bought it on Ebay”) and a dining set with a glass table and upholstered chairs with what looks like Versace-suns on their backs (”They’re not Versace”).
They sleep on a loft they’ve built in the room, accessed through a narrow staircase with a glass banister. The couples’ two pugs, the overly enthusiastic and energetic Edgar and grumpy one-eyed Maya keep us company.
Traditionally, the entertainment industry has been sharply divided according to status – Hollywood movies and movie stars are considered ”finer” than the TV-networks and TV-actors, who in turn are naturally “finer” than the gaming world and the online world. According to this old-school scale, YouTubers should place at the very bottom.
When a film company invests heavily in an unknown young actor, it is a risky undertaking as it’s hard to guarantee a profitable return based on uncertain figures such as presumptive audience, potential fan base and merchandise sales. The digital platforms have turned all that around. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection, or just a smartphone, can publish themselves online. People with talent and persistence can build their audience and make their own money – leaving old intermediaries like media houses, talent scouts, agents and production companies out of the picture.
When he started out, Felix Kjellberg didn’t have any notion that his videos would grant him anything beyond personal amusement. At first, he posted a few self-edited game scenes without commentary. And then a few cuts where he played computer games while commenting on them. The genre is called let’s play. It has grown gigantic in scale in recent years, but when Felix started out, it was still fairly unassuming.
– Back then vlogging – video diaries – was the most popular trend on YouTube, gaming was big but… this sounds silly … there was no person who was ”the gamer”. There was room for someone like me.
In high school, Felix Kjellberg’s goal was to get good enough grades to be accepted into the Industrial Engineering Masters Program at Chalmers University of Technology
in Gothenburg. After completing a Science Foundation year, he got in at the first try.
– But once studies begun, I noticed that I had nothing in common with the rest of the people in the program. They all wanted to make a business career, something I had no interest in what so ever.
While he was a student at Chalmers, his videos started to take off, attracting an increasingly large number of viewers. He had tried playing the horror game Amnesia, filming himself as he screamed his way through the scariest scenes of the game.
– That was the first time people who commented asked me to make more videos. It was an incredible feeling.
At this point, he was uploading several clips every day. Since he had begun filming himself, his audience had also changed. In the beginning, his audience was 99 percent male, but from now on, more girls started watching too.
– It was really like that, but 45 percent of all gamers are girls, so it’s not that strange, he says.
And as fate would have it, one Italian viewer sent a clip to a friend along with the comment: ”Take a look at this moron!” The friend happened to be Italian Marzia Bisognin, who didn’t agree that Pewdiepie-Felix was a moron at all. Instead, she started following his YouTube-channel and after some time, she sent him a message on Facebook. Around this time, he had 1 500 subscribers and read every e-mail he received. Felix and Marzia begun e-mailing each other and exchanged video messages every day for two months. Without telling his parents beforehand, Felix simply left a note on the kitchen table saying he’d gone to Italy. Marzia and one of her friends met him at the airport. The ride home to her parents was uncomfortable and embarrassing. But the romance endured reality and Felix stayed for two weeks. Marzia subsequently moved to Sweden and a while later the couple moved to Italy together.
– But living there didn’t work, the Internet connection was terrible. It took too long just posting videos on YouTube, says Felix Kjellberg.
Moving to Brighton turned out to be a rational solution, as they both wanted to live in a city close to a big city, preferably close to the sea, somewhere where people spoke English. They tried living in Los Angeles too, which is really a more logical decision considering the couple’s jobs.
– Making movies has never felt as much as a job as it did there. Everybody wanted to collaborate and meet up – and it was fun meeting people from the same world, but in the end I still wanted to just sit down and nerd around with my computer. It was fun for a while, but it was enough.
What kind of offers did you receive?
– Gaming companies and TV-shows got in touch. I’m sure some things would be great, but I get offers every day, and not to be a diva, but I don’t have the time if I want to keep updating every day. There was one thing I did agree to do, to be an actor in a feature film. The idea was that I would play myself and get brutally murdered. But in the end, the film was never made.
Would you like to create a game of your own?
– Yes I would, but it’s hard.
There must be tons of people who’d like to make a game with you?
– Sure, you know, it would be super easy for me to make a game. I could join forces with someone who’s working on a game that’s halfway done and they could just add a Pewdiepie face to a character. But if I was to make a game, I’d like it to be really great and that would take an enormous amount of time to achieve, and I don’t have that time right now. I would definitely like to make a game at some point and sure, you can make tons of money from games, but that’s not what I’m after. So it doesn’t matter.
Gaming press recently reported that the four years old game Skate 3 from ea had made it to the bestseller list because Pewdiepie had posted a series of clips on the game earlier this year. Since he did, demand for the game has been so high that ea has had to bring the game back into production despite the fact that it is a lousy skate game suffering from tons of problems, making it excellent comedy material for YouTube. But Felix Kjellberg has also been helpful in the success of the horror game Slender and the humor games Goat Simulator and Flappy Birds.
– Nobody knew about Slender, the trailer had like 50 views when I found it two years ago. I played the game and it caused somewhat of an explosion, it was really weird to see. I played Flappy Birds too and it became really popular, but it’s a game that probably would have become successful even without me. But you can look at the statistics and see that games increase to an extreme degree when I play them.
What happens to you then? After making a game big?
– Nothing, ha ha … nobody thanks me! Really though, it depends, some people do get in touch but many don’t. The guy who created Slender could make a full version of the game and made tons of money, but he actually didn’t get in touch at all.
Do you play outside YouTube?
– No, all my gaming is for YouTube. When it comes to games, my own personal taste differs a lot from the ones I play on YouTube. The games that are the best suited for YouTube are the really terrible games – if you want to be nice you could call them diamonds in the rough. One game I really wanted to play was Dark Souls, but often great games result in boring videos. That one I still managed to goof around with, which I’m really proud of. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to play it.
If you get an advance copy of a game and make a few cuts from it, it’s a jackpot for the game maker – you have a perfect and extremely large niched audience?
– Yes, that’s true. I don’t want to sound like a diva, but yes. It’s almost scary to have that kind of influence. It’s almost gotten to the point that I don’t want it. I just want to play the games, not influence sales.
If a game is really bad, do you say so?
– No, I try to keep everything relatively positive. I don’t want people to feel like shit because of me.
In your videos, you’re always so happy and enthusiastic, do you never think to yourself ”Man, this is such a crappy game, I really don’t care about this”?
– Up until a year ago I could force myself to play a game through, but it’s the worst feeling so I don’t do that anymore. These days, I just quit.
When it comes to your video production, how far ahead do you work?
– Not far at all, a day or so, at the most. Some people work ahead, but I’ve noticed that if something doesn’t work I have to drop it right away, and then it’s just a waste of time if I’ve edited a bunch of videos in advance. My fans don’t know it, but they’re the ones who really decide the content on my channel.
I tailor the content according to the response I receive. It may shift from day to day. But I think it’s one of the reasons why I’ve succeeded. I read as many comments as I possibly can. Even if it gets repetitive at times, it’s important and fun. That’s what made YouTube fun in the beginning – that there were viewers who would instantly tell you if they found something funny or not.
Which videos are the most popular?
– I’ve never really had any one video that’s been a lot more popular than the others. My audience has grown successively. But certain things always attract a large audience – videos with Marzia, when I vlog … at the same time, it’s important to keep trying new things. If I had kept to just playing horror games, I wouldn’t have the following that I do today. I keep testing new things all the time.
While Felix and Marzia’s overall decorating style is leaning towards a fluffy and meringue-y direction, Felix’s gaming room is something completely different. Squeezed in between kitchen and bathroom, with small dark windows along the top end of the wall, the room suffers from poor air conditioning. There’s a couch along one end of the room. That’s where you sit if you’re playing TV-games. Right across, there’s a table with two large screens – one for recordings and the other for software – microphone, lighting and other essential equipment. On the walls, there are horror themed paintings, a man in a hood but without a face and an evil clown.
– If I weren’t gaming so much, I’d spend more time doing art. I’ve always loved drawing and playing around with Photoshop. My grandmother has a gallery in Fiskebäckskil, she let me exhibit a few artworks there. I’d made pictures of Little Red Riding Hood from the perspective of the wolf’s mouth. The local county administration bought one of them. I bought my first computer with the money I made.
Once the screens and lights are all turned on, it gets very hot very quickly in the little room. Marzia usually records her videos in the couple’s bedroom up on the loft. In the background, you can often hear the sound of Felix shouting from his room.
– I can’t open the windows, it would disturb the neighbors.
The comments on YouTube make up a very special kind of monster. Overly enthusiastic, hateful, flattering, self-centered, they’re a mix of everything from spam and self-advertising to apparent troll comments (and the naïve who can’t help but respond to the trolls), mixed with heartfelt tributes. The fans treat Pewdiepie both like a friend and as an unobtainable idol. Many do everything in their power to get attention, a reaction. One recurring comment is ”Notice me senpai”, a phrase Felix coined long ago and which is a standing joke among the fans, though also often meant seriously.
Felix has close to 4 million followers on Twitter. When he replies to any of the hundreds of fan accounts – which often use pictures of himself, Marzia or one of his dogs as profile pictures – the receivers become overjoyed and get a great deal of attention themselves. During the summer, Felix posts a video called ”YouTube Culture?” where he points out that the reason he prefers calling his subscribers ”bros” rather than fans is that he considers them all equals. ”I am just like you, not above you in any way”, he says and goes on explaining that there is nothing that special about YouTubers, ”most of us are just really weird people that found something to be nerdy with and apparently that puts us in a high position over other people all of a sudden, it shouldn’t be like that. It’s dumb. I’ll try better to break the wall between us because I love the close connection I have with you bros. Seeing all this stuff on Facebook and Twitter worries me a little bit. Let’s take it down a notch.”
He sends an e-mail a while later, to further explain:
– Naturally, it’s flattering that people get so excited just to get a reply from me. But at the same time I feel like it wouldn’t hurt to just have a regular conversation once in a while.
Towards the end of August, shortly after reaching 30 million subscribers, he posts a video where he suddenly states that he will close down the comments on the channel. He says it’s impossible to communicate with the real followers now; they’re drowning in a sea of spam, ads and trolls. On his Tumblr the following day, he asks people to cast their votes on a new idea: that anyone who wishes to keep commenting could do so, as long as they pay 1 dollar to charity.
It only takes a few hours before he concludes that it doesn’t seem to be a working concept, not everyone has PayPal or the ability to pay and there’s a big risk that many would suspect that he kept the money to himself despite complete transparency. It’s a great thought, but with such an enormous audience, where many are also actively participating on a daily basis, it’s hard to make everyone happy.
Over the phone, he explains that he has discussed the problem with YouTube but that they haven’t taken any measures to fix it. As a protest, he has turned comments off while hoping to find some kind of solution.
How does it feel to have so many viewers?
– The difference between having 100 000 followers and several millions is not that big. It’s such a huge number of individuals and on the web, those figures become hard to grasp, and hard to relate to.
Does it influence you that they all have opinions?
– It was easier when less people were watching. It’s hard to grasp that there are so many people who care. But I’m immune to mean comments. Unfortunately, other people will reply to them, directing even more attention to the mean people. The comment field is a war zone; there is no limit to what people will say. I read somewhere that from a quality point of view, the YouTube comments are the worst in all of social media. I think most people would agree with that.
Do you remove comments?
– Yes, all the time … Often if it’s hate directed to someone else or if people get into fights with each other. It doesn’t really make any difference though. I’ve blocked like 500 people, but there’s so much ad spam that trying to keep things orderly becomes pointless. One clip can have 60 000 comments and I post two each day. It’s impossible. Unfortunately, YouTube hasn’t helped me either.
The Brighton beach promenade is a wide boulevard, scarcely populated by bicyclists, people walking their dogs and joggers. We bring Edgar the pug on a walk along the sea (Felix lets the dog run loose for a bit and at first looses the leash on the pebbled beach) before turning around back into the city, making a small loop through a little park and some residential neighborhoods. It’s interesting to see just what kind of people recognize Felix in the street. When we make a short stop in a town square, a man in his mid-twenties, with a thin mustache and a guitar case on his back pass us by. Once he catches sight of Felix, he can’t stop staring, he keeps looking all the way across the square and the crosswalk. Further down the street, we pass a bunch of loud and rambunctious teenage boys by a bus stop. When we walk by, they turn silent. With red cheeks and open mouths, they move their gaze quickly back and forth between each other and Felix, as if they have trouble believing what they’re seeing.
Do people recognize you a lot?
– Yes, pretty much every day. I think it’s fine. Marzia is more troubled by it; she finds it hard to meet new people, so she usually sneaks off as soon as she can.
If you would tweet out your address, how long would it take before someone stood here right outside your door?
– 20 minutes? Just tweeting a picture of what our house looks like would be enough though. That’s how some fans found out where we live before we even moved here; they figured it out through my pics.
What do your fans want when you see them?
– For the most time just an autograph or a hug, sometimes they want to give me a letter. Before, when they came to our place and rang the doorbell, it felt way too intrusive, but these days when we meet in the street, it’s fine.
Among the fans, it’s popular to make fan art – pictures of Felix, Marzia and the dogs. Sometimes, Felix posts them on his site or Tumblr. The same goes for fan videos. The YouTuber Roomie made a song and a video called My name is Pewdiepie that Felix subsequently posted on his own channel – it has 10 million views to date. And YouTuber Schmhoyoho made a song called Jabba the Hutt (about Felix’s mops Maya) which has been viewed 23 million views.
– When the fans write fan fiction about me and my friends, it can feel a bit creepy, but it’s often fun to joke about.
Who are your oldest friends?
– Three Swedish friends I’ve known since junior high school. They’re gamers too.
Who are your YouTube-friends?
– Cinnamon Toast Ken and Cryaotic are friends I game with, I got to know them through YouTube. Otherwise, I don’t watch other people’s gaming videos. I like Jeremy Jahns who posts movie reviews, he’s hardworking and funny. Ken won one of my shout out competitions – that I would mention him in video – a while ago and he’s one of my best friends now. Every person I’ve given shoutouts to, has big channels now. I think I have somewhat of an understanding of what works and what doesn’t, so when I do find a channel that I think is funny and great, I’m happy to give it a boost.
When it comes to your work, what makes you the happiest?
– When I’ve taken on something I’m not sure that people will like but which then it turns into something that’s really fun and great.
Do you get performance anxiety?
– I do if I play a game I can’t get into and have to find something else. But my fans are nice, if I don’t post a video one day, it’s not the end of the world.
How long has it been since you took a long break?
– Two years. These days, if I go away somewhere, I always prepare videos in advance.
You rarely make videos together with other YouTubers, though it’s an extremely popular genre.
– My network Maker Studios wanted me to do this thing in Los Angeles, I didn’t even agree to do it but they still went ahead and arranged it all – I was supposed to sit around and play together with people I didn’t know. It turned out to be a terrible experience, which I haven’t repeated. Instead, I sometimes make gaming videos with people I know and the result turns out great. Some people have built their entire careers on cross promotions, but I’m happy if I don’t have to. I don’t want to be dependent on others.
Why do you work alone?
– If I’d use an editor or hire someone to find games for me, I’d still have to train that person. Not to sound self-important, but no one knows how to do this better than I do. I don’t want to hand it over to someone else. My fans don’t really care about professional high-end production videos either. The fact that people know that it’s just me making the videos – with no crew – has proved to be a winning concept. The thing that has made YouTube so successful is that you can relate to the people you’re watching to a much higher degree than to the people you see on TV. And that’s why I keep doing it all myself, though it would save me a lot of work if I didn’t.
It sounds like you’re a bit of a control freak?
– I don’t think so? I’ve tried letting others do stuff for me. Disney recently sent over a bunch of people dressed as Stormtroopers to make a video together with me, for charity. First of all, they got upset when they found out that there was no specific room for them to change clothes. And then, they didn’t agree to do basically anything in the video because it was not OK with “The Star Wars universe”. It all turned into chaos and it took a very long time. Finally, we ended up with something that they were going to edit but it was so bad I had to do it over and edit it myself. Furthermore, I don’t want Pewdiepie to be some kind of trademark that I loose control over …so well, OK. Perhaps a bit of a control freak.
Felix Kjellberg seems to be somewhat of a unicorn in the YouTube world. He’s hard to reach and rarely appears in traditional media. When, in spring of 2014, New York Magazine publishes a big 12-page article on ”YouTube culture”, they profile 15 different YouTubers, like the beauty blogger Zoella and her boyfriend Alfie, who just like Felix live in Brighton and who have 10 million viewers together – but the magazine doesn’t even mention Felix.
Likewise, when Variety covers YouTube stars Jenna Marbles (14 million subscribers) and Sean Dawson (6 million) in their August issue, Felix is briefly mentioned as ”the biggest YouTube star”. The difference, as in the case of Variety, is not just that Sean and Jenna are involved in a more traditional form of humor, are Americans, perform in public and branch out into other media. (Sean Dawson has moved to Hollywood and is currently making his first feature film.) The difference is also personal. Several of his YouTube peers come off as starry-eyed super-exhibitionists who’ve found their perfect niche while Felix seems to be a rather shy person. When meeting him for the first time, he is very polite, very kind and in no way a know-it-all – though actually no one knows his stuff better than he does – and he keeps apologizing whenever he’s forced to refer to his celebrity status or his fans. When he speaks about his girlfriend or family, he does so in a warm and loving way, he holds the door up for you and listens intently. He doesn’t relax sufficiently to start joking around until after a few hours together. But perhaps it is this very genuine trait that shines through, even as he’s hollering and grimacing while commenting on a new game. No matter in what context it is displayed, honesty is an emotion that is universally recognizable.
You could make anything with your name. How have you made your choices so far?
– I don’t make choices. I don’t have the time. I know I could rapidly double my income if I started licensing my name to products, sponsorships or appearing in various commercial contexts, but I don’t really feel like it. I’m not primarily in this for the money.
You’ve said several times that money is not what motivates you, but isn’t the money interesting at all?
– Naturally, I find it amazing that I can make a living from doing what I love most of all. But I’m not out to max my income, I think my viewers would call me on that right away if I did. I’ve seen other YouTubers start selling and it’s a mistake. It’s more beneficial to me that my channel grows than it would be to make a few deals. And if you collaborate with others, I can also panic because you might have agreed on something that turns into something completely different and then you’re forced to participate in something you don’t want to be a part of at all. It can turn into a nightmare, PR-people always want you to do just a little more, a little more, it’s so greedy. I’d rather stay away from all that.
The money is partly a touchy subject. Both how you make money as a YouTuber – an intricate path of advertising money through several intermediaries – but also how much Felix actually makes as Pewdiepie. It’s no secret: This summer, when Wall Street Journal wrote that he made 4 million dollars in 2013, Felix created an ama – ”Ask Me Anything” – an open Q&A at the discussion forum Reddit. One of the top questions was whether WSJ’s figures were correct. Felix replied ”It’s roughly what I made in 2013, yes.”
His annual accounts for 2013 were just completed: 29.6 million SEK. Costs accounted for 850 000 SEK of which 420 000 SEK were salary. The operating profit was 28.8 million SEK. That’s a profit margin of 97 percent. The company distributed 10 million SEK in dividends to the sole shareholder: Felix Kjellberg.
– I’m just extremely tired of talking about how much I make. In the very few interviews I’ve made, it doesn’t matter how long we’ve talked to each other, the headline is still just about my paycheck, he says.
When Felix first was a rising star on YouTube, he joined the network Machinima. Because of copyright problems – many gaming studios view let’s play-YouTubers as attractive advertising opportunities while others are very strict when it comes to how their material is treated, for instance Nintendo are among the very restrictive. YouTube doesn’t reimburse gaming YouTubers directly, instead you have to be part of a network who deal with the legal aspects and manage advertising. But since it’s such a new phenomenon with a global reach and legally complex at that, it’s impossible to the individual YouTuber to have any kind of insight into his or her business.
– In the beginning, I simply received a payment and had no clue what it was based on or how big the next paycheck would be. I had no personal contact with them whatsoever.
The network’s contract with Felix turned out to be impossible on a legal level too, as it tied him to the network for life. It took Felix hiring his own lawyer and then half a year of legal work to free himself from the network.
– It was managed in such a terrible way. During the time I was a member of their network, I grew into the world’s biggest YouTuber – and they didn’t even know I was with them! They didn’t get in touch a single time, except when I wanted to leave – then their CEO e-mailed me once.
Felix Kjellberg is currently part of the network Maker Studios, who manage 55 000 YouTube channels and which was bought by Disney last spring for $ 950 million. Pewdiepie is the studio’s biggest name and he was mentioned in all trade press when the deal came through. However, Felix’s contract is up in December and he doesn’t seem too interested in renewing it.
– The fact that Disney bought Maker Studios doesn’t really change anything for me. If I ask for help, they reply, but that’s all the contact we have. We’ll see what happens.
You’ve said that you’d like to start your own network together with your friends?
– Yes, but I’d rather not talk too much about it. I’m in touch with a couple of people who I think would be so right for this. I’m eager to get it all up and running. So far, all the networks have been managed in such an incredibly poor way, it’s embarrassing really. I’d like to help other YouTubers.
When it comes to Hollywood, there’s a pretty set way of doing business, but you skip all the intermediaries and work in a completely different way. It must be hard for them to adjust to you?
– The networks try to apply the same kind of high quality standards as they have in Hollywood, and take outrageously large shares of every deal– which is ridiculous. I understand their reasons for sticking to their system since it’s very lucrative, but the only reason for me to be part of a network is to get my advertising money. For a new gamer however, all the money disappears, Google takes 45 percent of their ads, then the network takes 50 percent of theirs, that doesn’t leave that much money in the end. And it’s still the YouTuber who has produced, financed and made all the material on his or her own. The networks don’t do anything. There is really no good reason to sign all the money over to them. Some people who live in Los Angeles and want to make skits can borrow studios and equipment, but people like myself don’t need that.
But surely the need for a legal intermediary is easy to comprehend?
– Unfortunately, it’s turned out that they don’t really manage that part that well either. I’d love to work with other people who’re interested in running this in an honest and just way.
Do you get to have a say in who advertises on your channel?
– Since I have the biggest channel I do, but most people don’t.
Have you ever stopped any ads?
– Other YouTubers advertise themselves before me in order to get subscribers. And other videos pop up next to the video you’re watching. Exactly what videos are displayed there is decided by a certain algorithm. Once you figure it out, it’s easy to get your clips shown there, and then you get more viewers. There are several ways to cheat your way to an audience on YouTube. The traffic to my channel is so heavy that even if a clip gets shut down quickly, the people involved still manage to make quite some money. Recently, this one person posted copies of my videos for a week and he managed to get 4 million views – equaling at least 5 000 dollars. So it’s an easy way to make money. I should do it myself, ha ha.
Towards the end of July this year, Amazon bought the streaming platform Twitch, specialized in let’s play-videos, for $ 970 million. Pewdiepie is the biggest star of Twitch as well. Close to billion-dollar deals are being made, completely dependent on the material uploaded by lone gamers like Felix. The French daily news show Le Grand Journal made (in a very French manner) fun of the gaming sub culture as the deal became a reality. They played a video by Pewdiepie (which they pronounced ”pew-die-pie” as separate English words), claimed that this kind of video were addictive to the viewers and sneered at the fact that the phenomenon existed at all. In just a few days, French gamers had collected 76 000 signatures demanding an apology from the show, since there is no research what so ever showing that gaming videos are more addictive to watch than TV or any other kind of entertainment. The hosts did apologize the following day (and managed to mispronounce Pewdiepie again, this time calling him Pew-dipi).
Do you feel like you have some kind of responsibility when it comes to your audience?
– In a way I do. We’re gaming ”together” and many people see me as a friend they can chill with for 15 minutes a day. The loneliness in front of the computer screens brings us together. But I never set out to be a role model; I just want to invite them to come over to my place.
Do you pay a lot of attention to what they say to you?
– Yes. Sometimes I get disappointed, if lots of people think something about me that is all wrong. For instance, I make very, very few promotions. But if I bring something up that I really love, like the band Radiohead, people write and ask how much I was paid to talk about it. Likewise, if I mention on Twitter that I find this or that Kickstarter project cool, people immediately start to ask what economical interests I might have in it. Things like that can bring me down. But it’s not personal; some people just prefer to believe the worst about others at any given time.
Since you have such a huge, quite young audience, do you adjust accordingly?
– I don’t want to tell jokes that are too crude, although I cuss quite a bit. The cussing has turned into a thing of its own. Even when I don’t really feel like cussing, it just happens. Since my audience comes from all over the world, I also try to avoid issues like religion or making fun of a specific country. But there are always people who misunderstand, perhaps they’re too young. At the same time – it’s just videos.
Is that your take on what you’re doing – that it’s just videos?
– I hope so! I don’t want to be responsible for someone else! I never chose my audience and my objective has never been to attract young people in particular. I believe that’s the parents’ responsibility. It’s up to them to decide if their kids should be allowed to watch YouTube. For instance, some games I play have an 18-year age limit.
When it comes to kids, what do you think the appropriate age limit for your videos should be?
– 12–13 years perhaps? I don’t think people younger than that really get my jokes.
Almost half of your viewers are girls, why do you call your fans ”bros”?
– I was joking around, calling my viewers ”brahs” at first. Like one of those cheesy words American college jocks would call each other. My viewers thought it was fun so I just kept saying it.
When you kid around about being ”fabulous” and so on, don’t you think there’s a risk that your viewers think you’re making fun of the gay community?
– To me, it’s obvious that I don’t. Unfortunately, there are always people looking to misunderstand and interpret things in the worst of ways. I’m thinking more along the lines that if 12–13-year olds see me put on makeup, dress in women’s clothing and being fab, they can see that it’s not such a big deal? If someone calls me gay, it doesn’t bother me and my viewers notice that too.
In the summer of 2014, Felix Kjellberg hosts an episode of the popular radio show “Summer”, broadcast by Swedish Public Radio. He also participates in the big press conference and heads the long row of “Summer” hosts. He’s introduced as one of the production’s stars. In the big crowd (a mix of public service employees and external press) that has gathered in front of the Swedish Radio house, there’s a sharp divide between those who know who he is and those who don’t. In the articles the next day, he’s presented as either the star, or (as in the case of one of the leading newspapers) he’s not mentioned at all, since the writer obviously has no clue who Pewdiepie is. Once it was official that Kjellberg would be one of the “Summer” hosts, a game critic at the Swedish paper Nöjesguiden wrote a column where she described Pewdiepie as a guy who ”gets away with prejudist comments and offensive remarks about black people and homosexuals”.
We speak again after that.
What did you think about this recent criticism?
– The reason why I ”got away” is because I don’t harbor that kind of prejudice. It’s obvious to anyone who watches my videos. It seems pretty unfair to claim something like that, why not attack those who are prejudist for real, people who say hateful things? I guess it results in less clicks.
What issues do you steer away from and why?
– Religion. I’m Swedish and so for me, religion is not a very charged issue. But once, when I called one of my characters Satan, it made many people very upset. I can’t say whatever I want, not even if I personally find it completely harmless. Many people also keep asking if Marzia and I shouldn’t get married soon, since we live together.
You have 30 million subscribers and several million views of each video you’ve posted. If you wanted to, you could fight for various political issues?
– But that’s not why people watch my videos. I just want to entertain, that is my main objective and what comes before everything else.
You have a lot of influence. How do you use it?
– I raise money for various charities and donate personal funds as well. The first thing I did when winning The King of the web competition two years ago, was giving away the $ 10 000 prize money to WWF. Since then, I’ve also helped raise money for Charity Water, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Save the Children. I can’t do it all the time, it won’t be as beneficial. But all in all, I’ve helped raise a million dollars for charity, and I’m really proud of that.
For Save the Children, you sold unique videos for 50 000 dollars. Who pays that kind of money?
– Game manufacturers and advertisers. I got the idea from Hank and John Green (the brothers behind the YouTube-channel vlogbrothers, who’ve also started the world’s biggest YouTube-convention, Vidcon. John Green is also the bestselling author of books like The Fault in Our Stars) who’ve run similar projects. Since I’ve been given the chance to do something great for others, I’d like to seize that opportunity. Many people in my young audience have given money to charity for the first time in their lives. It is amazing to be able to help people help others.
Is that something you’d like to keep doing?
– Yes, absolutely. I would love to do more charity work. Right now, I primarily have time to work. It never leaves my mind, I never shut it off. I don’t even know if I can? But I think I will tire eventually, even if I have loved games for as long as I can remember.
The hard drives in his gaming room can hold up to 4 terabyte, but they always fill up. He discards all his recordings as he goes and doesn’t make backups.
What if something would happen, causing everything to disappear, what would you do?
– It would almost be a relief. In that case, it would all be over. I’d be done. •