In 2020, YouTube’s presence is hard to deny. There’s seemingly a YouTube channel for every niche and a subscriber for every channel.
With $15.1 billion in ad revenue last year, YouTube has increasingly become a viable career path. It’s so popular that even children in the U.S., U.K., and China aspire to become professional YouTubers one day.
But back in its infancy 15 years ago, YouTube was an unknown place. The site originally hosted cat videos, music videos, and viral comedy clips. No one knew the impact it would have.
However, YouTube quickly became a platform to create. There were few barriers of entry—it only took a camera and an idea. People took risks. They created videos that were entertaining, bold, and inspiring.
Some of these creators became popular, amassing huge followings of dedicated fans. And for the first time in Western media, Asian faces became prevalent.
Although the YouTube landscape continues to change, the enduring impact of these original Asian YouTubers has not.
Ryan Higa originally went viral back in 2007 for his comedic “How to be” videos and film parodies made with his friends. Until the summer of 2011, Higa was originally hailed as the “Most Subscribed-to-Youtuber” on the platform.
He currently remains active on his channels and hosts his own podcast, Off The Pill. Higa has also branched out into various film, music, and business ventures.
Michelle Phan rose to prominence in 2007 with her bold make-up tutorials and beauty tips.
In the past decade, Phan has created two cosmetics companies. After a legal dispute over music and copyright infringement, Phan went on intermittent hiatuses from YouTube. In 2019, Phan returned to launch Thematic, a platform that provides copyright-free music for video creators.
Back in 2007, Freddie Wong became famous due to his action-packed comedy skits and competitive Guitar Hero skills.
Wong has since formed a production company, RocketJump, which continues to produce various comedy and gaming-related content on YouTube, including Video Game High School and Anime Crimes Division. Wong has also branched out into television.
JustKiddingFilms, made up of duo Bart Kwan and Joe Jitsukawa, originally posted comedic videos that poked fun at over-the-top Asian stereotypes back in 2007.
The duo has since expanded their production company with Just Kidding News, a comedy news channel. In addition, the two have their own channels, podcasts, and joint business ventures in the fitness and restaurant industries.
The Australian-born YouTuber Natalie Tran originally posted vlogs back in 2006, but she rose to prominence through her comedic skits around everyday situations.
Since 2016, Tran has remained off YouTube due to medical reasons. Outside of the platform, she has acted on television and remains active on social media, including Twitter and Instagram.
Kevin Wu grew popular in 2007 with his comedic vlogs around provocative subjects. His father, known as PapaJumba, later became a recurring feature on the channel (and later his teammate on The Amazing Race).
The KevJumba channel has been inactive since 2017. After a severe car accident two years previously, Wu decided to focus on his spirituality and education.
Cassey Ho posted her first Pilates workout videos in 2009, which quickly grew in popularity.
Since then, Ho has continued to create workout videos. She has also created her own certified, live fitness class called POP Pilates and branched out into her own activewear clothing line.
Tim Chantarangsu’s original channel was deleted for its provocative content, but he bounced back in 2007 with Timothy DeLaGhetto, a popular channel that promoted his hip-hop freestyles and comedic content.
As of 2020, Chantarangsu remains active on YouTube and hosts his own podcast. Outside of the platform, he has continued to perform both in music and film/TV, including the MTV series Wild ‘n Out.
The trio behind Wong Fu Productions — Wesley Chan, Ted Fu, and Philip Wang — had already made shorts and a feature film prior to YouTube, but in 2007, the three brought scripted content featuring Asian leads to the platform.
Wong Fu Productions has continued to produce sketches on YouTube featuring actors like Randall Park and Simu Liu. Off YouTube, the team has produced feature-length movie projects and pursued separate business ventures in the dining and toy industries.
In 2008, George Miller posted his first comedy video on YouTube. Miller rose to prominence thanks to the vulgar, provocative comedy on his second channel, TVFilthyFrank.
After amassing nearly seven million subscribers, Miller left YouTube to pursue a music career. Through his musical act, Joji, Miller became the first Asian artist to reach number one on Billboard‘s Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart. He also collaborates frequently with the music company 88rising.
In 2010, Canadian-born YouTuber Lilly Singh went viral for her turban-tying tutorial. However, Singh’s channel skyrocketed thanks to her comedic skits and music videos that often explored Punjabi culture.
Since then, Singh’s comedy career has grown both on YouTube and off. As of 2019, Singh is the host of her own NBC late night talk show, A Little Late with Lilly Singh.
Be sure to check out Cold Tea Collective’s interview with rising YouTuber, Linda Dong.
Making Asian American media
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