The YouTube stars you've never heard of (because you're not Asian)

I’ll be honest.

I’d hoped to hold out a bit longer before falling back on this staple of any Asian culture column, but it was unavoidable in this case.

The idea to write about YouTube in Asia first popped into my head a few weeks back but after doing a bit of research I realised my hands were tied.

So now I have no choice than to talk about…cue dramatic music…K-Pop.

Before I get into that, a little background information.

I had originally planned to write about the rise of v-loggers, but it turned out that none of the popular celebs are actually from Asia.

While the like of WongFu productions, Peter Chao (embedded below) and BubzBeauty are both funny and popular in Asia, they are also basically Western born ethnic Asians.  Not everyone may have heard of them, but the fact is they really hail from places like San Diego and Northern Ireland.

I guess this could lead onto a point about the fact that the most famous Asian YouTube celebrities are famous because they play up on Asian stereotypes. But they aren’t in Asia, I’m not a sociologist and this isn’t a deep and meaningful column. I'll leave you all to discuss the nuances of how ethnic minorities cross-over into mainstream social success. 

More pointedly I guess I could also ask why the most populous region in the world, which stacks up some impressive social useage stats, doesn’t produce more well-known social media stars?

Actually I can have a stab at that one. The answer is pretty simple and pretty logical.

When you see that Singaporeans watch an average of 130 online videos per month, 25% of the Japanese (22m people) watch videos on the phones and in Hong Kong YouTube reaches 63.4 per cent of the population then you have to wonder why.

First up, is the age old issue of original content. A quick scan of the localised YouTube pages from Singapore and the Philippines shows Western content is still very much King.

Very little original local content of any quality is being produced. (although I would urge everyone to google Steven Lim or Aaron Tan. Thank me later.) and you certainly don’t need to be an ardent media-watcher to understand that more local content, means more local viewers, bigger stars and a bigger chance of cross-over.

The second reason is more traditional. Despite what people think. There is actually very little in the way of real pan-Asian culture. Because of this, most social stars will be stars in their own backyard and nowhere else.

Language barriers, diverse local cultural traits and the traditionally insular nature of many societies mean it is difficult for a cult Singaporean blogger like XiaXue to get any traction in Thailand.

In fact, when it comes down to pan-Asian culture, there are pretty much only two things that cut it - movies and pop-music.

With the movie industry, you’ve got big studios churning out blockbusters with stars from Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong – usually speaking in Mandarin to appeal to the biggest market.

Factor in the distinctly unsocial long format of movies and the only YouTube friendly medium you have is pop music.

And that’s where the K-pop bit comes in. The Korean music industry has created this amazing conveyor belt of radio friendly, unthreatening and asexual (yet somehow very sexual) groups who are truly massive in Asia.

Language barriers don’t seem to matter as they sing in hybrid Korean and English and their fans actually go as far as learning Korean. What matters is they look great, move even better and pedal the sweetest of saccharin pop.

Their carefully crafted image also lends itself perfectly to social video sharing sites and they exploit it to the maximum.

How many K-pop groups can you name? And how big are they? You might be surprised.

Just check out the likes of Girl’s Generation, whose video Gee (embedded above) has 75m views on their official channel or fellow girl group The Wonder Girls (the video for Nobody has 50m views on You Tube).

The boy groups fare just as well, boyish good looks and constant engagement with fans on social media lead to tens and hundreds of millions of views for the likes of 2pm, Big Bang and Super Junior.

On the engagement front, take a look at their official YouTube accounts and you can see quite how prolific they actually are in their video output and how much of it is fan focused. There are some lessons for up and coming Western groups about how to leverage your fanbase online there for sure.

So there you have it. If you click on the links above you’ll find the biggest YouTube stars in Asia with probably half a billion views between them in the past couple of years. A fact made more remarkable when you consider YouTube isn’t dominant in their home market.

K-popsters are the undisputed Kings of Asia and the chances are you haven’t heard of any of them. Trust me you will one day.

To help with that process, I'll leave you to get acquainted with 2PM and their last video 'Hands Up' (which to demonstrate their deliberate pan-Asian pandering was filmed in English speaking Singapore).

Main photo credit: Girls Generation/LG

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