To say that this year’s YouTube Rewind didn’t go over well with the YouTube community would be quite an understatement. This year’s Rewind, an annual video made by YouTube that’s supposed to encompass a year in YouTube culture, is officially the most disliked video on the platform. It has more than 10 million dislikes, overtaking Justin Bieber’s 2010 song “Baby,” which has just under 10 million dislikes. While it took Bieber’s video approximately eight years to rack up that dislike count, YouTube Rewind beat it in closer to eight days.
It’s quite a feat, and a fascinating case of how an innocuous video used by YouTube’s marketing team to appeal to advertisers can have an adverse effect when it doesn’t put the community first.
Since YouTube Rewind was first published on December 6th, the backlash has been loud and constant. Creators who starred in it, like Marques Brownlee, have addressed the controversy, while other YouTubers work on their own versions of Rewind they view as more authentic. The backlash directed at YouTube for this year’s Rewind boils down to a growing disparity between the platform’s true creator culture and the polished version that YouTube wants to present.
“I think the problem with YouTube Rewind, at least how I see it, is pretty simple actually,” Brownlee said in a video. “YouTubers and creators and audiences see it as one thing and, YouTube, who’s in charge of making it, sees it as something completely different.”
To understand why Rewind really affects creators, it’s important to understand how the video was first presented to the community in 2011. The first year YouTube decided to create a recap video, Rewind was narrated by Rebecca Black of “Friday” fame. The entire thing was a breakdown of the 10 most-watched videos — a straightforward highlight reel of what was popular, without any glossing over of strange, controversial, or otherwise less-savory behavior that YouTube might want to hide.
Between 2011 and 2014, YouTube Rewind was on the same page as its culture. It incorporated the biggest moments, most influential creators, and funny memes that the community also celebrated. Things really started changing in 2015, when YouTube went from an amateur DIY platform to an entertainment staple, but the most noticeable grievances began in 2017 and continued into 2018, as YouTube backed away from creators it previously highlighted. It’s a facet of the divide between YouTube and its community that commentator and anchor Philip DeFranco gets to in his video about the backlash.
“People are asking, ‘Where is PewDiePie?’ either him by himself or his battle with T-Series,” DeFranco said. “Where is Shane Dawson, who had arguably one of the biggest series on YouTube this year? What about a reference to KSI and Logan Paul making one of the biggest pay-per-view events ever?”
DeFranco said it could be that YouTube simply isn’t aware of what its “real community” is doing. But they might also be intentional snubs. “An argument has been made that it’s an attempt by YouTube to distance themselves from any controversy,” he says.
The end of 2016 started off one of YouTube’s most turbulent periods, which has continued until now, sloping and rising at certain times. New ad friendly policies were introduced, and creators rallied together to support each other and call out the platform. They were staring down the first wave of demonetization — an ongoing issue that pitted creators against the platform where a growing number of people were able to sustain themselves full time. Tensions grew. Things got worse in 2017 when PewDiePie, YouTube’s most popular creator, was caught in a controversy over anti-Semitic language appearing on his channel.
Between then and now, YouTube faced some of its biggest issues with creators, including Logan Paul’s controversy surrounding his time in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest. Advertisers fled, and YouTube’s executives found themselves in a balancing act trying to appease both creators and advertisers. Emphasis was placed on late-night shows and celebrities who launched channels on the platform in an attempt to prove to advertisers they would be safe from scrutiny. In the process, YouTube creators felt increasingly shunned.
Rewind is the culmination of that feeling. The community, which was once celebrated by YouTube, no longer feels included in the culture YouTube wants to promote. It’s unclear what the company will do going forward, but one thing’s for certain: YouTube Rewind is no longer a celebratory moment the community looks forward to.