10 Years of Youtube: A Reflection on the Streaming Service’s Influence on Culture


YouTube, the internet’s ubiquitous video service, turned ten this year. In one decade, the site has offered seemingly a centuries’ worth of dynamism to the world.

YouTube started out as a venue for posting vacation videos, but has turned into everyone’s favorite vacation from life. Along with providing a soapbox for fear mongers, tech bloggers and bitter rappers alike, YouTube has become an industry in itself for creatives.

“The beauty of YouTube is that it allows for the everyday individual to release content on their own terms”, says YouTuber Tasha, who’s currently planning a webseries. “This gives people the opportunity to control their content in every possible aspect without having to adhere to the terms of a middle man, or someone who is simply interested in making a profit.”

And there is plenty profit to be had. YouTube’s value to the creative isn’t just measured in hits, but actual dollars. According to Forbes, Youtuber PewDiePie makes $4,000,000 annually by making a general ass of himself for his 36,000,000 subscribers. DisneyCollectorBR makes “1.5 to 23.4 million annually” from unwrapping Disney toys and critiquing them.

When people wax poetic about “the power of the internet” they really just mean YouTube. Blogging is a close competitor, but the word doesn’t have the power of visuals. YouTube made Rebecca Black’s awful “Friday” an actual moment, until vloggers such as Kingsley brought it to an abrupt end with biting commentary.

YouTube gave the potential for a worldwide audience. It gave web series’ like Awkward Black Girl and The Couple the chance to depict Blackness on their terms. It gave musicians a platform that the major labels never saw coming.

What YouTube means for a creative is leverage against major corporations that were yesteryear’s only path to visibility. American capitalism is an amoeba that threatens to have the entire world fighting for co-mingled corporations’ scraps, but YouTube is a glimmer of hope for independent artistry.

Beyond being “merely” a tool for artists, YouTube has done the lion’s share of work shaping millennial culture. Many other websites and social media platforms have attempted to usurp and re-contextualize video streaming, but YouTube is the genesis. Frankly, Vine owes YouTube like Fetty Wap owes Kool Herc.

In an era where Chicago slang becomes international slang in a couple (thousand) clicks, we can thank YouTube for not just being our fly on the wall, but a service destroyed the wall and left everything out in the open. When a YouTube rabbithole can intimately capture the aura of a Brooklyn night with SMACK DVD, then have VICE show us a Ugandan village getting drunk off moonshine, the world is truly our playground.

Hip hop in particular is in a new infancy, a life after death where regionalism is a fairly archaic concept. Thanks to basically the entire hip hop canon being online, a music fan has no excuse for not having wide-ranging tastes. Finding new music is no longer a matter of searching far and wide, relegated to the music tastes of Mom and Pop store owners.

Thanks to YouTube, a music fan’s sensibilities transitioned from a matter of liking the good local music, to liking the good music period.

Internet databases such as YouTube, and those that utilize it, are primary factors in the genre’s abandonment of regional adherence. The death of regionalism is why Kendrick Lamar is a West Coast rapper with elements of Bone Thugs, Lil Wayne and Andre 3000 in his style. It’s why ASAP Yams grew an encyclopedic knowledge of hip hop and became one of the first tastemakers of the new generation. It’s why ASAP Rocky’s Houston influences kept him from being a bland punchline rapper, beholden to oversized fitteds and trite singles as a rite of Harlem passage.

We have a bevy of resources at our disposal in 2015, but YouTube is the chief . It’s at once an artistic enterprise, a curator of culture, and haven for inanity. For this, they’re owed thanks by all walks of life.