At 15, Christina Grimmie uploaded her first track to YouTube — it went viral. In 2014, she came third in The Voice, extending her popularity beyond her millions of subscribers. She kept uploading videos growing her personal, unfiltered connection with her fans. On 10 June 2016, after a concert in Orlando, Florida, Grimmie held a meet-and-greet for her fans after a concert in Florida. One of them was Kevin James Loibl, a 27-year-old who had shown an “unrealistic infatuation” with Grimmie.
Ten minutes later she was dead, shot 4 times…by a fan.
The desire of obsessive fans to harm famous people is not new. John Lennon was assassinated in 1980 and Gianni Versace in 1997 by fans who felt some kind of relationship with them. But YouTube really stokes that obsession;
- Firstly, there is the apparent closeness of the relationship between star and fan, with the creator throwing out mentions in their videos and social media posts and staring directly into the lens – and thus the viewer’s eyes.
- Secondly, those stars are expected to be more accessible than conventional celebrities, as shown by the meet-and-greet, common to pop stars and YouTubers.
Viewers feel that connection intensely: 47% of millennials said in an Ipsos Connect survey that YouTube improved their mood or health. Rather than picking up the phone to a friend, people are turning to their favorite YouTuber. Internet fame simultaneously creates the sense that a person is a celebrity but also that that person is your friend. Having those two things happen at the same time is weird.
YouTubers are huge. Seven YouTubers earn over $15 million a year, the top earner is an 8 year old who earns $22 million a year. Two Youtubers have over 60 million followers. Many of these YouTube stars have more followers than pop or movie stars.
Last January, Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, was brought to a standstill when over 8000 people turned up to see the makeup artist and model James Charles at a makeup store in a shopping center. Charles has more than 14 million subscribers who he calls Sisters. One twenty year-old fan of YouTuber Logan Paul broke into his $7 million home and went to sleep on his sofa, and charging his phone in a power socket. The intruder told police he wanted to meet the YouTuber.
YouTube has created a new dynamic between fans and stars. Creators involve fans in achieving their triumphs and fans feel a sense of ownership of those successes. British vlogger Joe Sugg was a contestant on the high-ratings BBC talent show Strictly Come Dancing in August 2018. Four months later, he was in the final, despite his gangly limbs and awkward demeanor. His route to the final was driven by a dedicated following who voted for him in the public vote, some 30 or 40 times every week.
Fans can track the movements of their favorite YouTubers, triangulating their location from social media posts (because this generation of celebrity always has to shine some light on their personal lives to be considered authentic), hoping to catch a glimpse of them.
A boundary had been crossed, and new rules about the interactions between creators and fans are needed. YouTube stars used to say I’ve got this big following, come meet me, now they say when we’re in public we want to be private; don’t look over our walls at home. YouTubers have become less accessible.
Christina Grimmie’s murder was a huge wake-up call for a lot of YouTubers. Major YouTubers have bumped up their personal protection. For a long time YouTube survived on this rhetoric of equity, the leveling of the playing field, the democratization of the media, and the thought that anyone, from anywhere, can be successful.
Until Grimmie’s death, people knew that the more open, democratic way in which YouTube encouraged connections between creators and viewers might be a problem. After her murder, they realized it was a problem.
Being popular in Instagram is like sitting at the cool guys table in the cafeteria at a mental hospital