A Generation of Change: Asian American Millennials are Shaping a New Celebrity

Asian American teens find YouTubers better role models than traditional celebrities

The way we consume media is changing, and so are the people. Millennials make up a large part of the U.S. population —about 25 percent of it — so it is no surprise that their habits have the power to shape the future of media.

A specific group of young Americans are finding YouTube as a place to create their identities: Asian Americans.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian population in the U.S. grew faster than any other race from 2000 to 2010. Obviously, the Asian American community is growing, but Hollywood’s representation of them remains stagnant. Asian actors keep getting stereotypical roles as sidekicks or karate masters. However, online there is a different story being played out. Hollywood missed its chance to represent Asian Americans in the media, but YouTube has picked up the slack.

Population Overview Pew Research Center

YouTube has provided a platform for Asian Americans to remold the identities that mainstream media have assigned them. The stereotypical roles Hollywood offers do not have to constrain Asian Americans in entertainment anymore.

Anyone with an Internet connection can participate in YouTube communities. Even if you are not making videos, you can watch, comment, subscribe, and like them. Not only is the barrier to join low, but also the barrier between the audience and the “celebrity” is low. On YouTube, you can reach out to your role models and interact with them in ways that are impossible with traditional celebrities. According to a survey done by DEFY Media in March, 2015, millennials feel more connected to YouTube stars compared to other celebrities. In the same survey, DEFY found that millennials also admire YouTube stars even more than they do traditional Hollywood celebrities.

This connection has made many tight-knit communities form on YouTube, especially among minorities, like Asian Americans. Young Asian Americans are logging on and finding role models online more than in mainstream media, and they feel a stronger tie to them. Some say the rise in Asian YouTubers is due to their lack of representation in the past, and now they are being “hyperserved” by Asian YouTubers. But it also has something to do with the cohesive and supportive fan bases that have formed around them. Their support and dedication connects the fan and the YouTuber in a way you can only find on YouTube.

Some would argue that mainstream media is representing minorities now more than ever. TV shows like Fresh off the Boat, Blackish, and Cristela are providing multiracial narratives. These shows shouldn’t be written off, as they are still important steps in the right direction. However, it doesn’t change the fact that millennials are being drawn to YouTube more than traditional media. According to the DEFY survey, 76 percent of millennials rate YouTube videos as “entertaining” compared to 55 percent for free online TV or from broadcast stations.

In a July 2014 survey Variety asked 13–18 year-olds to rank “influential celebrities.” The list included the usual suspects of Jennifer Lawrence and Katy Perry, but the top 5 were actually YouTubers. None of the “mainstream” celebrities were Asian, but two of the top ranking YouTubers (Ryan Higa and Michelle Phan) were.

Photos from Gage Skidmore

Perhaps they feel more connected to the representation Asian YouTubers are choosing for themselves. Timothy DeLaGhetto, a Thai-American YouTube star spoke at a panel celebrating diversity at Vidcon in June, 2011. He simply said that he’s “…an Asian guy doing normal things.” Being able to connect on a personal level is a lot easier when the person you are looking up to is relatable.

The very meaning of celebrity is morphing. YouTube brings everyone to the same level. YouTubers reveal personal and relatable stories with fans, where as traditional celebrities are kept on a pedestal. Young people can look up to celebrities who seem larger than life, such as Jennifer Lawrence or Harry Styles. But YouTubers are easier to connect to on a personal level, making their status as “role model” more impactful. They reveal themselves as human on YouTube by interacting with their fans.

Lookout Hollywood: the definition of celebrity is changing — and not in your favor.