What makes a YouTube star?Sajin Maharjan is no stranger to mockery. The YouTube personality, infamous for his atonal singing, has been relentlessly mocked ever since he started publishing on the video-sharing platform, in April 2012. But that hasn’t stopped Maharjan;
Sajin Maharjan is no stranger to mockery. The YouTube personality, infamous for his atonal singing, has been relentlessly mocked ever since he started publishing on the video-sharing platform, in April 2012. But that hasn’t stopped Maharjan; in fact, he revels in the attention. Maharjan currently has over 69,000 followers and his videos routinely generate thousands of views, although his dislikes tend to overshadow the number of likes.
Maharjan, despite his ‘haters’, is a popular YouTube personality, one among a bunch of rising internet stars. Whether famous or infamous, the internet is creating celebrities everyday. It is just a matter of what strikes a chord with the ever-growing number of internet users.
Maharjan was 17 years old when he started posting on YouTube. His first video was an informal one taken on his birthday that did not get as many views as he had expected. It took him dozens of videos to get noticed by a large number of people. His cover of the song ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber, which he uploaded on November 2013, finally hit that critical mass, making him instantly recognisable but also earning him a lot of hate.
The number of dislikes on his videos might outdo the number of likes, but that’s just a marker of how well-known Maharjan is. According to Social Blade, a social media statistics and analytics website, Maharjan ranks 234th in Nepal in terms of audience engagement. He’s gotten so popular that people call him out for his ‘bad singing’ on the road. “There goes the bad singer,” he reports hearing passersby say.
The popularity of any YouTuber depends on the originality of their content, says Sisan Baniya, another popular online personality. Baniya is a vlogger whose 177 videos have earned him over 16 million views. Since making it big on YouTube, Baniya has gone on to start another channel called ‘Paradygm TV’ and is routinely sponsored by national and international brands.
Baniya’s ‘originality’ comes from the effort he puts into his vlogging, investing over a million rupees in camera technology. His drone shots, the high-quality audio and video, and the transitions he uses in-between frames have helped him stand out from the crowd.
“The quality of videos is responsible for popularity in some way or the other,” says Baniya.
But Maharjan disagrees. “I believe in entertainment, rather than quality,” he says. Maharjan believes that he would not have been popular if people really cared for quality, as most of his videos are shot inside his room. Maharjan might have a point, as his 337 videos have earned over eight million views.
Besides quality and entertainment value, there is another sure-fire way to gain views on YouTube for Nepalis—add a hint of sexual innuendo and rake in millions of views. A channel called ‘Resham Firiri’, has just four videos but over 13,000 subscribers. Just one of its videos, entitled ‘Nepali sex at bus park’ where two scantily-clad women enact a sexual situation with a half-clothed man, has over two million views.
Binayak Kuikel, who is behind the YouTube channel ‘Why so offended?’, attempted an experiment by including the word ‘sex’ in the thumbnail and title of his video. He collected more views than he’d expected.
“Such titles sell,” says Kuikel. The video with sex in its title received over 90,000 views while Kuikel’s other videos, where he satirises various social and political issues, have garnered 40,000 views on average.
Kuikel also credits his consistency with his popularity. “Viewers look for consistency. If you manage to upload at least two or three videos a week, you are in the game,” he says. Baniya, who is not as consistent as he used to be, often gets called out for his irregularity in the comments to his old videos.
Chetan Karki, who goes by chetanvlogs, agrees, but admits that it’s not always practical to be consistent. For Karki, who vlogs and does cover songs with his daughter Dixita, his Youtubing routine hinders his personal life.
“I find myself shooting almost everything that I do on a daily basis,” he says. “I am popular but that does not always make me happy.” Karki has over 207,000 subscribers.
Recent times have seen a host of new faces emerge on YouTube, where YouTubers are approaching novel ideas to gain views. For instance, Sonika Rokaya conducts on-the-road interviews where she approaches pedestrians to talk openly about sex. Rokaya, who currently has over 44,000 subscribers, is fast gaining popularity. Similarly, Rupshi Basnet, with over 128,000 followers, posts humorous videos playing different characters. Her most popular video has over 2.9 million views.
Given the variable approaches of these YouTube personalities, there doesn’t seem to be one parameter that determines popularity, except perhaps sex. “Not all audiences are the same,” says Karki. “It’s up to the viewers to make anyone popular.”