Busch aligns social media stars for special event
If video killed the radio star, as The Buggles proclaimed in 1979, then YouTube, Vine and Instagram are conspiring to commit mass murder. Their victims: the video, radio and movie star.
A new breed of celebrity is emerging on the global pop culture scene, one that presents itself in short bursts — a few minutes on YouTube, a couple of seconds on Vine, creating an undercurrent of short-attention-span sensations.
A select few of them are on tour, appearing at Busch Gardens this weekend, eager to get noticed by a wider audience and maybe break into the mainstream.
They may never achieve the lifelong fame of a Mick Jagger or an Al Pacino, trading as they do on what’s new and unique about them and knowing they risk quick replacement by what’s next, new and unique. Their fame so far burns brief but, among their mostly teenage fans, hot.
“These YouTube celebrities have millions of followers, and viewership of their videos rivals that of many television shows,” said Kelli Burns, an associate professor at the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications at the University of South Florida.
They may not be household names, but they are well known to a specific demographic, she said, and that’s where the fame is.
“Social media have provided more opportunities for average people to become celebrities. With social media, the traditional barriers to fame have been removed.”
Aspiring actors no longer need to get an agent and audition for acting jobs. Musicians don’t need to play small venues and hope to get signed by a label. Anyone with a smartphone and a social media account can share their talents with the world.
“The challenge becomes building an audience,” said Burns, who authored the 2009 book “Celeb 2.0,” exploring popular culture and social media. “And with millions of videos being uploaded every day, there is much competition for viewer attention.”
Those who become YouTube celebrities must have something to offer in terms of talent, expertise or creativity to stand out from the crowd.
A survey last year of teens 13 to 18, conducted by the entertainment newspaper Variety, revealed that some social media stars are far more popular than mainstream celebrities in this age group.
Half the celebrities in the survey’s Top 20 list, including the top five, were online stars, Variety found.
The survey placed Smosh, the online comedy team of Ian Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla, at the top. They beat out such mainstream notables as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Katy Perry and Johnny Depp.
The YouTube and Vine stars have minimal exposure in the mainstream media, but they don’t need it to amass fans. The Internet puts them in direct contact with their young fans, who watch their antics and music on computers, tablets or smartphones.
The survey found the Fine Bros., a comedy duo, finished a close second to Smosh, followed by a Swedish video-gamer who counts the most subscribers on YouTube, Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, otherwise known as PewDiePie.
“I asked my teen son about him awhile back, and he practically laughed at me,” Burns said. “It would probably be like asking me if I had heard of Angelina Jolie.”
The survey asked 1,500 teens to rank 20 well-known personalities and include factors such as approachability, authenticity and other criteria.
Social media celebrities fill a niche, Burns said, and often are more versatile than traditional celebrities.
“Some have become famous on social media for their expertise playing video games,” she said. “Others are experts at applying cosmetics.
“The audience for social media content, which is predominately a young demographic, does not see a difference between a great singer on YouTube and one of the contestants on ‘The Voice,’ ” she said. “To them, they are both entertaining and talented.”
Getting attention is the priority. From there, online celebrities can cross over, given the right personality and talent.
Some talent agencies or marketers scan social media for rising stars, Burns said. A social media celebrity with a huge following can bring that audience to a television show or to the products they are endorsing.
Bethany Mota, for example, rose to fame through YouTube videos where she showed fans her purchases after shopping trips. Her online success was followed by offline opportunities, including a spot as contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” and a fashion and accessories line at Aéropostale.
Burns said young people spend a lot of time scanning social media, bypassing television and radio.
“YouTube celebrities are creating content specifically designed for this audience,” she said, “but they still must be engaging or entertaining in some way. If not, viewers can easily move on.”
A few such stars striving for real old-fashioned celebrity will take the stage at Busch Gardens this weekend.
The Tampa theme park will host DigiTour’s United26 Tour today. The event features seven popular YouTube and Vine stars from 6 to 7:30 p.m., giving each the spotlight for an unusually long time, 13 minutes, 20 seconds.
The performances are included in the price of admission.
Busch Gardens is on the lookout for new ways to “enhance our guests’ experiences,” said park spokesman Travis Claytor. “This is an event that has been very popular among younger audiences, so we were excited to bring it to those guests at Busch Gardens.
“We have received a lot of positive feedback from guests and through our social media channels,” Claytor said.
Here’s a list of the performers scheduled to appear:
♦Hayes Grier, who started making Vine videos with his older brother, Nash, and now is on his own. Grier has climbed to the top 50 of the Vine charts and, at age 14, he has more than 3.5 million followers on Vine, 3.5 million followers on Instagram and 2.5 million followers on Twitter.
♦Aaron Carpenter, a 16-year-old media sensation known for his charisma and sense of humor. He has gained more than a million followers and fans across the nation and currently balances touring the United States, working on his music and developing an acting career.
♦Daniel Skye, who attracted hundreds of screaming young girls when, at 14, he tweeted his plans to perform at a mall. Now, two years later, he has more than a million followers on his social media channels and has performed at major venues across the United States.
♦Alyssa Shouse, 19, who attracted the attention of pop star Jason Derulo when she started her YouTube channel, made a music video with him and was featured on MTV. She is pursuing her music career as a singer-songwriter and last year went on her first tour, performing in 30 cities.
♦Alec Bailey, a singer-songwriter from North Carolina, plays the guitar and piano. Since placing his music on Vine last year, Bailey has drawn more than 563,000 followers. His music was shared on the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Grammy Award-winning Eli Young Band.
♦Jonah Marais, born in Stillwater, Minnesota, is 16 and started broadcasting online for an audience of five people. Now he’s selling thousands of tickets at shows in his hometown, and his fan base has tripled in the past year. He works on original music while touring the country.
♦Tez Mengestu, a 17-year-old performer from Cornelius, North Carolina, has amassed a significant social media following with his wide range of video antics. He wants to be in films and on radio and model.
Whether social media fame lasts more than a blink or two of an eye remains to be seen, said Burns, the social media expert, so social media sensations should grab for all they can while they can.
“Media are so fragmented today, and we now have many celebrities in many different arenas,” she said. “The careers will likely be shorter because there is always the next new thing that is attracting attention.”