Trying (and Failing) to Tolerate YouTube’s Advertised Personalities

How intolerable could some of YouTube's top personalities be? (Spoiler: We couldn’t make it all the way through a single video.)

This article is from the archive of our partner .

YouTube, not content with total video domination on the web, is advertising everywhere. You’ve probably seen billboards, subway ads, even ads in front of other YouTube videos. But these aren’t just promoting YouTube as a service – they’re introducing YouTube’s creators.

The ad campaign has focused on five YouTube channels: a comedy series (Epic Rap Battles of History), three vloggers (Michelle Phan, Bethany Mota, Rosanna Pansino), and news channel (VICE News, which is something of an exception). Because the former four are marketed on their charm – and they all have a lot of charm, for better and for worse – they tend to look like exaggerations of themselves. But isn’t that the case with all programming advertising? Can these YouTube creators really be that ridiculous?

To find out, we decided to watch the one video for each channel – the most watched video they produced in the last month – and see how much we could get through. How intolerable could they be? (Spoiler: we couldn’t make it all the way through a single one.)

Epic Rap Battles of History

The most popular channel of the five promoted, ERB features comedic – you guessed it – rap battles between historical and pop culture figures (think Moses vs. Santa Claus or Mozart vs. Skrillex). Comedians Peter Shukoff and Lloyd Ahlquist began the channel in 2010 after performing a well-received live rap show using two characters suggested by the audience. Since then, their videos have gone consistently viral, and they’ve gotten enough exposure to bring some familiar faces as rapping guests, including Key & Peele.

How much did you get through?

Li: 0:33. I thought I’d make it further, since I’ve watched entire videos by other YouTube stars like Smosh and Pewdiepie. But I couldn’t even make it to Bill Nye, because the hyperactive rapping by Sir Isaac Newton (Weird Al, weirder than usual) was a sensory overload. This felt like something I would have loved to watch in grade school. It wasn’t making me laugh as an adult, though, so I figured I’d spare myself the rest. As Newton himself would say, for every joke told, there must be an equal and opposite laugh in response. (Wait, was that not his Third Law?)

O’Keeffe: 0:49. I wanted to stick around until the Bill Nye impersonator started in, but my wait was not worth it. This reminds me of those JibJab Flash videos that were popular a decade ago, like “This Land.” I liked those, but I was in middle school at the time. I thought anything silly on the Internet was funny. These jokes just aren’t sharp, and the “rapping” is kind of embarrassing. Weird Al, a featured guest on this one, is okay, but in the “drunk friend breaking out a trick at karaoke” way. I get that ERB is supposed to be easy fun, but this was just terrible.

Average time: 0:41. Not for us, and probably not for anyone else, either.

Michelle Phan

Phan defines “YouTube celebrity.” The 27-year-old began posting makeup tutorials in 2007 and has since built an empire consisting of her own cosmetic line, a book deal, and projects with companies like L’Oreal and Lancôme. These weren’t tutorials for makeup amateurs—her videos covered how to resemble famous fictional characters (like The Wizard of Oz’s Glinda) and celebrities (like Taylor Swift), as well as taught viewers DIY tricks.

How much did you get through?

O’Keeffe: 0:23. Phan is ostensibly teaching us how to put on makeup for a music festival or summer party here, but I’m afraid I left my blue Katy Perry wig at home. There’s a lot of product hawking, too – she makes sure you see those logos, plus the album art for the song playing. Weirdest of all is the fact that it’s all done in voiceover – Phan never talks on camera, which is just creepy.

Li: 3:55. I’ve watched Phan’s videos before, so her tendency to pout at the camera and only use voiceover a la Bob Ross doesn’t bother me. (Also, her budget’s certainly gone up since I last watched her.) I did, however, watch this one with my Nick Miller turtle face on the whole way through. Props for creativity, but when am I ever going to don a Nicole Richie-shade of purple wig and lather my eyelids in shimmery lavender eye shadow? I don’t even own shimmery lavender eye shadow. I stuck around for the dramatic before-and-after, which is easily the best part, but I don’t think I’ll ever need to draw a “free spirit.”

Average time: 2:09. If you can tolerate Phan’s stylistic tics, you may enjoy her. But if you don’t, we’d urge you to stay away.

Bethany Mota

The 18-year-old vlogger talks fashion and beauty on her channel. Her bouncy camera presence attracted retailers’ attention, helping Mota grow in popularity as she organized giveaways for her fans, dubbed “Mota-vators,” and scored her partnerships with JCPenney and Forever 21. She has a clothing and accessories line at Aeropostale, and has gigs like a guest judge stint on season 13 of Project Runway coming up.

How much did you get through?

Li: 2:43. I think I hate-watched maybe the last 30 seconds of Mota fluffing her cotton candy colored pillows because I’m envious of the fact that she could sleep in that late. (Oh, to be 18 again.) But other than my irrational spite toward an endearing teenager who can’t help not having school in the summer, I found her video a nice reprieve from the rambling some vloggers tend toward. Admittedly, I’m not her target audience, and thus couldn’t quite connect to what she was saying. She seems lovely and natural, in a lonelygirl15 kind of way, except she lives in a non-cult-related life and is real.

O’Keeffe: 1:26. Though hearing about an 18-year-old woman’s morning routine isn’t usually in my daily routine, I find Mota charming. She wants to split a banana split with me, y’all! But then she told the audience they were all her “favorites” and “queens,” and I was the one splitting. It was just too pandering. That said, I always prefer someone who’s being themselves – or a version of themselves, I should say – over a character.

Average time: 2:04. Mota is lovely! But she’s definitely for a specific demographic.

Rosanna Pansino

Completing the female vlogger trifecta in YouTube’s campaign is the self-proclaimed “Baker of Nerdy Things” Rosanna “Ro” Pansino, whose show “Nerdy Nummies” features the 30-year-old creating Pinterest-friendly treats like Emoji cookies and Lego-shaped cakes. Her colorful, carefully decorated confections have brought her onto daytime talk shows and garnered her millions of sweet-toothed subscribers.

How much did you get through?

O’Keeffe: 2:10. I love food, but boy, Pansino’s banter with her guest co-host was stiff. “I love nutmeg,” the co-host said. “Yeah,” Pansino said back. Riveting stuff. I get that being funny isn’t her thing – and plenty of cooking show personalities aren’t – but the actual baking portion was too elementary. Also: Why is her style so viewer-unfriendly? Why is there no text breakdown of the recipe’s ingredients while she explains, nor a text version of the recipe in the video description? Pansino is fine – I just don’t get her.

Li: 6:02. I’m an unabashed fan of cooking shows (I could watch Chopped for hours), and even though this one felt like it was meant for a younger audience, I was into it. Pansino is appropriately bubbly, and she speaks at just the right pace for me to have a clear understanding of the recipe. That said, her co-host’s presence may have boosted how long I was able to stick with this. Having two people talk while cooking made it more engaging, and their self-deprecating comments and clumsiness gave it an unrehearsed, DIY feel. Of course, once they baked their final donut, I didn’t need to watch anymore.

Average time: 4:06. Pansino’s work is professional and pleasant, but it could stand to be a bit more fun.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.