Here is a video posted on YouTube yesterday of two young British people singing a cover of the Faith Hill song "This Kiss." Just some random thing, two kids having a laugh, right? Well, except look: This video already has over 80,000 views after only a day. How is that? Some random resurgence in interest in Faith Hill's late '90s oeuvre? Well, alas, no. In fact this video is from a popular YouTube user named "nerimon," aka Alex Day, a British internet celebrity in his early 20s who is part of a niche collective that, well, we've become strangely obsessed with.
Day, who has had songs rise to the top of the UK radio charts and has 500,000 subscribers on YouTube, is something of an acolyte of the even more popular Charlie McDonnell, who, with nearly 1.5 million subscribers, is Great Britain's most popular YouTuber. What makes them so popular exactly? Well, it's hard to say. Their videos roughly fall under the category of comedy, but really it's a collection of varied kitschy, nerdy ephemera. Little riffs on science, popular culture, music, etc. all mingle together and create a kind of variety show for emo/hipster teenagers. (Mostly girls, it seems.) And, uh, us, apparently.
We don't remember how we stumbled on Charlie and Alex, who are roommates in the London house they bought with their YouTube earnings (both are partners and get a cut of ad sales), but stumbled we did, and, though not exactly in the target demographic (or at least the demographic that wound up being hit), we were strangely entranced. Through related video links and the like, we were led down a winding little rabbit hole, finding ourselves in a strange new place. These videos point to a curious, contained world, they offer a glimpse into a subculture we had no idea existed. It seems there a bunch of anime/video game/music obsessed British guys in ladies' jeans posting extremely popular videos on YouTube. And they're entertaining!
Of course YouTube is full of genres (which we might get into in further posts), but this one seems especially particular and surprisingly all the more popular for it. Charlie begat Alex who begat a host of other personalities. (Well, that's not the exact chronology, but all things do seem to emanate from Charlie.) There's also Chris Kendall/crabstickz (114,000 subscribers), who does sketch-type comedy videos that are wittier than you'd think:
There's Dan Is Not On Fire (205,000 subscribers), a self-deprecating "My life is a fail" type who does corny stuff about university and various other youth-y topics:
And there's Kick the PJ, a tousle-haired art student who makes videos involving his cartoon creations and, y'know, his jeans:
They have other friends, and there are girls involved too (tangentially, it seems — they're nowhere near as popular) and the whole thing coalesces to form a curious clique that's secretly the most popular one in school.
The appeal in these guys' case is probably, yes, that they all have funky hair and cute accents and trendy clothes and seem perfectly nonthreatening. They're One Direction for adolescent girls who prefer their guys a little on the dorkier side. And lest you think we're weird old pervs for aligning ourselves with the tastes of internet-prowling teenage girls, the guys themselves are of less interest to us than the fact of their success. They sell merchandise, and it would seem a decent amount of it. As mentioned before, Alex Day has made a fairly successful music career selling stuff like this. McDonnell landed a TV hosting gig (that he quit) and has seemed to enter the jaded phase where he doubts everything about his art. That's usually reserved for a rock band on its third album. And yet here's this 21-year-old with his own house in London and a paying job doing what many people do for free, starting to question it all like some old-timer. We suppose you could call McDonnell and his friends YouTube rockstars, but they're so squeaky clean — they don't much talk about drink or drugs, and really only Day talks much about sex, and even then it's in a sort of third party, non-personal way — that the term doesn't seem to quite fit. They're the latest example of nerds who made it big by virtue of their nerdiness. They're nerds sporting carefully styled coifs and women's pants, but they're nerds nonetheless.
We're not even sure why we're divulging our obsession (a strong word, but close to accurate) with these geeky Brits, but here we are. Maybe it's like The Ring, where the only way to break the curse is to pass it on to someone else. So here, have it. We've spent too many idle, procrastinating hours hearing English kids talk about cartoon animals, we know too much about how attending uni affects the playing of various Zelda titles and other goof-offery. Watch these videos and try to explain this phenomenon to us. Why now? Why England? Why women's jeans?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.