If you are under 30, you probably already know that YouTubers and other digital influencers aren’t niche entertainers anymore. These days, they’re on the same level as their traditional media counterparts.
That growing relevance (and sway) of the world’s social-media stars is underscored by Forbes magazine’s latest “30 Under 30” list, which pays tribute to some of the most successful millennials (and younger) in business, entertainment, science and more.
While this isn’t the first time a YouTuber has made the list (beauty guru Michelle Phan and gaming personality PewDiePie, aka Felix Kjellberg, were named to the 2015 list), this year marks the largest number of digital influencers to be recognized.
“We’re increasingly seeing YouTube as a viable platform for long-term success among entertainers,” said Emily Inverso, who co-authored the Forbes‘ story along with reporter Caroline Howard.
“There’s such reach to whatever they do, whether it’s entertainers, entrepreneurs (or) gaming,” Inverso told StreamDaily.
Among those big stars is Lilly Singh, better known on YouTube as IISuperwomanII. Singh, 27 and signed with Collective Digital Studio, found herself among the likes of Star Wars actor John Boyega and Girls star Zosia Mamet in the entertainment category.
The Toronto, Canada native vlogs (to an audience of 7.6 million subscribers), raps and performs live on stage, and was also among the top-earning YouTubers last year (a list also compiled by Forbes), earning a reported $2.5 million.
“We looked at Lilly not only for the number of people she reaches and the money she brings in, but also the way she’s able to look at these different platforms and use them to her advantage,” said Inverso.
“She was one of the early people that YouTube reached out to with its YouTube Red programming. She’s done her live tour. Basically, she’s managed to have an impact in several different areas and spread her influence around.”
Other digital influencers making the list in various categories include:
- The Young Turks co-host and producer Ana Kasparian, 29, who was hailed by the magazine as one of the top of young people in the world of media and news. The Young Turks, which recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, has become a favorite for news and cultural content among millennials. Kasparian also teaches journalism at California State University, Northridge.
- Gamer Jordan Maron (better known as CaptainSparklez) was featured in the gaming section of the Forbes’ ranks. While Maron’s stats as a gaming vlogger are noteworthy (he has accrued more than nine million subscribers on YouTube and has received branded content deals from brands such as Toys ‘R’ Us), his biggest accomplishment this year was launching his own independent game studio, XREAL, which released its first title (Fortress Fury) in May.
- Seventeen-year-old Shawn Mendes topped the list of young musicians. He now receives plenty of radio play for pop earworms such as “Stitches,” but Mendes got his start on Vine in 2013, performing six-second covers of his favorite songs. In August of 2014, Mendes was the third-most followed musician on Vine. Shortly thereafter, he was signed by Island Records. Mendes has also appeared on another high-profile list, Time’s ranking of the 25 most influential teens in both 2014 and 2015.
A capella group Pentatonix, who also rose to fame on YouTube, was also among Forbes’ ranks.
Inverso said musicians like Mendes are increasingly looking to platforms like YouTube and Vine as more than just outlets for expression. Many young artists see digital platforms as an accessible springboard to broader fame (after all, superstar Justin Bieber was famously discovered through YouTube).
“It’s just gotten the gatekeeper out of the way,” said Inverso of the ability of emerging stars to directly reach a massive audience.
But going mainstream isn’t the only direction for digital stars. Inverso said entrepreneur Phan, part of the Endemol Beyond USA network, is a strong example of someone who continues to focus on building her YouTube influence, even as she branches out her business offerings.
“She has made all this money. She’s expanded into so many different areas, but she’s still serving the same audience that got her to where she is,” said Inverso.
Since Phan’s induction onto last year’s Forbes’ list, she’s launched a number of side projects on top of her beauty tutorials. She’s paired with Endemol to launch the lifestyle-focused Icon network, opened a free-to-use studio for aspiring beauty vloggers and has even delved into the world of graphic novels.
Phan, 28, also made the front cover of this year’s 30 Under 30 list, part of the magazine’s high-profile alumuni.