Welcome to Passionfruit’s Picks of 2022, a year-end list celebrating some of the most stand-out creators of the year. With these selections, we hope to bring attention to just a few of the creators who can teach us something about what it means to make an impact on the internet in 2022.
With so many talented creators bursting onto the scene in recent years, plucking out only a handful to celebrate was a daunting task. While we definitely considered things like follower counts, in the end, we made our selections based on subjective criteria that went beyond raw numbers.
After all, being a stand-out social media star is as much about ineffable qualities like community, creativity, and artistic impression as it is about racking up views. Specifically, we’ve focused on creators with innovative content strategies, mold-breaking creativity, and a passion for igniting meaningful change. We’ve also highlighted those who showed other creators how to cultivate an audience and turn their content into a career.
We nominated creators under four categories: influential insiders, rising stars, advocates, and game-changers. Our list includes creators who are surviving the game, winning the game, and reinventing the game. Read more about them below.
Our influential insiders are the creators who share their best secrets—the tips, tricks, and tools that help their fellow creators take their social media game to the next level.
Coco Mocoe (@CocoMocoe)
There’s no predicting what might go viral on social media, but it takes an understanding of what works to make a career out of content creation. Coco Mocoe has made a big splash this year by analyzing the careers of specific successful creators and what they’ve done right to make their channels pop. Her watchful eye predicts internet trends, like the rise of the Tumblr aesthetic, and scours specific niches to find case studies that will help a wide range of aspiring creators. She goes out of her way to help these accounts build strategies that are tailored to them, helping her build a dedicated audience of her own.
But perhaps one of Mocoe’s biggest strengths that sets her apart from other strategists on TikTok is how, despite becoming known for analyzing and forecasting trends on social media, she stresses that the best content often comes from bucking them. Encouraging creators to focus on thinking outside of the box and decline chasing what’s already been done, her breakdowns of videos go against the grain. And it’s her version of going against the trends—that is, understanding them and their importance, while also acknowledging when creators should abstain from them—that makes her an influential insider to watch.
Paddy Galloway (@PaddyG96)
If you’ve ever read an article about best practices for YouTube, you might have been reading something inspired by Paddy Galloway. This Irish content creator, consultant, and algorithm wizard has a reputation for getting videos seen better than almost anyone in the world. Galloway’s clients reportedly earn over 700 million views per month, and there’s a waitlist for his consulting work, according to his Twitter bio. You don’t have to just trust that he knows what he’s talking about. Galloway’s clients include MrBeast (arguably the biggest figure on YouTube with 120 million subscribers) and Prestonplayz (13.7 million subscribers), whose content has gone viral across multiple platforms.
Still, Galloway remains fascinatingly approachable for new creators, from his quick responses on social media to his Google Doc submission form for consulting work anyone can fill out. Both professionally and in his social content, Galloway is constantly educating new creators. Galloway’s 10-minute micro-documentaries break down the business plans and failures of YouTube’s biggest stories. Business schools won’t teach you how figures like MrBeast built their empires or explore how unknown channels have quickly built loyal audiences, making Galloway a top contender on our list.
Brendan Gahan (@brendangahan)
In the world of content creation, Brendan Gahan is the sort of important, powerful name new creators don’t always hear about. The chief social officer at renowned agency Mekanism, Gahan has worked in influencer marketing for 16 years and sits on the VidCon Advisory Board. Gahan understands the cycles of the industry, having lived through them himself. Having worked in YouTube marketing since its early days in 2006, Gahan helped develop the modern world of social marketing. He’s worked for movies studios, Mountain Dew, and Amazon, and helped sell the Olympics on social media.
But most importantly, he never stops talking about marketing. Gahan’s Twitter account is a weekly master class on what is happening in social media—like in-depth discussions of how Amazon is experimenting with a TikTok-like feed on its shopping app or the occasional sober reflection on how things change on social media. Gahan watched every platform rise and fall for almost two decades, but by taking his lessons to heart, creators can learn from the past. Gahan told Passionfruit with declining ad revenue and reduced creator programs in 2022, he thinks creators will lean into selling paid subscriptions and building their own brands, saying: “Creator-owned and operated businesses are the future.” We’re looking forward to hearing more of his insights in 2023.
Tejas Hullur (@tejashullur)
In content creation, the only thing that stands between you and starting your career is getting past your fears and getting started. Your failure might lay the groundwork for your success. From breaking down his original misses on YouTube to digesting his explosive popularity on TikTok, reflection is the foundation of Tejas Hullur’s career. Originally setting out to make YouTube videos, Hullur learned the ropes of editing and creation but couldn’t find an audience. He told Fortune everything changed when he noticed Charli D’Amelio’s success on TikTok. He sat down to study the platform and unlock why some videos pop while others sink.
Launching his channel to share what he learned, along with humorous videos showcasing the lessons in action, Hullur developed his massive following of 594,000 fans. Pivoting away from myopically focusing on content creation, Hullur has found success covering innovation and wealth creation. If you want to understand what’s going on at any given moment in the world of TikTok and Gen Z creators and entrepreneurs, Hullur’s channel is an invaluable resource to start with.
Our rising stars are the up-and-coming creators who exploded onto the scene in 2022—with fresh content so good it was impossible to ignore.
Aliyah’s Interlude (@aliyahsinterlude1)
Dubbed the “Visual Diary of an It Girl,” 19-year-old Aliyah’s TikTok channel marks the revival of the “It Girl” aesthetic—an extension of the Y2K era popularized by the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears. There’s no such thing as overdressing for Aliyah, with her unique, hyperfeminine fashion acting as the perfect balance to her candid video diaries. Her authenticity and sense of style helped her amass 2 million followers on TikTok since she started posting this year.
She made her magazine debut earlier in the year as a cover star for Unbothered, a platform made by lifestyle outlet Refinery29 designed to celebrate and amplify Black voices. Along with modeling, Aliyah has become a popular TikTok personality thanks to her relatable videos where she discusses everything from situationships to fashion and current affairs. With 2022 being the year of aesthetics, Aliyah even invented one of her own: #aliyahcore. Aliyah has already collaborated with a few small fashion brands as a model across 2022, but if her rise in popularity this year is anything to go by, we expect to see a lot more of her in 2023.
Rodger Cleye (@rodgercleye)
If you don’t know who Rodger Cleye is, you’ve definitely seen his face and heard his voice before. After plugging away at the TikTok machine for over two years, where he made over 5,000 videos, he catapulted to viral fame over the summer. Demonstrating that repeatable formats still have their place in meme culture, clips of Cleye singing along to Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, and Christina Perri became viral powerhouses in and of themselves. Viewers made Cleye’s clips into relatable edits about taking too long in the shower, goofing off at work, and pining over situationships—among other things.
As several accounts dedicated to these kinds of edits popped up on the platform, the TikTok hashtags #rodgercleyeedit and #rodgercleyememe amassed half a billion views combined on the app. Cleye himself is continuing to thrive on his new status as a wholesome internet celebrity as he continues to enthusiastically interact with fans and take them up on their song requests, gaining over 3.2 million followers. In a world full of discourse and disinformation, Cleye’s musical covers and his dedicated fanbase bring a beam of light to an otherwise dark interweb.
Devin Halbal (@hal.baddie)
Armed with a selfie stick and a knack for memorable quips, 24-year-old Devin Halbal, who is more commonly known as travel TikToker Hal Baddie, took the internet by storm in 2022. Halbal embodies a much-needed antidote to the perfection-rooted social media wellness movement we’ve seen this year. Forget the “clean girl” aesthetic and the need to invest in a 10-step skincare routine to become “that girl,” Hal Baddie is all about embodying high camp, chaotic “Met Gala Behavior,” and encouraging viewers to be their authentic, unapologetic self through affirmations like “elevate, activate, and appreciate.”
Halbal is known for comedic TikToks as well as more candid videos about her experiences as a transgender person and navigating unfamiliar countries. Halbal’s over 593,000 TikTok followers aren’t just fans, they are her “dolls,” as the creator fosters a tight-knit community. As someone who resonates with so many people, it’s only natural that brands would snap her up to become their new face and appeal to a Gen Z audience—signing with the WME talent agency in 2022 seemed like the next natural step for this refreshing influencer. We’re looking forward to seeing what new opportunities Halbal encounters as she travels the world.
When it comes to internet fame, live streams are one of the most difficult nuts to crack. This is what makes the rise of Kelon, most commonly known as Itzpsyiconic, so fascinating to watch. Kelon puts on a weekly one-person, multi-character show, and he has become an internet sensation and one of the most well-known Live creators on the platform this year. Among his 1.1 million followers are the likes of celebrities Doja Cat, Ziwe, and Hunter Schafer, who, as well as appearing in Kelon’s Lives, fully embrace the character-driven comedy that underpins his streams and online identity as a whole.
He’s one of the few successful creators to utilize celebrity guest stars to amplify a profile and not run the risk of being overshadowed by them. Having managed to unlock the secret of making Lives successful, he managed to build a comedy career based on fictional personas like Terri Joe, who, thanks to their distinctive look and catchphrases, have become icons in and of themselves. Ultimately, with his weekly shows on TikTok Live, Kelon’s meteoric rise to fame just goes to show that when it comes to breaking it in comedy, certain techniques never go out of style.
Our advocates are the creators who are on social media for more than clout: They are those who use their platforms to further a cause and represent their communities.
Imani Barbarin (@crutches_and_spice)
Imani Barbarin, known to her followers as Crutches and Spice, used her own experience with cerebral palsy as a Black woman to advocate for disability rights. Barbarin’s work regarding the intersection of ableism and racism set her apart as an advocate for an underrepresented group facing unique challenges frequently overlooked by other prominent single-issue activists. Her thoughtful analyses span everything from politics to pop culture—and her work is getting noticed.
Earlier in the year, her anger with CDC director Rochelle Walensky’s dismissive statement about being “encouraged” that 75% of deaths among those vaccinated against COVID-19 were people with comorbidities led to Barbarin creating the hashtag #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy. She has been sounding the alarm about the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on those with disabilities from the start through her blog, contributions to major publications, and appearances on talk shows. Her work didn’t start with the pandemic, but her years-long fight to bring awareness to the ableism so deeply ingrained in every facet of our society was especially influential in 2022. With a proclivity for elevating others, Barbarin solidified her place as a critical voice in disability activism to whom we should all be listening.
Dylan Mulvaney (@dylanmulvaney)
Dylan Mulvaney was an actress by trade, but she didn’t gain fame for playing any role—just by being herself. Mulvaney came out as a trans woman in March, documenting her journey in the now-viral Days of Girlhood series, which peels back the curtain on her transition, inviting TikTokers to experience her everyday challenges and celebrations. Even though her series is less than a year old, Mulvaney racked up a staggering 9.5 million TikTok followers, proving just how compelling vulnerability in a serialized format can be.
Rather than rest on her laurels, Mulvaney became a dedicated advocate for the trans community. She visited the White House to lobby President Joe Biden on trans rights amid a sweeping wave of anti-trans legislation in Republican-led states. After her visit, she received a wave of transphobic attacks from prominent Republicans like Tucker Carlson and fellow trans woman Caitlyn Jenner. Mulvaney responded to Jenner with her trademark positivity and honesty. “I’m just curious if you can think back to your early days of transitioning and being embarrassed about your body or having strangers give you dirty looks,” she said in a video.
The episode was more than just a viral clapback, it was emblematic of Mulvaney’s approach to trans advocacy. Mulvaney responds to both positive and negative viewer comments with a combination of humor and honesty that’s downright infectious. Her brand of confident vulnerability is a powerful thing, and we’re excited to see what she does with it.
Giovanna Gonzalez (@thefirstgenmentor)
Despite being an essential life skill, a lot of us go through life with little-to-no guidance in how to manage our finances, especially those from disadvantaged communities. This is why Giovanna Gonzalez is committed to helping other Latinx people and those who grew up in immigrant households understand financial literacy—so much so, that she even quit her job in investment management to commit herself full-time to creating content that champions accessible financial knowledge and literacy.
Earlier in the year, Gonzalez took LinkedIn by storm as a beneficiary of its creator accelerator program. But the cross-platform star also made a lasting mark by utilizing TikTok’s digestible, short-form video format, growing an audience of over 197,000 followers who tune in to hear their “first-gen older sister” share the kind of professional and financial advice sometimes not accessible to them. Now, armed with a TikTok Latinx Creatives Grant, she is finishing her first personal finance book set to publish in 2023 for Latinx and first-generation immigrants. Of the 50 finance books she’s read, she never found one targeted toward that demographic specifically. We’re looking forward to reading this powerful advocate’s novel in the new year.
Braden Kadlun Johnston (@kadlun)
The multifaceted nature of Braden Johnston’s TikTok content means that you’ll never scroll away from his feed without having learned something, whether it be about his cultural identity as an Indigenous person or some hard, candid home truths about the reality of addiction recovery. It was only this year that he started to regularly post on TikTok, but in that time, he has not only gained over 111,400 followers but was also selected by TikTok to be part of its exclusive acceleration program for Indigenous creators.
An inspiration to many of his followers, Braden developed a loyal fanbase by guiding them through the highs and lows of his sobriety journey as an Inuk man, having recently celebrated his 3-year sobriety anniversary. When it comes to collaborations, his most loyal collaborator is his mom, Hovak Johnston. Together, the pair discuss and raise awareness of various aspects of Inuit culture, allowing him to educate his audience in more ways than one. Johnston is undoubtedly poised to continue building community and inspiring others in his second year on TikTok, and we can’t wait to see what he accomplishes.
Our game-changers are the creators who made seismic impacts on the creator economy in 2022. These notorious figures didn’t just pull eyeballs, they made headlines, sparked conversations, and sent shockwaves through the creator community.
Hank Green (@hankgreen)
Hank Green is no stranger to accolades of any kind. Green, who got started on YouTube in 2007 with his Vlogbrother John, has become an institution in his own right with podcasts, novels, a production company, and founding the annual VidCon convention—the must-attend event for thousands of creators and fans every year. Praising Green is well-worn territory, so what’s he doing on our year-end list? Simply put, Green earned his spot this year not for how high he’s climbed the creator ladder, but for helping other creators climb up behind him.
He made waves in early 2022 by debating TikTok’s creator fund, which divides a fixed and relatively small pool of money among an exponentially growing number of creators. Green then went on to inspect YouTube for its plan to monetize short TikTok-like videos using a similar creator fund structure. He’s managed to think deeply about the perverse incentives of the creator economy without succumbing to them, a remarkable feat. Rather than chasing fleeting fame or making a quick buck, he’s driven by a real passion to make things other people like, carving out a mini media empire that’s lasted for 15 years—several lifetimes in internet years.
Khaby Lame (@khabylame)
Before 2020, no one had “Italian Senegalese-born former factory worker dethrones Queen of TikTok Charli D’Amelio” on their bingo card. Fast forward to 2022, and Khaby Lame has done just that. Lame, who dove into TikTok after losing his factory job during the pandemic, became the most popular person on the platform with almost 153 million followers compared to D’Amelio’s 149 million. It’s an impressive feat, but it’s even more impressive considering he’s earned it mostly from videos where he doesn’t utter a single word.
Lame rose to fame by dueting and stitching viral TikToks. He lampooned popular videos surfaced by TikTok’s algorithm, mocking the absurdity of dubious “life hacks,” ridiculous viral trends, and cringe thirst videos. In a typical video from Lame, his stony “over it” facial expression gives way to an exaggerated bug-eyed look as he extends his hands in a “SEE!?” gesture to drive the silent punchline home. Providing a much-needed pressure release for TikTok’s prevailing culture, while so many were emulating the kings and queens of TikTok for clout, Lame became the court jester, deflating their royal pomp. In doing so, he’s become social media royalty himself, with a king’s ransom to boot.
Julia Fox (@juliafox)
Everyone has already said it, but it bears repeating: This is the year of TikTok icon Julia Fox. In a matter of months, Fox managed to buck her fleeting pop culture association as Kanye West’s and “uncut jahms” Josh Safdie’s muse, shooting to new levels of notoriety as a TikTok guru whose videos Harper’s Bazaar categorized as having launched “a feminist awakening.” Fox wrangled the video platform to take ownership of her narrative, refusing to be distilled to a mere meme, punchline, or joots and jeans model.
Her TikTok monologues are often unfiltered and bare-faced, giving her fans and haters a look behind the glittering curtain of fame, while also admitting that she’s in it for the money—and so what? Hair unwashed, shot from the bed, the shower, or NYC sidewalks, watching her videos feels like you’re FaceTiming your best friend while she waxes poetic about aging (“getting old is fucking hot, OK?”), rages against the patriarchy (“women are superior, sorry not sorry”), and doles out relationship advice for the girlies (“deprogramming starts now”). Fox stitches and duets smaller creators, launching impactful discourse about the price of fame, her experience as a dominatrix, being a single parent, and more, making her a true game-changer.
Cory DeVante Williams (@coryxkenshin)
No stranger to fame, Cory DeVante Williams—better known to his over 15 million followers as gaming icon CoryxKenshin—got started on YouTube in 2009 and rose to popularity for hilarious skits and a penchant for horror games. While Williams has always been a star, this year he made our list for sparking a viral debate regarding potentially discriminatory practices on social media. In August 2022, Williams uploaded a video explaining how his video on the horror game The Mortuary Assistant was age-restricted despite the fact that many other videos, specifically made by his white peers, were not.
After a tumultuous turn of events with YouTube’s support team, Williams explained he felt YouTube’s policies seemed to be driven less by objective standards for age-appropriateness, and more so by “racism and favoritism.” The video blew up, with numerous YouTuber stars—like Markiplier, Jacksepticeye, and Philip DeFranco—also speaking out about the incident. William’s bravery to share his experience coincides with wider trends in 2022 of creators speaking out against censoring and demonetization practices online. With candor and grace, Williams set the stage for speaking out against injustices in the year to come.
In the new year, we hope to regularly uplift the creator community and give shout-outs to those who made a difference. We thank you for an amazing year at Passionfruit. Cheers to the next one!