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‘I’m just very thankful for this year, and I’m just very tired.’
Since kicking off 2015, Oakley has mounted an international tour, continued a successful podcast, penned a bestselling memoir, released a documentary, hosted the Streamy awards, and seen his face on billboards promoting YouTube, all while continuing his main gig of digital video star for his 7.8 million fans. He’s topping the Daily Dot’s list of influential YouTubers for the second year in a row—a testament to his enduring influence in the world of creators and his growing influence to the world of general pop culture.
Fresh off a month unplugged to be part of an upcoming season of CBS’ The Amazing Race and a week of promoting his documentary, Snervous, Oakley spoke to the Daily Dot about how 2015 was a very different year for him compared with years past and how his plans for 2016 include identifying and amplifying diverse new voices on YouTube. Tyler Oakley’s Dream Factory, anyone?
What felt different or interesting about 2015 for you?
“[Ellen] felt like a benchmark of my career and a moment for my channel.”
Prior to 2015 I had kind of approached every year like “let’s hope for the best.” I always made these year-end videos with 100 things I did, and it would kind of build itself up throughout the year. When this year started, it was like I knew the 100 things before I even got to do them. It felt like everything that was going to happen this year I was ready for; it was in my calendar. That made it a little bit more daunting, if anything. At the same time, I feel like I did more things, bigger and better, than I’ve ever done before. If anything, it kept me focused on what I had to get done.
Are you approaching 2016 in the same way?
I’m trying to leave more of my calendar open for the spontaneous things. A lot of fun stuff that happened in previous years were things that were like, “Hey are you available next week?” I wasn’t really open unless it was planned months in advance. I’m excited to play it by ear and let a lot of stuff happen as it happens. I had to say no to so much stuff this year that would have been awesome and incredible.
Any true surprises for you this year?
Ellen, for sure. Being on Ellen was that moment for me. You can never plan that, and even the day before I was like, “There’s no way this is happening.” I’m 100 percent the type of person to think, “This is not going to actually happen; I cannot get my hopes up,” until it actually happens. And even then I’m like, “Maybe they won’t even air it.” Ellen was that for me. It felt like a benchmark of my career and a moment for my channel—a culmination of all this stuff coming to fruition.
It was never in my thought process to hit a checklist. I didn’t want to check things off. If it felt natural and it felt right to do it, then I should do it. It wasn’t like I wanted to be the first to do something, because I really wasn’t the first to do any of those things. But I wanted to do it in my own way, to watch my peers do those things and see how they work and absorb that. That’s hopefully why they were pretty successful for me, because I was able to witness them as they happened for my friends and consider how would I want to do that more “me” to enjoy it the most.
How does your success this year at those projects affect how you’ll approach similar projects in the future?
Doing those things the first time opened my eyes about how I would approach them the next time. Nothing was disastrously bad or terrible. Nothing traumatizing for me, but there’s little things I picked up along the way. If I ever do another movie of some sort, or development of a production, there are ways that I would want to do things a little bit differently. I’m learning as I go. Most YouTubers don’t come into those new mediums or separate worlds knowing everything. If anything, we’re experimenting as we go. We ask each other for advice.
Have you seen changes to your fanbase in 2015?
I think they’re as excited as before, but I think they express it a little differently. I think they approach everything a little more calmly. I think fangirlism, what you would think of for being a fangirl and crazy rabid, all this stuff I would self identity with years ago… I’ve calmed down, and I think they’ve calmed down. I think there’s more a desire for actual conversation and more meaningful discussion, as opposed to hysteria. I think it’s good for everyone.
Is that difficult for you now, with the growth of your fanbase, to achieve that kind of meaningful interaction?
I think I’m finding ways. This year was about finding ways to have those meaningful conversations, and the book was a huge way for that. The tour was a huge way for that. It wasn’t about quantity; it wasn’t a selfie line. It was making sure there was cushion and time to engage in meaningful conversations. It was finding ways not just to share more, but to allow the relationship between creator and consumer of the content to grow also.
Having more of yourself—the personal you—out there to your fans with the book and the movie, how has that affected your own personal life?
It has been really great for a lot of people in my life to better understand where I come from and what I’m doing and what it means to be a YouTuber. A lot of people in my personal life have a better understanding and can grasp what I do, whether it was them coming to the tour, or reading about [how] it’s not all red carpets and smiles and cameras. If anything, those things are easier to understand on the surface for non Internet people. They understand the concept of me releasing a book as opposed to me releasing a collab, and if they actually consume that content, they get it on a much better level. It’s really been positive, in all aspects.
Looking forward, the biggest thing coming up for you that we know about is The Amazing Race. The influencers involved are so used to being in control of their own edits, but now it’s a TV show with someone else in charge. How’s that feeling for you? Do you have any concerns?
I’m not too concerned, to be honest. If anything, I hope that people will understand that this is a high-pressure situation. If they were in a similar situation, they’d probably be frantic also. I’m really thankful I do what I do, because it’s really prepared me to be conscious of how things can be spun, so I was always aware I had a camera or a microphone on me.
Has it been weird to come back from a monthlong hiatus from social media?
It was literally life-changing and perspective-changing. To come back and to get back into my work thoughts and remembering all the stressors I had from before the race, I was like, “Why were those stressors? Why did some of those things matter?” It was really eye-opening. I feel so recharged from that, and although it was one of the most challenging things, it let a certain part of my brain relax for a minute. That was really nice.
As you look into 2016, what are you most anticipating for the new year, both for your own career and for the YouTube community overall?
Compared to previous years, where there’s always been new crops of talent, I look back at the last year and I can’t really think of the people who have shaken up the YouTube world, or changed the game. Yes, there are a handful, but compared to previous years where there were definite newcomers, I think 2015 was kind of lacking in that.
In 2016, one of the things I really hope to do is discover new talent and help develop it. Take what I’ve learned and what I can do and help amplify those voices. Address the issue of diversity on YouTube and hopefully develop diverse voices, because I think as a YouTuber, you have a responsibility to help amplify the voices your audience might resonate with, and hopefully in 2016 I find a diverse set of voices to develop in whatever way they are hoping to, but maybe couldn’t without the assistance. I hope to introduce my audience to who I think is the next class of YouTuber.
The Tyler Oakley Dream Factory?
Maybe! We’ll see.
Illustration by Max Fleishman
A former YouTube reporter for the Daily Dot, Rae Votta has more than a decade of experience in the digital and entertainment industries. Her work has appeared on AOL, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, Logo, VH1, Current TV, Billboard, and NYMag. She joined Netflix in 2016.