The career of PewDiePie, the controversial 29-year-old who became the first solo YouTuber to reach 100 million subscribers
- PewDiePie is one of the most popular YouTube personalities in the world with over 100 million subscribers.
- PewDiePie, aka Felix Kjellberg, got his start doing gaming walkthroughs and reviews, but has since expanded to more satirical commentary and meme roundups.
- Here's everything you need to know about how the 29-year-old got his start on YouTube, immersed himself in controversy, and reached more than 100 million subscribers.
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Felix Kjellberg, who goes by PewDiePie online, was born October 24, 1989, in a city in southwest Sweden called Gothenburg. As a child, Kjellberg quickly developed a passion for video games, despite his parents wanting him to play less.
Kjellberg attended Chalmers University of Technology, located in the city where he was born, and pursued a degree in industrial economics and technology management. However, Kjellberg dropped out in 2011, saying he lacked interest in his major and "couldn't relate to f---ing anyone."
While at school, Kjellberg registered a YouTube account in 2010 under the name "PewDiePie," a combination of some words including the sound a shooting laser makes. After dropping out, Kjellberg decided to pursue a career with his YouTube channel, at a time when being a YouTuber wasn't seen as much of a viable career path, compared to today.
But Kjellberg's parents refused to support him financially after he dropped out of college. To earn money for his YouTube passion, he worked at a hot dog stand and sold his artwork.
In the early days, PewDiePie's channel consisted mostly of play-by-plays of video games — dubbed the "Let's Play" genre — along with color commentary. He found that his videos with horror games were more popular, and people were drawn to his overdone reactions.
One of PewDiePie's first videos to become a hit was his play-by-play video of the beloved game "Minecraft." His antics and voiceover comments have earned him over 12 million views and counting on the 2010 video.
Just as he started to take off on YouTube, Kjellberg met his now-wife Marzia Bisognin. Bisognin reportedly emailed Kjellberg to tell him she found his videos funny, and the two have been together ever since. She started her own YouTube channel called "CutiePieMarzia" in 2012.
By December 2011, PewDiePie reached 60,000 subscribers, and quit his gig at the hot dog stand. PewDiePie quickly established his signature video send-off: a "bro fist bump" to the camera and a message to "stay awesome."
Kjellberg expanded into content beyond video games early on, including his weekly vlog series called "Fridays with PewDiePie." PewDiePie reached his first million subscribers in July 2012, and later that year signed with a multi-channel YouTube network called Maker Studios.
From the beginning, comments that Kjellberg made in his play-by-play videos attracted controversy. In 2012, he was criticized for making rape jokes and trivializing sexual assault. He wrote on his Tumblr in October 2012 that he would no longer making rape jokes, and apologized if his jokes ever hurt anyone.
In August 2013, PewDiePie became the most-subscribed-to channel on YouTube. He edged out the Smosh Brothers for the title, and the creators created a video celebrating the new king of YouTube. By the end of 2013, PewDiePie had acquired nearly 19 million subscribers.
Kjellberg's popularity is evident: Several low-budget, relatively unknown video games he featured on his channel have found success and increased sales after their cameos, including "Goat Simulator" and "I Am Bread."
In 2014, PewDiePie became one of the first major channels on YouTube to disable comments on his videos. He said his comment sections were becoming inundated with trolls and spam, and hindering his ability to connect with his fans. ESPN compared the move to "the equivalent of LeBron James refusing to tweet."
By 2014, Kjellberg made an estimated $7.4 million. That was up $3 million from his estimated earnings a year before, showing the incredible growth of his channel in just four years. Kjellberg said he was "extremely tired" of constantly discussing his income.
PewDiePie released his own video game in 2015 called "PewDiePie: Legend of the Brofist." The $5 mobile app for iOS and Android devices is an action-adventure game with references to PewDiePie, his girlfriend Marzia, their dogs, and fellow YouTubers. It was a hit. He launched another game, "PewDiePie Tuber Simulator," in 2016.
Also in 2015, Kjellberg released a satirical self-help book called "This Book Loves You." The book parodying motivational texts rose to #1 on The New York Times bestseller list when it was released in November 2015.
So when YouTube launched its ad-free subscription service in 2015 called YouTube Red, the company announced it was working on an exclusive show with Kjellberg called "Scare PewDiePie." The series, which featured Kjellberg exploring sets based on horror games he's played in past videos, premiered in 2016.
Kjellberg is not shy about frequently trolling his fanbase and the media, like when he threatened to delete his YouTube channel after hitting 50 million subscribers. But his trolling also got him briefly kicked off Twitter in 2016 for saying he was joining ISIS.
But in 2017, Kjellberg's antics cost him. A Wall Street Journal report found that nine of his videos, between August 2016 and February 2017, included "anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery." One of those videos showed two men, paid by PewDiePie, holding up a sign reading "Death to All Jews."
In the fallout from the WSJ report, Disney and YouTube both cut ties with Kjellberg. Disney owned Maker Studios, the creator network Kjellberg was affiliated with, and called his videos "inappropriate." YouTube killed the second season of its series "Scare PewDiePie," and removed Kjellberg from its preferred advertising program.
Kjellberg later criticized YouTube for treating him unfairly by severing ties. He referred to the platform's reaction to Logan Paul's suicide forest controversy, after which YouTube still rolled out Paul's latest movie on its Premium subscription service. "Maybe it's because I joked about Jews and that's a more sensitive topic than showing a dead body," Kjellberg said in a video.
After being dropped by Disney and YouTube, Kjellberg released a video calling the backlash against his behavior "an attack by the media to try and discredit me." He flipped off the camera, and invited the media to "try again motherf---er" to take him down.
Not long after, Kjellberg announced he was turning to Twitch to launch weekly livestreams and a new series called "Best Club." The decision to stream on Twitch came as YouTube was dealing with its ad-pocalypse, which saw advertisers boycotting the platform because ads were appearing next to extremist content.
Kjellberg's history of making Nazi jokes didn't age well, especially after the fatal 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Kjellberg promised to stop making Nazi jokes, vowing he had "nothing to do with these people" and was alarmed he "actually got grouped in" with them.
However, Kjellberg was back to making offensive comments in his videos before the end of 2017. While livestreaming himself gaming, he used a racial slur during an expletive-ridden rant. It wasn't the first time he used the n-word — he dropped the slur in a video earlier that year too.
Kjellberg launched a popular series on his YouTube channel in November 2017 called "Meme Review," where the YouTuber reviews trending memes and internet jokes. The incredibly popular series has grown to feature big-name guests like right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Dr. Phil.
Kjellberg made sexist remarks in May 2018, referring to female gaming streamers as "stupid Twitch thots." After Twitch streamer Alinity retaliated by filing a copyright claim against one of Kjellberg's videos, Kjellberg derided Alinity's wardrobe choices. "You're just playing games with the shortest skirt ever," PewDiePie said in a video. "That’s our fault for looking at it in any sexual way, right?"
Kjellberg then faced criticism after posting a meme on Twitter in 2018 that mocked Demi Lovato shortly after she was hospitalized for a reported drug overdose. The meme showed Lovato asking her mom for money to buy a burger, which she then uses to buy heroin. He deleted it after a few hours and apologized for being "insensitive."
PewDiePie has been viewed as the bonafide King of YouTube for years, as he's kept his substantial lead as the most-subscribed to YouTube channel. However, that commanding lead started to be threatened in 2018, thanks to a Bollywood production company called T-Series. A rivalry between the two was quickly born.
However, Kjellberg was able to stave off T-Series gaining ground, thanks to a massive social media campaign by PewDiePie's loyal fans. Hackers targeted the Wall Street Journal homepage, smart TV devices, and thousands of printers to encourage people to "subscribe to PewDiePie." YouTuber Mr Beast also campaigned for PewDiePie.
As The New York Times reported, "subscribe to PewDiePie" was transformed into an "all-purpose cultural bat signal for the young and internet-absorbed." The slogan was used to deface a World War II memorial in New York with graffiti.
Then, the "subscribe to PewDiePie" slogan took on greater significance in March, when it was said during the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In a livestream video from the shooting, the suspected gunman is heard telling people to "subscribe to PewDiePie." Kjellberg said he was "absolutely sickened" to hear his name mentioned during the Christchurch shootings.
Kjellberg later posted a video on YouTube asking his fans to end the "subscribe to PewDiePie" movement. "This was made to be fun, but it's clearly not fun anymore. It's clearly gone too far," Kjellberg said. A day later, a plane with a banner reading "subscribe to PewDiePie" flew over New York City.
T-Series overtook PewDiePie's lead in March, and edged out PewDiePie in May to become the first YouTube channel to hit the 100-million subscriber mark. Kjellberg released two diss tracks mocking T-Series, but they were blocked from viewing in India after a court deemed them "vulgar" and "racist."
Kjellberg announced earlier this year that he would start regularly livestreaming again, this time on the relatively unknown livestreaming platform DLive. The blockchain-based platform says it doesn't take a cut of the revenue generated from livestreams, unlike similar platforms like Twitch.
The Washington Post reported in August that YouTube was allowing its most popular creators — including PewDiePie — to have more flexibility with the platform's rules and moderation policies. YouTube denied the claims, and said it applies policies "consistently, regardless of who a creator is."
Kjellberg got married on August 19 to Marzia, his girlfriend of nearly eight years. The two got married in London, and some of Kjellberg's YouTube pals were in attendance at the wedding.
PewDiePie hit the 100-million subscriber mark in late August, becoming the first individual YouTuber to hit the milestone. Kjellberg remains one of the highest-earning YouTubers: Forbes estimates that his earnings in 2018 were $15.5 million.
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