First it was mod. Then it was punk. London’s Carnaby Street has long been a place where music and youth culture explode together to create a teenage revolution. Today, there’s a small corner of this iconic street where the world of music meets the 21st century’s biggest youth sensation: YouTube.
A few storeys above the oblivious milling tourists, in an office with a giant Millennium Falcon hung on the wall and collectible vinyl figures on the shelves, identical twins and rock stars Jason and Adam Perry are plotting Hello World, a live show featuring the UK’s biggest YouTube stars.
Taking place on 28 and 29 October at Birmingham’s Genting Arena, Hello World brings fans together with a stellar line-up of YouTubers including Zoella, Caspar Lee, Alfie Deyes, KSI, Louise Pentland, Olympic swimmer Tom Daly, pop band The Vamps and many more. People over the age of 18 may be only dimly aware of these names, but they have millions of fans. 12 million people subscribe to Zoella’s YouTube channel, while among UK channels only pop stars One Direction and Ed Sheeran can beat KSI’s 17 million.
And there’s a huge appetite for real-life interaction between YouTubers and audiences: live events such as Vidcon in the US and Summer in the City in the UK draw tens of thousands of fans to meet and greet their favourites.
That’s where Jason and Adam, the singer and drummer in British rock band A, come in. Named in 1993 with a single letter so they’d be first in the record store racks, A are best known for their effervescent, harmony-drenched stadium-punk sound and incendiary live performances, culminating in 2002 top 10 hit “Nothing“. With years of experience playing the world’s biggest festivals and arenas, they decided to try and bring the YouTube experience into the live arena — and Hello World was born.
Hello World is designed to be an immersive show with performance stages big and small, a beach, a bookshop, even a spa. “It’s Secret Cinema for teenagers,” explains Jason.
Something’s going on
“Maybe it’s us getting old,” says Adam, “but we’ve always been looking for that new punk, and we thought this might be it.” Like many parents, they began to take notice of YouTubers when their kids — Adam has two children aged 10 and 14, while Jason has four aged between 2 and 14 — watched YouTube all the time instead of TV, even pretending to record YouTube-style vlogs.
“It’s really exciting that these kids are speaking directly to our kids without any gatekeepers”, says Grammy-winning producer Jason, who sees this irreverent, DIY spirit as similar to old-school punk rock for kids who feel left out of traditional media. “There’s nothing for teenagers on TV — no wonder they’ve all gone to YouTube”, he says.
The Hello World bill includes Alfie Deyes and Zoella, the YouTube power couple at the heart of a bubble of online personalities sharing flats and relationships and, above all, making videos together. People over the age of 18 might be mystified by the appeal of make-up hauls, lifestyle vlogs and daft challenges, but for teenagers this YouTube-centric world is a cross between reality show, soap opera and best friend, all served up in bite-sized chunks on their phone and laptop.
“Teenagers are finding their way into the world, who they are and what they are”, says Jason. “There’s no way to find peers they can relate to, so they’re all gravitating towards YouTube. It’s fantastic really.”
Older viewers are often puzzled by the fact YouTubers often don’t fall into a recognisable category. Many of them they don’t sing, dance, act — they just, like, sit there talking. But as Jason points out, “You sit in a room with a top YouTuber, they’ve just got it, that thing, that star quality.”
The Hello World team set out to channel that star quality into live experiences tailored to the individual performers, from big names such as Jim Chapman and Marcus Butler to up-and-coming talent including Katie Pix and twins Niki and Sammy Albon. Borrowing from the experience of going to Disneyland, Hello World is designed to be expansive enough to take the pressure off individual performers while giving each section the right level of intimacy for both talent and fans. The show includes both a 35ft-tall emoji house — Hello World’s version of the Disneyland castle — and smaller areas where fans can draw on their heartfelt connection with their favourite YouTubers by joining intimate fireside chats, music performances, cooking demos and question-and-answer sessions.
“We just want to build a happy, entertaining place where our kids could come and feel safe and enjoy themselves,” says Jason.
Zoella, for example, who has talked publicly about dealing with anxiety, will meet her fans in a space dubbed the Winter Zen Garden. “To me, that’s a perfect model of what Hello World is,” says Jason. “Loads of people watch Zoella because they’ve got anxiety issues as well, and I feel like she’s kind of their elder sister they can talk to. We’ve built a stage around her feelings because she resonates with people who’ve got the same feelings, and that’s amazing.”
To get a YouTuber’s perspective I turned to my old mate Luke Westaway. Although he’s nothing to do with Hello World, Westaway is a former CNET journalist who now co-hosts popular YouTube channels Outside Xbox and Outside Extra, and was surprised and delighted by the enthusiasm of fans who’ve come to see them IRL.
“One thing I think is particularly cool about attending live events,” says Westaway, “is that sense of belonging to a community becomes much more palpable than it is online. We’ve spoken to groups of fans who became friends while waiting at one of our meet-ups, which is really neat.”
Turn it up
Despite their years of experience in live arenas, the Perrys discovered a YouTube live show would be a very different animal. “We didn’t know anybody — it felt like when we first moved to London hawking our demo tapes round for A,” says Adam.
To fund the show, the twins set off on a small seed round raising cash from angel investors. It helps that these young stars are very much a going concern: many of them are signed to management agency Gleam Futures, and are much sought after by advertisers for lucrative marketing campaigns.
But these young stars come with their own insecurities. “There’s a reason no-one’s ever done what we’re doing: it’s almost impossible,” says Jason, who lists off some of the snags they’ve faced. “We’ve lost three sponsors this morning and gained another four. We’ve had talent saying they’re not gonna do it because they’re scared, and we’ve had talent saying they want to do more because they like the idea of it. We’ve had talent saying they don’t want to work with other talent, which you never get at festivals — you have to go on stage and follow Marilyn Manson whether you like Marilyn Manson or not.”
Once Hello World is done, A will be heading back out on tour in February 2018 with Hell Is For Heroes. With their experience spanning music and technology, is there anything they’d do differently if starting a band in today’s online world? “I wouldn’t be in a band called A,” laments Adam, “so you could find us on the internet”.
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