A sold-out, national touring show is coming to Seattle, but unless you’re a teenage girl, you may not recognize any of the performers.
This Friday, a group of young men called Our 2nd Life or O2L will take the stage at The Showbox. They’re not a boy band, though — they’re YouTube vloggers (video bloggers) who’ve built a vast, young, mostly female fan base by posting videos about themselves online.
They’re appearing here as part of DigiTour, a kind of digital vaudeville tour of YouTube-based talents and personalities. In this fourth iteration of DigiTour, 25,000 tickets were sold for 18 tour dates across the U.S. The tour’s ticketing page had 2.2 million hits within 5 minutes of going live. VIP tickets, which for $82.50 enable fans to meet the stars and commemorate the experience with special memorabilia, sold out almost instantly.
DigiTour Media, which produces several DigiTours per year as well as Coachella-esque DigiFests in cities like London and New York, is capitalizing on the huge popularity of YouTubers, as these social-media stars are often called. The six members of O2L, whose ages range from 15 to 21, have more than 7 million subscribers combined on their individual YouTube channels, while the videos on their collaborative channel have more than 215 million views.
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“It used to be a subset of teens who liked YouTubers. Now all teens like YouTubers,” said Meridith Valiando Rojas, who co-founded DigiTour Media with her husband and partner, Chris Rojas.
Meridith Rojas, who has worked on the traditional side of the music industry as well, used to visit clubs, attend showcases and talk to local radio stations to find new talent. Now, she searches YouTube, Instagram, Vine and other social-media sites for young mediamakers with already established fan bases who will appeal to a 13- to 17-year-old female demographic.
Meridith Rojas describes O2L as “six very adorable boys who vlog on YouTube.” The members — Connor Franta, Ricky Dillon, Sam Pottorff, Jc Caylen, Trevor Moran and Kian Lawley — make videos about their daily lives that routinely get hundreds of thousands of views and have thousands of commenters. The group has become a brand; Franta has his own logo and many of the young men have their own merchandise as well.
After making videos for four years, Franta, 21, is taking time off from school to pursue social-media stardom full time. And it’s working: Wednesday Franta was named “YouTuber of the Day” on Twitter by YouTuber Updates, an account that tweets facts and figures about popular YouTubers. If it were possible, Franta said, he would be online more than 24 hours — he admits that he’s addicted.
Franta met the other members of O2L first on Twitter and then in real life two years ago at VidCon 2012, a YouTube convention in Anaheim, Calif. They got along so well that the six boys decided to create a “super channel.”
“The first question everyone asks is, ‘What do you do? you’re just bloggers!’” he said of the DigiTour performances. Though two of the members now have released music, most of the show is members of O2L performing comedic sketches and challenges that interact with the audience. “Talking, for most of us, is our talent.”
“The fans feel like they’re friends with these social stars,” Meridith Rojas said. “They’re basically evangelists for them. They’re at the forefront of pop culture for this demographic.”
And fans are ready and willing to worship at the O2L altar. Twitter user @TheFrantas recently posted, “This isn’t a Frandom anymore. … This is my religion” (“Frandom,” like Bieber’s Beliebers, refers to Franta’s fan base.) Another, @CloudyyWithJc, posted, “No one will ever understand how much @Our2ndLife means to me.”
For a generation that is more interested in the Internet than television, the two-way dialogue that exists on social media enables Generation Z and Millennials to connect to YouTubers on a deeper level than they could with more traditional celebrities. When interaction comes off the screen and into reality, obsessive fandom ensues. Adults staffing DigiTour events have even compared the masses of screaming girls to Beatlemania.
After standing in line for hours, some girls reach the point of hysteria when meeting their favorite stars. It’s fandom to the point of frenzy, stoked by the fact that the girls’ heartthrobs might actually read and respond to their tweets.
“The only people who truly get it are the girls who are 13 to 17,” Meridith Rojas said of the teens who have come out in droves to watch O2L perform. “If someone is not in that demo and they don’t get it, it doesn’t bum me out. It means we are probably doing something right.”
Also performing this Friday is Ryan Beatty, 18, who began posting videos on YouTube of himself singing covers in February of 2011. By that summer, he was in the studio and his first single was released on iTunes in November of 2011. To date, he has more than 32 million video views on his YouTube channel and has been nominated twice for a Teen Choice Award.
“We’re lucky to have social media to rely on and talk to our fans,” Beatty said. “It’s such a direct way to reach them.”
For Meridith Rojas, this is a movement with a lesson in how the younger generation consumes media. Despite their fascination with all things digital, teens are just as interested in “real life experiences.” As a result, DigiTour brings the “pop culture phenomenon” to life.
“We say, the fans are our creative directors. We’re just listening.”
Katharine Schwab: firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @kschwabable.