YouTube is a corner of the internet that has remained consistently popular since the 2000s. Several other social media platforms have since launched with varying degrees of popularity — from Threads to BeReal and TikTok. On YouTube, content creators have not stopped innovating and finding new niches catering to a loyal base of subscribers.
In 2023, comedy and gaming took the cake, while Latin music and trends such as Barbiecore soared in popularity. Black creators have been instrumental in shaping some of these trends and, in the broader sense, online culture. Although long-form content remained popular, new formats such as YouTube Shorts and livestreamed podcasts have helped creators widen their reach on the platform.
Jordan Howlett was the top food creator this year and found success through Shorts. His top-viewed videos have each racked up between 60 and 20 million views. Howlett initially found an audience on TikTok and started crossposting on YouTube.
“We’ve become this multi-format environment where each of the formats plays a different role in the possibilities for the creator and how the viewer can decide to spend their time with content,” Earnest Pettie, the Trends Insights Lead at YouTube’s Culture & Trends, told Blavity.
For Black creators, this year’s successes were found through experimenting with such formats and catering to a niche audience.
“YouTube has created the possibility for there to be a broader spectrum of Blackness,” Pettie says. “People, whatever their interests are, are able to create content around that interest and find an audience. There’s nothing that Black creators can’t create.”
Sofi, best known as The Oddity on social media, refers to YouTube as her “comfort zone on the internet.” She shares her life through daily vlogs, chronicling the highs and lows. This year, she hit 100,000 subscribers.
Sharing her journey online is how she found community. Her content resonated with other Black women — particularly women in their 50s and above — who have felt an ongoing pressure to appear perfect in every area of their lives.
“We don’t share the process because we’re supposed to be super smart already. We don’t share the journey because we’re supposed to already have been excellent. It’s important to show us just figuring it out. It’s allowing us to enjoy what life can offer,” Sofi told Blavity.
For other creators, YouTube is also a way of giving women representation in male-dominated fields. Marissa Hill specializes in sneaker content. She provides styling advice to women who want to stay comfortable and meets with sneaker fans at conventions such as Comic Con.
“YouTube’s platform has really opened up the doors for me to create this brand new path that never existed, where women can actually find somebody that they can relate to, and be inspired by, and just have a safe community,” she told Blavity.
Hill launched her channel two years ago and serves as the Creator Champion for the newly launched YouTube Creator Collective. She sees a responsibility in having a presence in the sneaker community. Hill notes that she leads by example as one of the few women of color in this space.
Much like Sofi, she wants to see more women of color on the platform and insists that there is room for everyone to explore and innovate with their content.
“No matter what you’re doing in your life, you can be a content creator for anything,” Hill said. “YouTube has allowed us to be entrepreneurs, whereas 10 or 15 years ago, you couldn’t do this. Now it’s possible.”
Still, she would like to see additional support from brands. Exposure is essential to content creators’ work, and women of color aren’t always brought into the spotlight.
“The only way to get the word out there is to have these platforms showcase us and really help us amplify our voices,” Hill said. “I do think that our voice gets a little suppressed at times.”
Social media platforms don’t have the best track record of giving Black creators their due for their contributions to global trends. On TikTok, the Renegade dance was one of the leading trends of 2020 after creators such as Charli d’Amelio and Addison Rae shared it on their accounts. A Black creator, then 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon, was the one to choreograph the dance.
Similarly, beauty trends such as “slugging” or the “brownie glazed lip” are techniques the Black community has championed for decades. Brands have also been subject to controversy for their treatment of Black creators during influencer trips.
YouTube is aware of such a track record on social media. It is why the platform is giving Black creators their due through a series of documentary shorts entitled “Flowers.”
“Black creators and creators from all underrepresented communities have had large impacts on the way that we experience culture on the internet, but those stories aren’t really known,” rapper Young B. Petti said.
So far, the project has highlighted the contributions of Swoozie to the world of storytime animation and Nyma Tang’s inclusivity in the beauty industry. YouTube will also be showcasing the origin of the 2006 chicken noodle soup dance, which rapper Young B. Pettit refers to the phenomenon as the first viral dance trend on the internet.
Some Black Youtubers have successfully crossed over to traditional forms of entertainment. Preston Mutanga’s skill for stop-motion Lego turned into a job on Spiderman: Across The Spider-Verse.
“There’s opportunity for Black creators — not just to be successful, but to have a major impact on culture and in the way that we experience the internet,” Pettit said. “I find that to be inspirational, and I hope that Black creators also continue to find that to be inspirational.”