Toronto’s biggest video stars: a who’s who of the new Internet fame factory
Eight years ago, an unsullied Justin Bieber posted his first YouTube video, kick-starting a global pandemic (Bieber Fever) and the digital dreams of ambitious unknown talents around the world. These days, YouTube, Vine and Snapchat produce hundreds of self-made stars, their crowdsourced, fanatical fame unfiltered by record companies or movie studios. Here, our favourite local online celebrities.
The Teen Idol
Ask any adolescent girl about Shawn Mendes, and she’ll dreamily tell you that he has the voice—and face and hair and soul—of an angel. The ruddy-cheeked singer-songwriter from Pickering has built up a swooning fan base by belting out covers of (who else?) Justin Bieber on Vine, which earned him a contract from Island Records. His first album, Handwritten, is a procession of schmoopy, strummy earworms about first love.
Vine followers: 3.9 million.
Career coups: Handwritten debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and earned Mendes a spot opening for Taylor Swift on her summer tour.
Jarre grew up in France and worked in Toronto as an event promoter before creating his wildly successful Vine account. In each clip, he plays the role of a guileless idiot, wiggling his bum, playing up his Pepe Le Pew accent and approaching strangers on the street.
Vine followers: 8.4 million.
Career coup: He charges companies $25,000 for a promotional Vine.
When the Toronto-born Andrew Bachelor couldn’t get a job in showbiz, he started creating manic Vines—a blend of smart racial satire, twitchy man-on-the-street skits and moderately offensive crazy-girlfriend digs.
Vine followers: 12.1 million.
Career coups: He earns $15,000 per month shilling sponsored Vines and has five movies in the works.
Lauren Riihimaki’s YouTube tutorials feel like surreal jaunts into Candyland: her world is strewn with fuchsia feathers, incandescent bubbles and ungodly amounts of glitter. In each video, the giggly Torontonian teaches viewers her cheap, quick design hacks, like how to make lipstick-print wall art, distressed boyfriend jeans and homemade crop tops.
YouTube subscribers: 1.6 million.
Career coup: She’s making a killing through ad revenue, product placements and sponsored videos—enough to support herself full time once she graduates from Ryerson’s design program later this year.
By day, Lilly Singh is a reserved York psychology grad from Malvern. But on YouTube, she morphs into Superwoman, a fast-talking, bug-eyed slapstick high school heroine in the goofy Gilda Radner tradition. Decked out in backward trucker caps and oversized hoodies, Superwoman zigzags between satire and social activism, targeting the soap operatics of high school friendship, her strict Punjabi parents and the indignity of racial prejudice.
YouTube subscribers: 5.7 million.
Career coups: Her income is estimated in the mid–six figures, and she recently embarked on a world tour that includes sold-out stops in Australia, India and Singapore.
In 2012, after being laid off from his accounting job, Matthew Santoro devoted himself full time to YouTube, specializing in “edutainment” videos: loopy listicles that count down history’s craziest rulers, the world’s creepiest parasites and conspiracy theories that turned out to be true. His clips are impeccably researched, creative and zany, the frenetic fun amped up with CGI backgrounds and kitschy special effects.
YouTube subscribers: 4 million.
Career coup: Through YouTube partnerships, Santoro is earning more than he ever did at his accounting job.
The unboxing phenomenon is one of the most bewildering subcultures on YouTube: its practitioners receive items in the mail and slowly unpack everything on camera. The king of the craze is Lewis Hilsenteger, a drawling, bespectacled Toronto geek who opens, tests and assesses products from Motorola, Samsung and Apple, to the hypnotic delight of viewers.
YouTube subscribers: 2 million.
Career coup: “iPhone 6 Bend Test,” a viral video where Hilsenteger demonstrates the apparent flimsiness of the latest iPhone, earned international media attention and 66 million hits.