The Real Reason YouTube's 2018 Rewind Video Bombed So Hard

For a while it looked as though Justin Bieber's "Baby" music video was going to remain YouTube's most disliked video forever, but in December 2018, it was dethroned in emphatic fashion by the platform's own Rewind video. Over the course of eight years the Bieber track was given the thumbs down treatment by almost 10 million people, but YouTube's 2018 Rewind video overtook it in just over a week. How and why did this happen? To answer that we need to first look at the evolution of the Rewind video over the years.

YouTube released its first annual Rewind in 2011, a simple rundown of the year's most-watched videos. Over the next few years Rewind expanded and evolved, becoming something that creators aspired to be involved in. The Rewind's like-to-dislike ratio has been on a downward curve since 2014, and in 2018, it hit rock bottom. "I remember Rewind used to be something that seemed like an homage to the creators that year, it was something cool to be a part of," YouTube's most-subscribed creator, PewDiePie, said in his Rewind review video. "It's such a cringey video at this point. It's so disconnected with the community and its creators."

How did this disconnect happen, and why were so many people upset with YouTube's 2018 Rewind, in particular? There were a number of controversial inclusions, but for many, the real crime was the number of top creators not included in the video. Here's why it bombed so hard. 

PewDiePie was missing ... again

PewDiePie (real name Felix Kjellberg) wasn't asked to take part in the 2018 YouTube Rewind, marking the second consecutive year he got snubbed. The platform's most popular creator was on the path to mainstream stardom when The Wall Street Journal noticed anti-Semitic imagery in some of his videos. Kjellberg insisted the images were taken "out of context to use against me to portray me as a Nazi," but he still lost out on a deal with Disney and was shunned by YouTube when it made its 2017 Rewind video.

Controversy hovered over Kjellberg for much of 2018. In fact, the Swede made headlines just days after Rewind 2018 was released when he "recommended a video produced by a channel notorious for its antisemitic content," the Independent reported. PewDiePie has also been locked in an ongoing battle with T-series, whose Bollywood music channel came close to usurping Kjellberg. PewDiePie's fans have launched a campaign to keep him on top. "Supporters have pulled off some seriously major stunts, including taking out a Times Square billboard and reportedly hacking into 50,000 printers around the world," Vox reported. Even rival YouTuber Logan Paul offered to help Kjellberg, ordering the "Logang" to subscribe to PewDiePie's channel. Kjellberg might be a controversial figure, but he's also an influential one, and his absence from Rewind 2018 angered millions.

Logan Paul was conspicuous by his absence

Speaking of Logan Paul, the Ohio-born bro was yet another high-profile YouTuber that didn't make Rewind 2018. He and his equally divisive brother, Jake Paul, featured prominently in the 2017 edition because of their much publicized (and potentially fake) beef with one another. Logan's channel was setting records in 2017, but as the year was drawing to a close, he made a huge lapse in judgment that brought his momentum to a grinding halt. 

During a visit to Japan, Logan visited Aokigahara forest (also known as the suicide forest) and filmed the body of dead man, taking his buffoonery to a whole new level. Logan apologized and insisted that he did it to raise awareness; not to attract views (via The Verge), but the stunt cost him an estimated $5 million in ad revenue. Not that he had any complaints. "I mean, YouTube had to take a stance," Logan told The Hollywood Reporter in October 2018. "They're not going to let some kid f*** up their ad platform." 

Logan spoke at length about making a comeback in his THR interview, and in many ways, he did rise from the ashes in 2018, though YouTube failed to acknowledge his huge white-collar boxing bout with KSI, watched by millions of people, according to Dexerto. "The KSI vs Logan Paul boxing match was clearly the biggest YouTube event this year," tweeted Keemstar (creator of YouTube channel DramaAlert). "For Rewind not to have any reference of this is just wrong."

They chose a Twitch streamer over YouTube gamers

If you've never played it, then you must have at least heard of Fortnite by now, but do you know who this wildly popular game's biggest star is? That would be Ninja, the blue-haired gamer who managed to stream more than 3800 hours of Fortnite for his millions of fans in 2018. "The games-streaming culture isn't new, but Ninja's prominence marks a new tier of professionalization," The Ringer reported. "He's a digital advertiser's dream — a golden-boy athlete with unique sway among millennial audiences." Could this be why YouTube opted to feature him prominently in Rewind 2018, despite the fact that he's primarily a Twitch streamer?

Ninja (real name Tyler Blevins) is one of the first content creators to appear in the Rewind video, driving the bus that drops Fortnite players into the arena ahead of one of the game's famous Battle Royales. According to fellow Fortnite player Lannan "LazarBeam" Eacott, Ninja's inclusion over the likes of Lachlan Power (who flew for 15 hours to film for Rewind only to have his part cut) was an insult. "So Rewind starts with a Fortnite theme but they don't include any of the biggest Fortnite creators," Eacott said (via Dexerto). "The only guy that gets a spot is the one who exclusively uploads his highlights from TWITCH streams and in no way creates YouTube content. You literally can't get more tone deaf."

It all took place in Will Smith's imagination

If, like IOL, you thought Rewind 2018 featured too much Fortnite, then take your complaints to Will Smith — because the whole thing a product of his imagination. Well, kind of. The movies and music mogul opens the video by wishing for a mash-up of Fortnite and tech vlogger Marques Brownlee. He also ends the video with a moment that is well on its way to becoming one of the biggest memes of 2019. 

When Smith created his channel in December 2017, he called in a favor from YouTuber-turned-actress Lily Singh to help get the ball rolling, and in many respects, it worked. Smith now has more than 4 million subscribers on his channel, but his foray into vlogging has been met with a mixture of confusion and derision. "Why is Will Smith trying to be the next Jake Paul?" The Outline asked its readers, branding some of the actor's content as "too transparent for much of the Internet-savvy youth."

Smith's account was instantly monetized upon joining, much to the annoyance of the countless creators waiting to be approved (via Reddit). The fact that YouTube then gave him a prominent role in Rewind 2018 went down like Wild Wild West. "So let me get this straight, Will Smith (not a YouTuber) got a big role in YouTube rewind, but PewDiePie (the person with the most subscribers) isn't in it," one disgruntled user said (via Metro). Another raged: "Will Smith is in there?! Why?"

The invasion of the late show hosts continues

It isn't just Hollywood stars that are seeing the value in YouTube. The platform has become a new battleground for late night talk show hosts. They're all out for a piece of the YouTube pie, but is that really fair to the platform's self-made content creators? Many have argued that talk show hosts are taking over the platform with clips from their respective shows, mopping up views that should be going elsewhere. 

"I'm not one who rants on the internet mostly because it doesn't fix anything, but I'm making an exception [because] the YouTube Rewind this year was so bad," Twitter user Jon Salenger said. "It included late night hosts like Trevor Noah and John Oliver (pictured). Not that I don't like these people, they just aren't representing what YouTube is." Noah and Oliver were roped into performing — you guessed it — dances from Fortnite. "Trevor Noah flossing is what we all knew would be here, but dreaded," Ethan Klein from h3h3Productions said in his review video. "John Oliver is [also] doing a Fortnite dance. That's so embarrassing for him. They actually got him to do that. John, you shouldn't have done it."

Shane Dawson's documentaries were completely ignored

Shane Dawson's absence from then YouTube 2018 Rewind video caused its fair share of anger. "Shane Dawson's coronation as the king of YouTube in 2018 is undeniable: whenever he uploads a documentary on a personality, it's like the internet stops," The Verge reported a few months before Rewind was released. "His investigations produce top-tier online gossip that no traditional media outlet — or YouTuber, for that matter — has been able to crack."

He was credited with "revolutionising longform digital content" by The Daily Edge, but if that's true then how come Dawson (real name Shane Yaw) was snubbed by YouTube? The obvious answer is that the vlogger and occasional actor kicked off 2018 in terrible fashion, forced to apologize for some jokes he made about pedophilia during a 2013 podcast (via Billboard). Given the nature of the jokes, it isn't hard to understand why he wasn't contacted, but could the fact that Dawson has been asking some uncomfortable questions also have influenced YouTube's decision? His most talked-about docu-series in 2018 was The Mind of Jake Paulin which he explores the possibility that Paul is a sociopath and suggests that YouTube attracts these kind of people. It was a hit, but hardly an advertisement for the platform.

BTS fans rallied against it

Nobody could really argue against K-pop featuring heavily in the Rewind video — not when you consider just how huge a year BTS had. "Idol" broke a YouTube record in 2018 when it became the video with the most views within 24 hours of being uploaded. The song dethroned Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do," but the passing of the crown wasn't exactly a smooth process. BTS fans (known collectively as ARMY) discovered that YouTube failed to update the view count in real time and at one point, as many as 10 million views were reportedly not showing up.

"To verify that views are real and accurate, YouTube may temporarily slow down, freeze, or adjust the view count, as well as discard low-quality playbacks," a YouTube statement on the matter read (via JazmineMedia). ARMY was not convinced. When the band's dedicated followers found out that YouTube had recreated scenes from the "Idol" video for Rewind without mentioning BTS by name, that beef reignited. "You shove in a cringey recreation of 'Idol' without mentioning BTS' name AFTER deleting views on that exact video," Riddhi Chakraborty (staff writer at Rolling Stone India and proud ARMY) tweeted, denouncing Rewind 2018 as "trash."

It ignored some big deaths

The Marvel Cinematic Universe celebrated its tenth birthday in 2018, and it did so in style. Marvel Studios released two huge movies in Black Panther (which should have been acknowledged in Rewind, according to Riddhi Chakraborty) and Avengers: Infinity War (which spawned countless Thanos memes), but the biggest Marvel-related news of the year was the passing of Stan Lee. Fans of the Spider-Man creator expected him to be acknowledged in some way, given how popular Marvel content is on YouTube, but this was one cameo Lee wasn't going to make.

The idea that YouTube made room for so much Fortnite content but neglected to even reference Lee in passing angered his admirers, who felt as though the comic book veteran was more than worthy of inclusion. In fact, there were a number of deaths that commentators felt ought to be have been referenced. "YouTube didn't put a tribute to Stefan Karl, Stephen Hillenburg, Stan Lee, or Stephen Hawking in the Rewind, despite the influence these people had on the internet culture and creators as a whole," one disgruntled viewer tweeted. The deaths of musicians Mac Miller, Avicii, and XXXTentacion were also ignored.

It was made for advertisers, not for creators

Was YouTube's 2018 Rewind video guilty of hiding the community's biggest moments to appease advertisers? That was the argument put forward by The Verge, and a number of influential YouTubers agreed. Even Marques Brownlee wasn't pleased. Brownlee was one of the creators aboard Ninja's Fortnite battle bus, but despite being a big part of Rewind 2018, he admitted that it had its flaws. In his reaction video, Brownlee attempted to pinpoint what went wrong, and he came to the conclusion that YouTube no longer views the yearly roundup as a way to celebrate YouTube culture.

"At a certain point, YouTube started seeing it differently," Brownlee said. "They obviously are a company that has to make money and the way they do that is by pairing advertisers to content, so the started seeing YouTube Rewind as a place to showcase all the best stuff that happens on YouTube for advertisers... So YouTube Rewind turned into this; 'Hey, check out all these advertiser friendly things for you to spend your money on, all these super clean creators and these late night show hosts and all these things that you want your ads next to."

It favored the Hollywood YouTubers

Another outlet that criticized YouTube for turning Rewind into one big advert was Forbes, who published a detailed autopsy of the video. "YouTube Rewind 2018 is more about image and less about community," contributor Mason Sands said. "It calls into question whether YouTube is able to balance its role as both business and user experience and not alienate those that gave the platform early success." We've already covered the controversial inclusion of a big name actor and a pair of late night talk show hosts, but of more concern to Sands was the fact that YouTube favored its Hollywood creators. 

A handful of YouTubers have managed to turn their online success into traditional success, crossing over into TV and film. Members of this elite group took center stage in Rewind 2018, despite the fact that they can barely even be considered YouTubers anymore. "Some of the content creators in the Rewind that started in YouTube are no longer as attached to its community," Sands said. "Despite her continued popularity and talent, it's difficult to make the case for why a creator like [Liza] Koshy (pictured) should be featured in a video reviewing 2018 when her last content video was in late February of that year." PewDiePie sang the same tune in his reaction video, questioning the inclusion ofLilly Singh.

It didn't have enough creators

Another big problem that Forbes contributor Mason Sands picked up on was the sheer lack of creators involved in the video compared with previous years. Disqualifying creators who seem to court controversy ought to open doors for the clean YouTubers, but instead of replacing the likes of PewDiePie, Logan Paul, KSI and Shane Dawson with more deserving users, YouTube simply asked fewer people to take part. "Despite the continued growth and diversity of the platform, this year's Rewind included around 100 creators, less than half the size of last year's over 250-strong creative cast," Sands said. "While the decision may have been a stylistic choice to help with Rewind 2018's more storyline structure, the loss of so many creators was felt during the video. It felt empty and lackluster."

In his reaction video, Marques Brownlee (pictured) revealed that he spoke with the director of YouTube Rewind while shooting his Fortnite battle bus scene, and he was told that the reason they wanted to use less people was because it gave those lucky enough to get the nod a chance to have their own voice heard. "It felt like they understood that they have to cut back a little bit," Brownlee said, but the final product seemed to suffer as a result.

Was it too cringey?

One word that kept popping up in the YouTube Rewind 2018 comments section is "cringe." The campfire scenes were singled out and mocked for being way too preachy, with creators hitting all the hot political topics of 2018 in a rather forced manner. "You know who really needs to be in this Rewind video?" Lilly Singh asks. "Everyone who managed to do something bigger than themselves this year, who found a way to help the causes that matter to them most."

Not everyone found Rewind 2018 to be a cringe-fest, however. In fact, Forbes contributor Fruzsina Eordogh was full of praise for both the powerful messages conveyed and the video itself. "Destigmatizing mental health, comforting cancer patients and raising money for charities are not partisan issues and should not be treated like some radical progressive conspiracy agenda to mock," she said. "No other Rewind video has bothered to acknowledge how the creator community takes care of each other, and the campfire scenes, as cheesy as they are, is a sign that YouTube actually cares about what the community has to say. Having the bit about the comment section is another nod to this."