The most controversial stars on YouTube

When it comes to YouTube stardom, there's no single recipe for success. Former adult movie actress Daiane de Jesus became a millionaire several times over just by unboxing toys on camera, while other popular YouTubers are earning huge sums of money running channels based on everything from video gaming to geek-themed baking. There are countless ways to make it to the big leagues, but sometimes the best way to draw attention to yourself on YouTube is via controversy.

YouTube is full of opinionated people, but there is a handful of notorious provocateurs that always seem to come up when discussions about the most offensive YouTubers take place. Of course, while a good drama can most definitely lift a YouTuber's profile in the short term, controversy isn't usually a good thing. This is especially true for those creators hoping to transition into mainstream entertainment, as a number of the following YouTubers found out the hard way. From fat-shaming and misogyny to racism and phony stunts, we're lifting the lid on the most controversial YouTube stars.

Logan Paul

After making the jump to YouTube, former Vine star Logan Paul managed to hit 10 million subscribers in record time, reaching the impressive milestone in just 333 days (via TubeFilter). The Ohio-born vlogger was scoring high profile collabs with the likes of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart and appeared to be on the verge of a Hollywood breakthrough, but one decision ruined everything he'd built in an instant.

In December 2017, Paul traveled to Japan, where he harassed locals and disrespected the culture during a series of childish vlogs, though one, in particular, caused absolute outrage. The YouTuber visited Aokigahara — a place commonly referred to as the "suicide forest" — where he came across the body of a recently deceased man. Despite being told to "turn off the cameras" by one of his cronies, Paul chose to keep rolling and even used a barely-blurred image of the dead man in the thumbnail when he published the now-infamous video.

"I'm like, wow, I really f***ed up, to a degree that this may be the only thing people remember me by," Paul admitted to The Hollywood Reporter. He claimed to be a changed man during his candid THR interview/plea for forgiveness, but he has struggled keep his nose clean. The YouTuber came under fire for tasering dead animals in 2018, and he caused controversy again in 2019, when he joked that he was going to "go gay" for a month.

PewDiePie

He may be among the most popular creators on the platform, but PewDiePie (real name Felix Kjellberg) hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with YouTube. The superstar Swede was one of the most vocal critics of the disastrous YouTube Rewind 2018, but there's a good reason he was excluded from it. In 2017, Disney pulled out of a deal with Kjellberg after a number of his videos were found to contain anti-Semitic imagery, including swastikas, Nazi salutes, and even shots of Hitler.

"Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate," a spokesperson from Disney's Maker Studios said (via The Verge). PewDiePie apologized and insisted that he wasn't anti-Semitic. "I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes," his statement read. "I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary."

Though Kjellberg attempted to distance himself from the controversy, he reignited the debate in 2018, when he recommended a channel that's been known to make anti-Semitic jokes. Kjellberg claimed he wasn't aware of this, but he didn't get much sympathy in the media. Vox said PewDiePie had "amplified anti-Semitic rhetoric" and accused him of "a history of flirting with alt-right culture." Despite the backlash, the subscribers just keep on coming.

Jeffree Star

Makeup tutorials have always been popular on YouTube, but back when the platform was in its infancy, nobody would have believed the amount of money they'd one day generate. Many beauty YouTubers (or Beautubers, as Vox calls them) now have their own lines of makeup in addition to demoing other people's products. Perhaps the biggest name of the lot is Jeffree Star, an aspiring pop star who instead found fame and fortune through cosmetics.

The YouTuber was once close to fellow makeup mogul Kat Von D, but when the pair had a falling out, Star made a bunch of new friends in the online beauty community. Many of those new collabs didn't last either because multiple folks came out saying the same thing Kat Von D had said — Star was allegedly a racist. "Honey, every time I was around him he would constantly say racist things about black people," YouTuber Gabby Zamora tweeted (via Vox).

Star has since apologized for using what he described as "disgusting, vile, nasty and embarrassing" language. "I said really horrible vicious things back to people to hurt them, to harm them, to shock them," Star said in a YouTube video. "And that is not okay." The internet at large wasn't exactly convinced (per PopBuzz), but Star's channel has continued to thrive.

Jake Paul

When Vine closed down, it left many of its most popular creators scrambling to make a mark on YouTube, but Jake Paul was sitting pretty. The Viner had already landed a part on the Disney TV sitcom Bizaardvark, but he wanted more. "I had this theory where I could replicate what Dr. Dre did in the music industry in the social media business," Paul told TechCrunch. For a while, it looked like he might succeed.

Paul founded Team 10, a media brand-come-talent incubator, but his drive to make Team 10 the biggest name on the internet led him to make some unwise choices. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paul's troubles began after a bonfire in the empty swimming pool of the Team 10 house got out of control, making him rather unpopular with his L.A. neighbors. Disney and Paul soon parted ways. 

Without the Mouse House to answer to, Paul seemed to court even more controversy. According to Seventeen, he landed in hot water after belittling a foreign fan with xenophobic language, and he lost 60,000 subscribers when he accused YouTuber FaZe Banks of assaulting his assistant. Paul became the subject of a hugely popular docu-series in 2018, but creator Shane Dawson was criticized for failing to focus on allegations of racism and bullying by former Team 10 members. Can Jake's career bounce back better than his aforementioned brother, Logan Paul? Only time will tell.

Roosh V

Roosh V (real name Daryush Valizadeh) is a self-styled "neo-masculinist" who has been peddling his controversial opinions online for more than a decade. He started out writing guidebooks on how to approach women in different countries but soon moved into vlogging and began commentating on gender roles via YouTube. He is a popular figure in the so-called manosphere, an informal network of bloggers who see themselves as a counterpart to feminism.

Valizadeh made headlines in 2015, when he suggested that rape should be made legal on private property. "I propose that we make the violent taking of a woman not punishable by law when done off public grounds," he said in an outrageous blog post entitled "How To Stop Rape." He later claimed the post was a "satirical thought experiment," but that didn't stop Anonymous from going after him — Valizadeh started getting death threats after the hacker group doxxed him.

In October 2018, the so-called pick-up artist announced that his flagship website, Return of Kings (dubbed a "vile troll website" by Jezebel), was going on an indefinite hiatus, reportedly because Valizadeh had run out of money. The news came not long after Amazon removed nine of his books from its website. The Roosh V message clearly isn't a welcome one in the #MeToo era, but he's still churning out the videos.

Onision

Once described as "YouTube's perfect villain" by New Media Rockstars, Onision (real name Gregory Jackson) has been involved in numerous controversies since he started sharing his bizarre brand of entertainment on YouTube. He attracted the attention of the wider YouTube community in 2009, when he posted a video called "Murder Eaters," criticizing people who eat meat. The video led to a backlash that only served to lift his profile, with TubeFilter going so far as to call him "the most controversial YouTuber out there today" in a 2010 profile.

YouTube has evolved since 2010, however, and Jackson's controversial content hasn't been registering as well in recent years. He was chewed out on Reddit in 2013, after accidentally killing his pet turtle, and We The Unicorns went after him hard when he criticized a Twitter hashtag praying for the family of murdered YouTube singer Christina Grimmie. Jackson's behavior has led to plenty of beefs over the years. He landed in legal trouble in 2018, when he purchased a property with a lake attached and proceeded to destroy it, hoping to turn it into a flattened clearing. "Destroying wetlands can cause mudslides, which we've had in Washington State that have actually killed people," fellow YouTuber Repzion said via an exposé video.

Cole and Savannah LaBrant

Christian vloggers rarely rank among the most controversial creators on YouTube, but California couple Cole and Savannah LaBrant unexpectedly earned themselves a place on that list in 2018, when they tried to turn a profit by deceiving their millions of subscribers. The LaBrants documented their escape from the largest wildfires in the history of the Golden State, claiming they'd received "an evacuation thing" urging them to flee. There was just one problem — no evacuation notices were issued for their neighborhood.

Fox 11 confirmed that Ladera Ranch was never under threat. "I just think it's really sad that they would exploit a situation that's as serious as a fire that so many people were evacuated from just so they could get more likes or more hits on their channel," one resident told reporters. According to What's Trending, the YouTubers changed the video's title and thumbnail (the original image was of the fam-of-three looking frightened as flames roared behind them) to cover their tracks, but the damage was already done.

In truth, the sugary-sweet married couple had been rubbing some people the wrong way long before the wildfire controversy. In 2017, Odyssey writer Olivia Brown penned a detailed takedown of Cole, accusing him of exploiting Savannah and her daughter (from a previous relationship) for views. "You used your marriage as a medium to boost your views and win over fans," she wrote. "You used a 4-year-old for popularity."

Keemstar

YouTuber Daniel Keem (better known by his online moniker Keemstar) is the host of DramaAlert, a channel that reports on all the latest gossip from the YouTube community. A channel of this nature is always going to ruffle feathers, but one of Keem's biggest controversies wasn't even related to DramaAlert. Nope, he came under fire in 2009, when a video of him having an angry exchange with a fellow Battlecam moderator surfaced. He can be heard calling his black colleague a "stupid n***er" in the shocking clip, which the YouTuber tried to justify years later by claiming that he'd had racist language used against him first.

Keem became a hot topic again in 2016, when he falsely identified a man as a sex offender. Twitch streamer RSGloryandGold, was reduced to tears when DramaAlert wrongly accused him of being a convicted pedophile, which prompted severe online abuse and even death threats aimed at RSGloryandGold. There was a strong backlash against DramaAlert, but Keem shrugged off the criticism and has pretty much continued mining in the exact same vein. 

In December 2018, he called out another Twitch streamer (the hugely popular Imane "Pokimane" Anys) for using other people's content in her videos, and he also criticized Lilly Singh for becoming "too plastic" with all her Hollywood connections.

Nicole Arbour

After surviving a car crash that left her disabled for five years, former NBA cheerleader Nicole Arbour tried her hand at both stand-up comedy and acting. The acting thing didn't really work out, but a clip from her stand-up routine did well on YouTube. Arbour decided to make her home on the platform, adapting her provocative material for vlogs with mixed results. The Canadian became known for her boundary-pushing rants, but in 2015, she pushed a little too hard.

Arbour's since-deleted video "Dear Fat People" turned her into one of the most hated creators on YouTube and got her fired from a choreography job on a movie called Don't Talk to Irene, which (believe it or not) was about an overweight girl trying to make it as a cheerleader. "It's fat phobic and awful," director Pat Mills said of Arbour's so-called satire (via E! Online). The YouTuber also came out with "Dear Black People," which she approached with "all the accuracy of a drunken mascot firing a T-shirt cannon," Esquire reported.

The controversial comic defended her actions, telling Toronto Life that "we have all become way too sensitive." She was on the defensive again in 2018, when her tone-deaf "women's edit" of Childish Gambino hit "This Is America" caused outrage. Vice staffer Manisha Krishnan called it "a failure in every possible way" in a savage review. "I'm mortified for anyone associated with this project."

LeafyIsHere

It wasn't that long ago that Leafy (born Calvin Vail) was a big name in the YouTube community, but his channel LeafyIsHere now seems like a spent force. Vail started out posting Minecraft videos, though he quickly realized roasting other YouTubers brought in more views. By 2016, he'd established a large, dedicated fan base who became notorious for relentlessly spamming the videos of other YouTubers. 

The extent of the trolling was highlighted after Vail mocked a user by the name of TommyNC2010. The autistic YouTuber started getting death threats after becoming the subject of one of Vail's vicious videos. "If I was going to get that much hate I was just going to walk away," TommyNC2010 told ABC 13 News, but his subscriptions actually boomed as a result of the controversy. The same cannot be said for Vail, whose channel fell into decline. He eventually stopped posting videos.

Vail's absence wasn't felt much at first, but after about a year of no videos, interest in his whereabouts picked up. According to Keemstar, the YouTube community is crying out for an edgy channel like LeafyIsHere and the time could well be ripe for a comeback. Vail played down the TommyNC2010 drama when he spoke with the aforementioned Keem on DramaAlert in October 2018. "The worst thing I said was, like, 'He's overweight and he smells like Doritos.'"

Sam Pepper

He may have only lasted three weeks in the Big Brother house, but British prankster Sam Pepper used his short time as a contestant on the reality TV show to his advantage, starting a YouTube channel that would go on to get millions of subscribers. The content of that channel, however, fueled Pepper's fall from grace. In 2014, he posted a video in which he confused unsuspecting young women by pinching their bums. After a huge backlash, Pepper claimed the whole thing was a social experiment, but even his friends weren't convinced. "We are meant to push the boundaries but you need to know what's right and what's wrong," said Mazzi Maz. who has collaborated with Pepper in the past. "A sexual predator isn't a good look." 

It wasn't long before women started coming forward with accounts of alleged sexual assault at Pepper's hands. Dottie Martin, 18, claimed Pepper acted inappropriately during a date to the movies. Pepper's downfall was cemented when he released a video in which he pretends to abduct and execute a man in front of his best friend. He was heavily criticized for the stunt and briefly disappeared from the internet before returning to YouTube with a full apology.

E;R

Not many people had heard of NSFW YouTuber E;R before PewDiePie decided to give the channel a shout-out. As soon as word got round that PewDiePie (real name Felix Kjellberg) had name-dropped a channel known to tell anti-Semitic jokes, people apparently wanted to know more. In fact, E;R reportedly gained 15,000 subscribers in the immediate aftermath of Kjellberg's recommendation. This didn't escape the attention of Young Turks host Hasan Piker, who criticized the Kjellberg in a tweet.

"Yesterday PewDiePie [...] promoted some of his favorite channels," Piker said. "One of them was straight up a neo-nazi's YouTube page where he makes video essays on children's cartoons with added nazi propaganda." The video that Kjellberg approved of wasn't overtly offensive, but it did use aerial footage of the Charlottesville, Va. "Unite the Right" rally, making a joke at the expense of murdered protester Heather Heyer.

E;R's identity remains unknown, though the name is believed to be a play on its creator's words: "I'd rather it be left enigmatic; reality is never as satisfying." Regardless, an examination of E;R's past online activity brings up some worrying results. Piker posted screenshots of E;R answering a fan who'd asked how to "red pill people on the Jewish Question," and it makes for incriminating reading. "Pretend to joke about it until the punchline really lands," the YouTuber said. Heavy also noted that E;R used a variation of a white supremacist slogan while signing off in a since-deleted video.