Who Is PewDiePie?
Known online as PewDiePie, Felix Kjellberg is one of the internet’s biggest stars — he has more than 100 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, and over 24 billion views. The PewDiePie channel is best known for its irreverent gaming content, shot in a “Let’s Play” style — videos of Kjellberg playing video games while giving an expletive-strewn running commentary. "Let’s play" became a hugely popular YouTube genre, and PewDiePie its superstar; his repertoire has expanded to include live-action and animated comedy shorts.
But as the Swede’s fame has grown, his behavior has become increasingly controversial. He apologized in 2012 for his use of “gay” and “retard” as supposedly playful insults and for making rape jokes — but after he posted videos containing anti-Semitic and Nazi imagery , he was dropped in February 2017 by his network partner, the Disney-owned Maker Studios; he was also ejected from YouTube’s Red platform and the Google Preferred program. He apologized, claiming his humor had been taken out of context, only to blurt the n-word months later during a live stream in September 2017. Like his videos, PewDiePie’s future appears to be disturbingly unpredictable.
How Felix Kjellberg Became PewDiePie
Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg was born on October 24, 1989, in Gothenburg, Sweden. His mother and father, Johanna and Ulf, are both successful chief executives. As a child, he enjoyed art and playing on his Super Nintendo; his obsession with video games grew during adolescence, during which he spent a lot of time gaming in his bedroom, or at internet cafes. “Sweden has a great culture around gaming,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in 2015. “We’re really nerdy people.”
During his last year of high school, he bought a computer with money he made selling artwork through his grandmother’s gallery. He set up his first YouTube channel, PewDie, in 2006 — “pew” being slang for the sound of a laser gun firing — but as his interest in the channel waned, he forgot his password, so when he returned to YouTube in 2010, he was forced to set up a new account, PewDiePie.
By now, Kjellberg had learnt to edit videos from an online tutorial, and uploaded his first "Let’s Play" video — of him playing Minecraft. He registered his PewDiePie account while at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, studying industrial economics and technology management. He struggled to fit in at Chalmers: “I had nothing in common with the rest of the people in the program,” he told Icon Magazine’s Maria Lindholm.
Felix Kjellberg: From Hotdog Seller to Maker Studios Superstar
PewDiePie began to take off after Kjellberg filmed himself screaming his way around the horror game Amnesia, and began to receive requests from viewers for more of the same. He was soon uploading several clips a day, and eventually, to his parents’ horror, he dropped out of Chalmers in 2011 to work at a hotdog kiosk while he developed his channel.
He reached his first 1 million subscribers in July 2012. Two months later, he had 2 million. By December that year, he had signed with Maker Studios — a talent network for video-makers that provides resources, expertise and help with promotion and marketing, in return for a share of ad revenue — and saw his channel quickly grow from 100 million to 200 million views per month. On August 15, 2013, PewDiePie became the most-subscribed YouTube channel in the world.
PewDiePie and Marzia (CutiePie) Move to Brighton, Get Married
In July 2013, Kjellberg moved to Brighton, a UK seaside town that has become a hub for YouTubers, with his Italian girlfriend, Marzia Bisognin, (nicknamed CutiePie) a beauty blogger. They were introduced online in 2011 and began a long-distance relationship, before living together in Italy, then Sweden, and eventually settling in Brighton — because of the town’s reliable internet connectivity — where they would share an apartment with two pet pugs, Edgar and Maya.
In August 2019, Kjellberg and Bisognin tied the knot in a private London ceremony. Announcing the union on Twitter, he wrote: “We are married!!! I’m the happiest I can be. I’m so lucky to share my life with this amazing woman.”
PewDiePie’s Problems with Rants and Racism
In August 2014, the same month Maker Studios launched a PewDiePie iPhone app, Kjellberg announced that he would be disabling the online comments under his YouTube videos, deeming them to be “mainly spam.” He partly relented in October, permitting “approved” comments only. In April 2016, he addressed his use of words such as “gay” and “retard” in earlier videos: “I just thought things were funny because they were offensive,” he claimed. “I would say a lot of stupid shit.” It seemed as if PewDiePie was finally starting to grow up.
But by November, his tone had changed again: he threatened to delete his channel once it reached 50 million subscribers, venting his frustration at YouTube over an allegedly unexplained loss of subscribers. Soon enough, he reached 50 million subscribers on December 8th — but did not delete the channel; instead he deleted a secondary channel, Jack septiceye2, on which he had only ever posted two videos, claiming that the whole thing had been “a joke.” The main PewDiePie channel would be an extremely lucrative source of income to give up, after all — according to Forbes, Kjellberg earned $15 million in 2016 (the total also included ad revenue from his YouTube Red channel and sales of 112,000 copies of his book, This Book Loves You).
The following month, however, #PewDiePieIsOver and #PewDiePieIsOverParty began trending on Twitter, after Kjellberg appeared to use the n-word in a video. Days later, he caused further controversy by using the website Fiverr to pay two Indian men $5 to hold up a sign saying “Death to all Jews.” He apologized, claiming: “I didn’t think they would actually do it.”
Nevertheless, after other videos came to light that appeared to contain anti-Semitic jokes, Maker Studios severed ties with PewDiePie in February 2017. Kjellberg posted an apology, titled My Response, on February 17th — but also criticized the media’s reporting of his videos. But he found himself apologizing again in September 2017 after blurting the n-word during a live stream.
“I’m really disappointed in myself, because it seems I’ve learnt nothing from these past controversies,” he said. “Being in the position I am, I should know better.”
100 Million Subscribers and Hiatus
Although PewDiePie was overtaken by the Indian record label T-Series for the most-subscribed YouTube channel by spring 2019, he retained the top spot for an individually operated channel, surpassing 100 million subscribers in August.
A few weeks later, the social media star again agitated critics by backing out of a pledge to donate $50,000 to the Anti-Defamation League. The social media star said he had been advised to select the nonprofit, to help quiet the accusations of anti-Semitism, though he preferred to donate the money to a charity he was "personally passionate about."
In December 2019, PewDiePie announced that he was taking a hiatus from the platform that had propelled him to fame.
"I am taking (a) break from YouTube next year," he said in a video. "I wanted to say it in advance because I made up my mind. I'm tired, I'm feeling very tired. I don't know if you can tell ... early next year I'll be away for a little while. I'll explain that later but I wanted to give a heads up."
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