YouTube Rewind 2019 spotlights popular content - but still celebrates the problematic

YouTube Rewind 2019 spotlights popular content - but still celebrates the problematic

YouTube has released its annual Rewind video - a collection of the platform's successes, trends and popular content released over the last 12 months.

Rewind is dubbed as a celebration of achievement on YouTube, but the drive fell under scrutiny last year for its poor execution and exclusion of many creators. In 2018, YouTube Rewind became the most-disliked video on the platform.

Even platform CEO Susan Wojcicki acknowledged that the video was "cringy", and "didn't accurately show the year’s key moments, nor did it reflect the YouTube you know". She also pledged that YouTube would "do better in 2019".

Well, here we are, in 2019. What has YouTube Rewind delivered this year?

Rewind 2019

A stark change to last year's scripted content with YouTubers dabbling in awkward acting in a forest, YouTube chooses to focus on its own numbers. It's a safe bet because the audience can't argue with statistics. But that also feels like a risky move considering the amount of criticism the company has received for its erratic and somewhat nonsensical algorithm.

The platform runs through a number of top 10 styled lists, beginning with the most-liked videos of 2019. Surprisingly, titles such as "why you shouldn't vaccinate your kids" and "George Soros is ruining our country and Donald Trump is our saviour" didn't make the list.

In the list, we see the likes of Shane Dawson, James Charles, Seth Everman, and Jimmy 'Mr Beast' Donaldson, who clocked in at number one with a vlog literally called 'Make this the most liked video on YouTube'.

Next up is the most-liked music videos across YouTube. The year's biggest hits make a splash, including Ariana Grande's 7 Rings, Billie Eilish's Bad Guy and Lil Nas X's Old Town Road.

Video games were a significant miss in the 2018 Rewind, unless you count the inclusion of Tyler 'Ninja' Blevins, who at that time, was primarily a Twitch streamer. However, this year's Rewind showcases the top five most-watched games on YouTube. Roblox, Garena Free Fire, Grand Theft Auto V, Fortnite and Minecraft filled that list, with Minecraft racking up a massive 100 billion views.

There's also a countdown of the top five most-liked beauty videos, and more interestingly, a top 10 countdown of new creators that have broken out throughout 2019. The number one spot on this list is LOUD, a Brazilian channel led by a group of creators. The channel uploaded its first video in February 2019 and managed to amass a whopping 3.4m subs this year, which is no easy task. It's also refreshing to see YouTube putting fresh talent in some sort of spotlight.

You asked for this

The YouTube Rewind concludes with the most-viewed creators of 2019. Of course, the video makes sure to remind you that it is you, the viewer, that put these creators where they are, so they cannot absolve responsibility for those that make the list. Here are YouTube's most-watched creators of 2019:

  • Azzyland - 1.9bn views
  • Fischer's-フィッシャーズ- 1.9bn views
  • LazarBeam - 2bn views
  • Mr Beast - 2.2bn views
  • Dude Perfect - 2.3bn views
  • David Dobrik - 2.4bn views
  • Jelly - 2.5bn views
  • Pencilmation - 2.8bn views
  • Felipe Neto - 2.8bn views
  • PewDiePie - 4bn views

To the surprise of literally no one, YouTube's statistical behemoth Felix Kjellberg tops the most-watched creators countdown. Kjellberg hit 100m subscribers earlier this year, putting his reach and influence beyond any other YouTuber by a considerable margin.

It feels a little unsavoury to acknowledge PewDiePie as the platform's greatest achievement when he has consistently and unforgivably fallen short of YouTube's community standards. Kjellberg's controversy doesn't stop at one or two forgivable offenses either, it spans over years of hapless mistakes.

Kjellberg's brushes with antisemitism and racial slurs in 2017 are the tip of the iceberg. During 2019, the 'subscribe to PewDiePie' movement encouraged by YouTube's shining star resulted in the vandalism of a war memorial, and more tragically, his brand becoming associated with a terror attack. He also retracted a donation to an anti-hate group earlier this year claiming that he only picked it because he was "advised" to.

However, these mistakes do not go unaddressed by Kjellberg. His brand is now beyond him, and he doesn't represent the views and actions of over 100 million fans. He has tried to apologise, repeatedly, for his own errors and the misdeeds performed on his behalf. But it's not enough, and it keeps happening. The problem is Kjellberg is now too big to suffer any kind of real consequence, and he's not alone in that sentiment.

We didn't ask for this, actually

Of course, lists of the most-liked or watched content on YouTube "as decided by the audience" has little clout when what YouTube's algorithms play such a large part in exactly what its audience discovers and watches.

A study from YouTube channel Coffee Break earlier this year unveiled that the platform's 'trending' tab has a significant sway towards traditional media outlets over actual YouTube creators.

It's especially prudent to acknowledge that Kjellberg was not even mentioned in YouTube Rewind 2018 despite his successes, and neither was Logan Paul, who faced criticism last year over vlogging a dead body in January 2018.

Paul was punished for about a month, and by the end of February, he'd had ads on his channel restored and was back to his regular, monetised programming. Wojcicki even argued at the time that problematic content such as Paul's corpse clickbait is subject to opinion, stating, “what you think is tasteless is not necessarily what someone else would think is tasteless".

The omission of these two huge creators seemed to suggest that the company had a vague idea of why not to include them in its self-congratulatory jamboree. However, the difference this year is that YouTube is not choosing the content - you are.

Except you’re not, because YouTube decides exactly what it wants you to see. And it cannot be judged for who and what it includes in its celebratory roundup of everything its viewers enjoyed, because you are the one watching it. It almost feels like the platform is aiming to absolve itself from criticism in the safest way it can - by celebrating the numbers, not the individual talent. 



Danielle Partis is editor of and former editor of She was named Journalist of the Year at the MCV Women in Games Awards 2019, as well as in the MCV 30 under 30 2020. Prior to Steel Media, she wrote about music and games at Team Rock.