I watch a lot of YouTube. Like A LOT. I once watched 47 hours of YouTube in a week, I then had to have an intervention with myself about it.
I've watched a lot of YouTube since the site was invented in 2006. I could go all day about the channels that have come and gone, how it is actually the best platform for video media, and I have my own opinions on the #drama. But you can find those same opinions on any tech website.
Instead I'm just going to keep it simple. So here is a list of my favourite YouTube channels of the last year and why I love them.
My Top 3 Channels of 2018
Wintergatan is the best YouTube channel right now.
The Swedish musician and inventor Martin Molin had a viral hit in 2016 with The Marble Machine. This was a song produced entirely by an elaborate music machine made of plywood and Lego that, when cranked, would play the whole marble machine song. The machine was built in an improvised way to play one song for one video. As Martin himself says, this machine was a viral hit but a mechanical failure.
But that machine was really just a prototype.
Molin is a man with a single goal in mind - to build a marble machine that he can take with his band on a world tour. In January 2017 he began to build the Marble Machine X. It is now two years later and he is still not finished. But the designing and building of this insane contraption is utterly fascinating.
For all of 2017 it felt like the MMX was a very distant dream. Some parts were made, a lot of prototyping was done, the team finished their Music Machines series, and Martin moved to France. In 2018 the machine has really started to take shape. Martin now has a crack team of skilled engineers, designers, fabricators, and project managers solving the myriad problems his strict demands pose.
The videos are gorgeously shot, and soundtracked with Wintergatan's music (their 2013 album is also great). I find the videos so inspiring for how visually creative they are and the skill and ambition they demonstrate.
This is a total bullseye for me: An eccentric Scandinavian man assembles a global team of engineers to build a machine so complex that it broke their design software (they even had an episode where they got the engineers who make the software to figure out how to make it work!), and all of this is just to make a musical instrument!
The question of the channel is, is Martin making a modern mechanical masterpiece or has he lost all his marbles. The answer is, clearly both but that makes unbeatable viewing.
Wheezy Waiter is one of the original YouTubers. He has been making videos regularly since 2006, but I got really into his stuff in 2015 when I saw his viral smash hit 1000th video. That sent me spiralling down the rabbit hole of his back catalogue, and I would have put him in my top 3 favourite YouTube channels every year since.
It's also very difficult to explain why he is one of the best unless you watch huge amounts of Wheezy videos. Plus after 1300 ish videos, he has done one in almost every style.
There is a regular cycle of WheezyWaiter videos: sometimes he is really inspired and doing very original content, sometimes he has no ideas and just talks about the struggle, sometimes he is having the time of his life with his family and friends, sometimes he is just being lazy. Sometimes his videos are great, sometimes they are just ok, but he keeps going and going and going and going…
2018 has been a microcosm of his entire work. He started the year with a series called The Cookie Chronicles where he embarks on a journey of self-improvement. These videos are like Wheezy 101 and a good primer for all his stuff. Then he went back to his old short making-jokes-about-the-news type videos (this is a "lazy phase"). Then he scrapped that and spent a month working on one video about giving up sugar. This sugar video was a huge hit for him and changed his whole outlook on video making and the direction of the channel for the rest of the year.
There is something truly real about WheezyWaiter. His videos are quite gentle. Let's take the sugar one. It is a good hot topic and he really took the time to make a great video. But the conclusions in that video are pretty lukewarm, honest and realistic: Yeah, they felt a bit better after quitting sugar for a month but, like, not that much better.
In a world where everything is super amped up and as crazy and dramatic as possible (see below), WheezyWaiter is a shining light.
God bless WheezyWaiter, may he never stop.
OH MY GOD. Shane had a great 2018. Widely regarded as the best channel this year and I will happily jump on that bandwagon. Yes it is DRAMA and TEA, but I love it.
Shane has been on YouTube forever and his channel has been through all kinds of ups and downs, but this year he really hit on something great.
After teaming up with cameraman and editor Andrew Siwicki he began to produce documentary series on Youtubers. This cinema verite peek behind the curtain into YouTuber's lives is totally fascinating.
Like a homegrown Louis Theroux, Shane can use his reputation (read: masssive subs count) to get in where other's could not. These are a YouTuber's look at Youtubers for YouTube.
There is a lot to these documentaries, in fact many have rightly criticised them for being unfocussed. I'll just say 3 things I learned from them:
They're all just kids. Tana and Jake and the whole Team 10 and clout people, they're all kids who are doing this instead of going to college. The #drama is as serious as your friend at uni kissing a girl on a night out when they have a girlfriend back home. Else, in the case of Tanacon, they're just really inexperienced and don't know what they are doing. And that's fine, these kids should be allowed to make mistakes like this. What is weird is they're making them in front of huge audiences.
This is the new Hollywood elite, and it isn't that different to the old Hollywood elite. Young attractive extroverts plucked out of small town obscurity, dressed in the finest clothes, given everything they want by invisible "investors", pushed to highest pedestal and allowed to burn.
There is a shitload of money to be made in make-up. The episode of the Jeffree Star series where they go round the factory and Shane is freaking out is so bizarre. I have been in a few factories and that factory is a pretty ordinary, but the amount of cash they are making is totally bonkers. They are selling packaged powders and dyes for $50 a time. Also there is something truly weird, gross and capitalistic about Jeffree walking around in his Gucci tracksuit while people pack make up. It's like something from a Dickens novel.
There is also an extended Shane universe featuring all his friends. The best of which is the borderline unwatchable assault on the senses that is Garrett Watts. His 2 hoarder house videos are what YouTube is made for.
For better or worse these documentaries were the most interesting things on the platform in 2018, and revived Shane as a media personality to watch.
Other Channels I Love
I've put Andrew Huang and Rob Scallon together because they made one of my favourite videos this year, where they wrote and recorded an entire album in 10 hours. They were also two of the first do the write a song in an hour challenge which culminated in Rob's 3 minute song in 30 seconds.
Rob's video recording a metal band onto wax and Andrew's 4 producers 1 sample videos are particular highlights. Oh and the one about when Rob and Sarah Longfield got accidentally locked in a maximum security prison cell is another of my favourite videos of this year.
Just very cool interesting music videos.
Lindsay Ellis' channel has been going for ages but I only just discovered it this year. There are tons of film theory channels on YouTube but I like hers the best.
Her series on The Hobbit is especially interesting, particularly the final episode that delves the shady way the movies have impacted New Zealand politics.
Colin Furze has been going since the dawn of YouTube, but he's got bigger ambitions, bigger tools, and bigger budget to make bigger and better things. He still has the same mad scientist nature, child-like enthusiasm, reckless disregard for safety and straight up engineering skill that makes it a must watch every week.
When the McElroy brothers left Polygon earlier this year after producing some of the greatest YouTube series of all time - Monster Factory and Car Boys (I know we aren't supposed to talk about Car Boys anymore because of the whole Nick thing, but at the time it was amazing OK? I loved it and I'm sorry.) - I was worried that it would be the end for the channel.
Boy was I wrong!
The producers they have now are so flipping good. You have people like Simone de Rochefort, Brian David Gilbert and Patrick Gill producing the best damn content on the web. Yes it's all videogame themed - which is its weakest point - but please just watch an episode of Unravelled and tell me BDG is not doing the Lord's work.
Not really a channel, but a show produced by web comedy institution College Humor. Fantasy High is the best example of people playing D&D that exists. Brenan is an unbelievably good DM, the scenarios and the sets are so very creative, and I just love the cast that they have. In fact, the College Humor cast of the past two years has been one of my favourite and this is a great forum for them to shine.
I love D&D, I love these people, so I was always going to love this.
Note for 2019
Now I've written this out I've noticed how non-diverse the channels I watch are. It is mostly middle class white men in their late 20s / early 30s i.e. people like me. I'd like to blame The Algorithm for that, but I watch so much YouTube that it really is just me being lazy. So I'm going to make an effort to diversify the old subs feed in 2019.