The career of PewDiePie, the controversial 29-year-old who says he's 'definitely' worth more than $20 million

YouTube/PewDiePie


Felix Kjellberg, who goes by PewDiePie online, was born October 24, 1989, in a city in southwest Sweden called Gothenburg. As a child, Kjellberg quickly developed a passion for video games, despite his parents wanting him to play less.

Getty

Source: ESPN


Kjellberg attended Chalmers University of Technology, in the city where he was born, and pursued a degree in industrial economics and technology management. Kjellberg dropped out in 2011, saying he lacked interest in his major and “couldn’t relate to f—ing anyone.”

BirgittaPhotos via Flickr

Source: We The Unicorns


While in school, Kjellberg registered a YouTube account in 2010 under the name “PewDiePie,” a combination of some words including the sound a shooting laser makes. After dropping out, Kjellberg decided to pursue a career with his YouTube channel, at a time when being a YouTuber wasn’t seen as much of a viable career path.

Getty

Sources: ESPN, We The Unicorns


But Kjellberg’s parents refused to support him financially after he dropped out of college. To earn money for his YouTube passion, he worked at a hot-dog stand and sold his artwork.

PewDiePie/YouTube

Source: ESPN


In the early days, PewDiePie’s channel consisted mostly of play-by-plays of video games — dubbed the “Let’s Play” genre — along with colour commentary. He found that his videos with horror games were more popular, and people were drawn to his overdone reactions.

YouTube/PewDiePie

Source: ESPN


One of PewDiePie’s first videos to become a hit was his play-by-play video of the beloved game “Minecraft.” His antics and voiceover comments have earned him over 12 million views and counting on the 2010 video.

Source: Business Insider


Just as he started to take off on YouTube, Kjellberg met his now wife, Marzia Bisognin. Bisognin reportedly emailed Kjellberg to tell him she found his videos funny, and the two have been together ever since. She started her own YouTube channel called “CutiePieMarzia” in 2012.

Jessica Kobeissi via Marzia KjellbergFelix Kjellberg and Marzia Bisognin.

Source: New York Post


By December 2011, PewDiePie reached 60,000 subscribers, and quit his gig at the hot-dog stand. PewDiePie quickly established his signature video send-off: a “bro fist bump” to the camera and a message to “stay awesome.”

YouTube/PewDiePie

Sources: ESPN, We the Unicorns


Kjellberg expanded into content beyond video games early on, including his weekly vlog series called “Fridays with PewDiePie.” PewDiePie reached his first million subscribers in July 2012, and later that year signed with a multichannel YouTube network called Maker Studios.

PewDiePie/YouTubeKjellberg in his video marking 1 million subscribers.

Sources: We the Unicorns, Hollywood Reporter


From the beginning, comments that Kjellberg made in his play-by-play videos attracted controversy. In 2012, he was criticised for making rape jokes and trivializing sexual assault. He wrote on his Tumblr in October 2012 that he would no longer making rape jokes, and apologised if his jokes ever hurt anyone.

AP

Source: We The Unicorns, PewDie on Tumblr


In August 2013, PewDiePie became the most-subscribed-to channel on YouTube. He edged out the Smosh Brothers for the title, and the creators created a video celebrating the new king of YouTube. By the end of 2013, PewDiePie had acquired nearly 19 million subscribers.

PewDiePie/YouTubeThe Smosh Brothers hand over the reigns of most-subscribed-to YouTube channel to PewDiePie in 2013.

Source: We The Unicorns


Kjellberg’s popularity is evident: Several low-budget, relatively unknown video games he featured on his channel have found success and increased sales after their cameos, including “Goat Simulator” and “I Am Bread.”

Source: Eurogamer


In 2014, PewDiePie became one of the first major channels on YouTube to disable comments on his videos. He said his comment sections were becoming inundated with trolls and spam, and hindering his ability to connect with his fans. ESPN compared the move to “the equivalent of LeBron James refusing to tweet.”

YouTube

Sources: ESPN, We the Unicorns


By 2014, Kjellberg made an estimated $US7.4 million. That was up $US3 million from his estimated earnings a year before, showing the incredible growth of his channel in just four years. Kjellberg said he was “extremely tired” of constantly discussing his income.

Source: Business Insider


PewDiePie released his own video game in 2015 called “PewDiePie: Legend of the Brofist.” The $US5 mobile app for iOS and Android devices is an action-adventure game with references to PewDiePie, his girlfriend Marzia, their dogs, and fellow YouTubers. It was a hit. He launched another game, “PewDiePie Tuber Simulator,” in 2016.

Outerminds, Inc.

Sources: ThinkGaming, Business Insider


Also in 2015, Kjellberg released a satirical self-help book called “This Book Loves You.” The book parodying motivational texts rose to No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list when it was released that November.

Sources: Tubefilter, Business Insider


So in 2015, when YouTube launched its ad-free subscription service, YouTube Red, the company announced it was working on an exclusive show with Kjellberg called “Scare PewDiePie.” The series, which featured Kjellberg exploring sets based on horror games he’s played in past videos, premiered in 2016.

YouTube

Source: Venture Beat


Kjellberg is not shy about frequently trolling his fan base and the media, like when he threatened to delete his YouTube channel after hitting 50 million subscribers. But his trolling also got him briefly kicked off Twitter in 2016 for saying he was joining ISIS.

John Lamparski/Getty

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider


But in 2017, Kjellberg’s antics cost him. A Wall Street Journal report found that nine of his videos, between August 2016 and February 2017, included “anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery.” One of those videos showed two men, paid by PewDiePie, holding up a sign reading “Death to All Jews.”

YouTube

Source: Wall Street Journal, Business Insider


In the fallout from the WSJ report, Disney and YouTube cut ties with Kjellberg. Disney owned Maker Studios, the creator network Kjellberg was affiliated with, and called his videos “inappropriate.” YouTube killed the second season of its series “Scare PewDiePie” and removed Kjellberg from its preferred advertising program.

Source: Business Insider


Kjellberg later criticised YouTube for treating him unfairly by severing ties. He referred to the platform’s reaction to Logan Paul’s suicide-forest controversy, after which YouTube still rolled out Paul’s latest movie on its Premium subscription service. “Maybe it’s because I joked about Jews and that’s a more sensitive topic than showing a dead body,” Kjellberg said in a video.

STRF/STAR MAX/IPx

Source: Business Insider


After being dropped by Disney and YouTube, Kjellberg released a video calling the backlash against his behaviour “an attack by the media to try and discredit me.” He flipped off the camera, and invited the media to “try again motherf—–” to take him down.

YouTube

Source: Business Insider


Not long after, Kjellberg announced he was turning to Twitch to launch weekly livestreams and a new series called “Best Club.” The decision to stream on Twitch came as YouTube was dealing with its ad-pocalypse, which saw advertisers boycotting the platform because ads were appearing next to extremist content.

TwitchKjellberg in the first episode of ‘Best Club’ on Twitch.

Source: Tubefilter, Business Insider


Kjellberg’s history of making Nazi jokes didn’t age well, especially after the fatal 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Kjellberg promised to stop making Nazi jokes, vowing he had “nothing to do with these people” and was alarmed he “actually got grouped in” with them.

Source: Business Insider


However, Kjellberg was back to making offensive comments in his videos before the end of 2017. While livestreaming himself gaming, he used a racial slur during an expletive-ridden rant. It wasn’t the first time he used the N-word — he dropped the slur in a video earlier that year too.

YouTube

Source: Business Insider, We the Unicorns


Kjellberg launched a popular series on his YouTube channel in November 2017 called “Meme Review,” where the YouTuber reviews trending memes and internet jokes. The incredibly popular series has grown to feature big-name guests like right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Dr. Phil.

PewDiePie/YouTubeElon Musk and ‘Rick & Morty’ cocreator Justin Roiland on ‘Meme Review,’ a YouTube show from PewDiePie.

Sources: Know Your Meme, Business Insider


Kjellberg made sexist remarks in May 2018, referring to female gaming streamers as “stupid Twitch thots.” After Twitch streamer Alinity retaliated by filing a copyright claim against one of Kjellberg’s videos, Kjellberg derided Alinity’s wardrobe choices. “You’re just playing games with the shortest skirt ever,” PewDiePie said in a video. “That’s our fault for looking at it in any sexual way, right?”

Source: VICE


Kjellberg then faced criticism after posting a meme on Twitter in 2018 that mocked Demi Lovato shortly after she was hospitalized for a reported drug overdose. The meme showed Lovato asking her mum for money to buy a burger, which she then uses to buy heroin. He deleted it after a few hours and apologised for being “insensitive.”

Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


PewDiePie has been viewed as the bona fide King of YouTube for years, as he’s kept his substantial lead as the most-subscribed-to YouTube channel. However, that commanding lead started to be threatened in 2018, thanks to a Bollywood production company called T-Series. A rivalry between the two was quickly born.

T-Series/YouTube; PewDiePie/YouTubeA scene from a T-Series music video on top, and PewDiePie on the bottom.

Source: Business Insider


However, Kjellberg was able to stave off T-Series gaining ground, thanks to a massive social-media campaign by PewDiePie’s loyal fans. Hackers targeted the Wall Street Journal homepage, smart TV devices, and thousands of printers to encourage people to “subscribe to PewDiePie.” YouTuber Mr Beast also campaigned for PewDiePie.

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider


As The New York Times reported, “subscribe to PewDiePie” was transformed into an “all-purpose cultural bat signal for the young and internet-absorbed.” The slogan was used to deface a World War II memorial in New York with graffiti.

Sources: Buzzfeed News, New York Times


Then, the “subscribe to PewDiePie” slogan took on greater significance in March, when it was said during the terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In a livestream video from the shooting, the suspected gunman is heard telling people to “subscribe to PewDiePie.” Kjellberg said he was “absolutely sickened” to hear his name mentioned during the Christchurch shootings.

Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Kjellberg posted a video on YouTube asking his fans to end the “subscribe to PewDiePie” movement. “This was made to be fun, but it’s clearly not fun anymore. It’s clearly gone too far,” Kjellberg said. A day later, a plane with a banner reading “subscribe to PewDiePie” flew over New York City.

YouTube/PewDiePie

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider


T-Series overtook PewDiePie’s lead in March, and edged out PewDiePie in May to become the first YouTube channel to hit the 100-million subscriber mark. Kjellberg released two diss tracks mocking T-Series, but they were blocked from viewing in India after a court deemed them “vulgar” and “racist.”

PewDiePie/YouTubeFrom PewDiePie’s ‘Congratulations’ diss track.

Source: Business Insider


Kjellberg announced earlier this year that he would start regularly livestreaming again, this time on the relatively unknown livestreaming platform DLive. The blockchain-based platform says it doesn’t take a cut of the revenue generated from livestreams, unlike similar platforms like Twitch.

Source: Business Insider


The Washington Post reported in August that YouTube was allowing its most popular creators — including PewDiePie — to have more flexibility with the platform’s rules and moderation policies. YouTube denied the claims, and said it applies policies “consistently, regardless of who a creator is.”

Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty

Source: Business Insider


Kjellberg got married on August 19 to Marzia, his girlfriend of nearly eight years. The two got married in London, and some of Kjellberg’s YouTube pals were in attendance at the wedding.

Source: Business Insider


PewDiePie hit the 100-million subscriber mark in late August, becoming the first individual YouTuber to hit the milestone. Kjellberg remains one of the highest-earning YouTubers. He said in a recent video that his net worth is “definitely” more than $US20 million.

Source: Business Insider, PewDiePie on YouTube

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.