Born in Gothenburg, Sweden, PewDiePie originally pursued a degree in industrial economics and technology management at Chalmers University of Technology. In 2010, during his time at the university, he registered a YouTube account under the name PewDiePie. The following year, he dropped out of Chalmers after growing bored with his degree field, much to the dismay of his parents. After failing to earn an apprenticeship with an advertising agency in Scandinavia, he then decided to focus on creating content for his YouTube channel. In order to fund his videos, PewDiePie began selling prints of his Photoshop art projects and working at a hot dog stand. PewDiePie soon gathered a rapidly increasing online following, and in July 2012, his channel surpassed one million subscribers (Infogalactic).
Early on, PewDiePie was signed under the multi-channel network Machinima. After dissatisfaction with the network, he signed with Maker Studios, having his channel under Maker’s sub-networks Polaris, and later, Revelmode. Throughout his time on YouTube, PewDiePie has produced content that has been praised as genuine and unfiltered, but also been received as abrasive, and in some cases, met with controversy. As a result of an early 2017 controversy regarding allegations of anti-Semitism in several of PewDiePie’s videos, the Disney-operated Maker Studios ended their partnership with him, dropping him from their network. While he criticized the coverage of the situation and defended his content as jokes that were taken out of context, he conceded its offensiveness (Infogalactic).
The main focus of PewDiePie’s videos is his commentary and reactions to various games as he plays through them. Due to this, his videos fall under the Let’s Play umbrella. Unlike conventional walkthroughs, his Let’s Play videos are devoted to “sharing gaming moments on YouTube with my bros”. Variety details that “PewDiePie acts like he’s spending time with a friend. He begins each video introducing himself in a high-pitched, goofy voice, drawing out the vowels of his YouTube moniker, then delves into the videos.” In his early years as a YouTube personality, PewDiePie was known for playing horror and action video games, most notably Amnesia: The Dark Descent and its related mods. PewDiePie also began posting weekly vlogs starting from 2 September 2011. These vlogs are uploaded under the title of Fridays with PewDiePie. He typically performs a “Brofist” at the end of each of his videos. As his channel grew, he began to branch out in terms of his video content, uploading live-action and animated comedy shorts. In 2014, he began to more actively play games that interested him, regardless if they were of the horror genre or not. In addition, he is also known to support video games from indie developers (Spangler).
PewDiePie has also been noted for his frequent upload output, something he scaled down in 2014. By early 2017, he had uploaded almost 3,500 videos to his channel, around 400 of which have been made private. In March 2017, PewDiePie noted that his channel was running on a daily output, on which he commented, “[there’s] a lot of challenges in doing daily content, it’s stupid. I really shouldn’t be doing it, I really should just go back and upload twice a week, and then take a step back, but I still really, really love the daily challenge—the daily grind—of just being like, ‘hey, I’m gonna make a video today, no matter what.’ And sometimes it really works, and sometime’s it doesn’t” (Cohen).
During the early portion of his YouTube career, PewDiePie refused to hire any editor or outside assistance to help with his video output; stating, “I want YouTube to be YouTube.” In October 2014, however, while speaking to Rhett and Link on their Ear Biscuits podcast, PewDiePie expressed that he would seek an editor in 2015. In February 2017, PewDiePie stated in his My Response video, “I’m just a guy. It’s literally just me. There’s not a producer out there […] there’s no writer, there’s no camera guy” (PewDiePie).
The nature of PewDiePie’s video content has been described by various outlets as goofy, energetic, obnoxious, and filled with profanity. However, many of the same outlets concede that PewDiePie’s content is genuine and unfiltered. Sarah Begley of Time said his clips contained “charismatic narration”. Chris Reed of The Wall St. Cheat Sheet said it contained “off-the-cuff running commentary that’s characterised by goofy jokes, profanity, and loud outbursts.” Another reporter noted PewDiePie’s “chosen mode of sharing his critique happens to be ribald entertainment, an unmediated stream of blurted jokes, startled yelps, goofy voices, politically incorrect comments, and pretty much nonstop profanity.” Reed adds that these aspects of PewDiePie’s videos are what critics find most abrasive, but what fans love the most. PewDiePie resorts occasionally to game play, resulting in silent or emotional commentary; his play through of The Last of Us, it was noted, left the usually vocal gamer speechless at the ending.
In 2016, he examined his older videos and while noting the stylistic changes he had undergone, he expressed specific regret for his casual use of words like gay or retarded in a derogatory sense. In December 2016, Kotaku‘s Patricia Hernandez wrote about his stylistic changes, explaining that “over the last year, the PewDiePie channel has also had an underlying friction, as Kjellberg slowly distances himself from many of the things that made him famous. He’s doing fewer Let’s Plays of horror games like Amnesia,” and adding, “the PewDiePie of 2016 can still be immature, sure, but […] a defining aspect of recent PewDiePie videos is existential angst, as he describes the bleak reality of making content for a machine he cannot fully control or understand.” On the technical aspect of his videos, PewDiePie spoke about how his early videos would feature raw footage, although he later began to dedicate time to edit his videos.
In January 2017, PewDiePie began to receive criticism for his non-gaming videos. In one, he seemingly uses the “N-word,” which caused #PewdiepieIsOverParty to trend worldwide on Twitter (Merrifield). A few days later, PewDiePie created further controversy, when he uploaded a video featuring him reviewing the website Fiverr, which allows people to sell a service for $5 USD. In the video, PewDiePie shows his reaction to a duo he had paid to display the message “DEATH TO ALL JEWS” on a sign, as a joke and attempt to highlight the ridiculous things which can be provided as a paid service on the Internet. He immediately apologized within the same video stating, “I am sorry. I didn’t think they would actually do it. I feel partially responsible,” adding “I’m not anti-Semitic, […] so don’t get the wrong idea. It was a funny meme, and I didn’t think it would work, okay.” PewDiePie received criticism from some users in the video’s comment section, as well as from some media outlets. As a result of this video, both PewDiePie and the duo were banned from the website, prompting them to upload an apology video stating that they did not understand the meaning of the sign, and that they were sorry to all Jews (Romano).
“I’ve made some jokes that people don’t like. And you know what? If people don’t like my jokes, I fully respect that. I fully understand that. I acknowledge that I took things too far, and that’s something I definitely will keep in mind moving forward, but their reaction and their outrage has been nothing but insanity.”
— PewDiePie, My Response video (2017)
A few weeks later, The Wall Street Journal reported on the incident, while also adding that since August 2016, PewDiePie has included anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery in nine separate videos. The publication noted he removed three of the videos, including the January 2017 Fiverr one (Winkler). In a 12 February Tumblr post, PewDiePie expressed: “I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes, […] I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary,” and conceded, “though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive.” In his post, he also reiterated he does not support anti-Semitic groups. PewDiePie’s motivation for his Tumblr post was partially driven by the fact that neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and publications, such as The Daily Stormer, were referencing and praising PewDiePie for his jokes (Solon).
On 13 February, the Disney-owned Maker Studios multi-channel network cut its ties with PewDiePie because of the aforementioned controversy and the additional videos containing allegedly anti-Semitic jokes. Maker stated that “although [he had] created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate.” Google also took action, dropping him from the Google Preferred advertising program, as well as cancelling the Scare PewDiePie YouTube Red series. Various media journalists and outlets joined the Wall Street Journal in criticising PewDiePie. Kirsty Major of The Independent, Arwa Mahdawi of The Guardian, and Ben Kuchera of Polygon, were all critical of PewDiePie’s defence of his content as jokes taken out of context, opining that his content helps normalise ideologies such as fascism, neo-Nazism, and white supremacy. Ironically, Ben Fritz, one of the three WSJ reporters who wrote the original piece about PewDiePie, has made several anti-Semitic and Nazi jokes on Twitter, himself. PewDiePie’s fans picked up on the jokes, accusing Fritz of hypocrisy and began attacking him (Murphy).
Many in the YouTube community, including Ethan Klein of h3h3Productions, a Jewish YouTube sketch comedian, who is also friends with PewDiePie, as well as YouTube news commentator Philip DeFranco, and popular gamers Markiplier and Jacksepticeye, as well as many others, defended PewDiePie and criticized the way media handled the incident (Thorne). On 16 February, PewDiePie himself responded in a video entitled My Response, in which he apologized to those who were offended by his previous videos and which he also criticized the reporting by the media. He also states The Wall Street Journal framed his jokes as “posts” and took them out of context. One of the examples PewDiePie gives of this includes one of his vlogs, in which he expresses frustration at people creating swastikas in his Tuber Simulator video game. In the My Response video, he also touched upon the aforementioned stylistic changes that his video content began undergoing, detailing his desire to be more honest and open about his opinions (Placido).
Merrifield, Daniel. “‘You Can’t Say That!’ – Everyone’s At The #PewDiePieIsOverParty After He Dropped Some Really Racist Words!” Capital. N.p., 06 Jan. 2017. Web. 12 May 2017.
Murphy, Margi. “Journalist that claimed PewDiePie was anti-Semitic accused of hypocrisy over jokes about Nazis, Jewish and black people.” The Sun. The Sun, 21 Feb. 2017. Web. 12 May 2017.
PewDiePie. “My Response.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Feb. 2017. Web. 12 May 2017.
“PewDiePie – Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core.” N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2017.
Placido, Dani Di. “PewDiePie May Be Offensive, But Does He Really Deserve All The Hate?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.
Romano, Aja. “The controversy over YouTube star PewDiePie and his anti-Semitic “jokes,” explained.” Vox. Vox, 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.
Solon, Olivia. “Disney severs ties with YouTube star PewDiePie over antisemitic videos.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 12 May 2017.
Spangler, Todd. “PewDiePie Apologizes for Anti-Semitic Jokes, but Attacks Media for Taking Them Out of Context.” Variety. N.p., 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.
Thorne, Will. “Prominent YouTubers Rally Around PewDiePie in Anti-Semitism Saga.” Variety. N.p., 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.