YouTube’s and TikTok’s premiere cultural commentary creators discussed the changes and challenges they’ve faced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic at a VidCon panel Thursday.
YouTubers Jarvis Johnson, Eddy Burback, and Jenny Nicholson joined TikToker Michael (HePetty) and former YouTuber Lindsay Ellis on a panel moderated by journalist Mara Schiavocampo. The group discussed evolving audience behavior, conceptualizing content, mental health, and advice for aspiring creators.
With everyone stuck at home at the start of the pandemic, there was nothing to do but watch content and connect through phone screens. Ellis, who quit YouTube last December, said that this made social media more lucrative—but made audiences more toxic.
“Nobody had anything to do and everyone was just trapped in front of their social media,” she said during the panel. “So I think the reactions from audiences got more emotional or intense.”
Ellis also clarified that she wasn’t “chased off” of social media during this time, alluding to the controversy surrounding her exit from YouTube. Rather, she was tired of withstanding perpetual online abuse, which she said “never stops” even after 14 years of being a creator, and that she ran out of things to say.
“I felt like there were people who were doing more interesting things than me, and I kind of had my time in the spotlight in this in this particular niche,” she said, later saying, “After [doing] something for so long, I kind of felt like I need to know when to quit.”
The active YouTubers on the panel discussed the different approaches to covering pop culture in their YouTube videos. Nicholson noticed a rise in nostalgic, longer-form content amid the pandemic, a trend she has contributed to with her viral, 2.5-hour Vampire Diaries video. Meanwhile, Burback said that he started making videos that he wanted to make, rather than videos he thinks he should make, pointing to a recent piece he uploaded simply watching Morbius five days in a row. He said that as the pandemic winds down, people seem to be searching for content that seems more authentic to the personality of a creator.
Still, the pandemic made it difficult to create, and Burback said that it was hard to conceptualize videos while the world was experiencing something so grim.
“People are losing family members and I don’t want to be like, ‘Check out this thing on YouTube that’s going on.’ It doesn’t seem like it matters much,” he said.
Johnson said the pandemic’s impact was more internal: “When I reduced the amount of exposure to new stimulus, I was kind of just like, doing the same thing every day. I felt like I was in Groundhog Day and that like really stymied… my creativity.”
He thinks that other creators felt this pressure during the pandemic too, and he said it was “exhausting” to create content at the start of it. Now, Johnson encourages aspiring creators to find balance. For his part, he said he’s made strides in the past year to make time for friends, exercise, and other activities to avoid burnout and find a better routine.
“I’m a very, like, hyper-focused type of person,” he said. “I’m working on a video and it’s like, all of my self-care goes out the window, and that’s not okay. It’s not sustainable.”