The Rise of ‘YouTube Voice’ and Why Vloggers Want It to Stop
Or, how to get noticed in an ocean of over-enunciated yelling.
Lead image: screenshot via YouTube
If you've ever gone down a Youtube rabbit hole, you've heard it at least a dozen times. Within the first minute of the video, usually after a flashy graphic letting you know what channel you're watching—an overly enthusiastic voice shouts at you, "HEEEY GUUUUUYS!" or possibly, "What's up YOU TUUUBE!!!" You can probably hear it in your head right now, it's so omnipresent it may not even annoy you anymore.
Over the last decade YouTube has existed, vloggers have been finding new and exciting ways to enter your home and talk about themselves, the things they like, what they're wearing or what they purchased. In our dystopian present, vloggers are now legitimate celebrities who make millions of dollars a year and travel the world. Toronto's own Lilly Singh, who started vlogging in 2010 is now a millionaire, making $2.5 million a year. But even as vloggers cross over into channels that more resemble the home shopping network, one thing remained the same—the YouTube voice.
Still don't know what I'm talking about? With over 10 million subscribers and millions of views on almost all her images, Bethany Mota is one of YouTube's biggest and most successful stars. In almost every video, within thirty seconds Mota begins by yelling, "Hey guys! It's Beth here" to her viewers.
Mota isn't the only popular YouTuber to adopt the voice. Makeup artists like Manny MUA, Jaclyn Hill, and Jeffree Star who are some of the most popular makeup vloggers all usually begin their videos in a similar way.
Regardless of what you think of the YouTube voice, the very distinct way of speaking makes sense. YouTube is a relatively new medium and not unlike news anchors, they've adopted a way to speak that means you understand exactly what they're saying. Toronto-based speech pathologist and PhD candidate Erin Hall says it can be compared to both news anchors and how we use different voices for different forms of communication. "Basically there are two things going on," Hall explains. "One is the actual segments they're using—the vowels and consonants. They're over-enunciating compared to casual speech which is something newscasters or radio personalities do." Not unlike your phone voice (we all have one), Hall explains that it's like how we enunciate our vowels and consonants more than we would in our regular speech.
According to Hall, however, it does go a bit beyond what we notice with news anchors, only because engagement is so important when vlogging. For a YouTuber, rhythm and cadence is a huge factor. "They're trying to keep it more casual, even if what they're saying is standard adding a different kind of intonation makes it more engaging to listen to."
This all goes back to having to show excitement and enthusiasm. To Emily Blamire, a PhD student, YouTubers are trying to entertain us and keep their audience engaged. "We see it from the very start of a video," Blamire explains, "In those first ten seconds or so, they're very similar in that regard in that there's the, 'hey guys' they're almost half yelling at you." Mixing the shouting, unbridled enthusiasm (and for many women, uptalk) is when we usually get the YouTube voice we all know and love (or loathe).
So it's pretty easy to identify "the voice," but where did it all begin? Did a bunch of YouTubers gather at a conference and decide to annoy their parents? According to both Blamire and Hill, there hasn't been much academic research on the subject. Hill believes this type of trend in speech happens naturally when you're trying to make people understand you. "Just the reflex of taking a video of yourself, you'd probably automatically do some of those things." Linguists suggest early YouTubers who found success with these intonations may have simply inspired others to make more of the same.
Obviously, not all YouTubers use the voice—and for many not falling into the trap is a conscious choice. For Jon Aitken, a YouTuber with nearly five thousand subscribers who regularly vlogs from his channel Jonbehere, it's all performative and avoidable. "It's performative in that you take on and change yourself to become something that you think people will want to watch." However, to Aitken the shouting is used as more than just a way to get engagement. "I think that's a way of disguising their videos are shit. When people yell it's overwhelming and masks the lack of thought that goes into the video."
We're so used to the voice, that it's almost hard to imagine a future in which this isn't the norm. Aitken—who is well acquainted with YouTubers who have millions of subscribers—believes the specific cadence is on its way out. While it's easy for the Bethany Motas of YouTube to maintain their subscription level by speaking in the way they have since starting out, Aitken thinks it's not the case for the newbies starting up. "In the current YouTube landscape it's more about standing out and if you can't stand out effectively then you can't get big." According to Aitken, the YouTube voice is generally a no-no between other YouTubers. "There are certain qualities that are looked down on by the community because they're designed to get a lot of views and be as likeable as possible."
This far into YouTube's existence, the voice is synonymous with vlogging as an entertainment medium. And while people like Aitken want it to stop, you probably won't see other vloggers calling out the voice anytime soon. "The more subscribers you have, the more careful you are about maintaining relationships in the YouTube community," he said. "You realize how profitable it is to not burn bridges."
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