LOS ANGELES — Bart Baker, former YouTube celebrity, starts off most mornings by screaming in mangled Chinese.
For the past few years, Baker’s bread and butter was edgy parody music videos, mocking stars like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. Good videos easily racked up tens of millions of views; a million views was a dud.
But when YouTube started de-prioritizing vulgar videos in order to keep family-friendly advertisers happy, Baker’s income took a massive plunge.
So when he got a mysterious email from a company promising to catapult him to stardom in China, he figured he’d give it a shot. A few videos later, he had millions of followers, in a country he’d never even visited.
Now, Baker’s days start with live chat and song sessions with his millions of Chinese followers on Kwai, a Chinese social media app. Then, his Chinese manager sends him a Chinese song, which Bart translates into English, with the help of Google Translate. Hours later, Baker’s English version of the track is burning up the top ranks in Douyin (China’s version of TikTok).
He sees immense potential in the Chinese market and has already announced that he's quitting YouTube. Meanwhile, his Chinese manager is concerned that Baker’s American persona could be trouble in China, if it isn’t properly handled.
VICE News met with Bart Baker in Los Angeles, and his manager in Shanghai, to see if Baker's path might be a way forward for other struggling YouTubers.