T hese days you can learn just about anything on Youtube. Do you want to learn a new language cook an amazing meal, become a martial artist or learn to play a musical instrument? No problem. But, can the internet help you become popular?
When you type “how to become popular” into Youtube, a whole lot of interesting presentations, tutorials and discussions come up. We analyzed and compared these videos, to get a real sense of what popularity actually is - and, well, how to become popular!
What did we learn? If you want to be popular, Youtube suggests that you either find ways of being kind and likeable to others; or else become a mean “cool kid” who puts other down! Youtube also tells us that popularity is about confidence and your physical appearance (although there were some mixed messages on the latter). Then, Youtube reminds us that popularity is complex and comes in many different forms. Finally (and importantly), Youtube tells us that popularity is something that you can achieve!
Want to learn more? Read on as we unpack the 7 things that Youtube can teach us about popularity.
Many of the Youtubers that we reviewed talk about popularity as something that you can achieve, rather than something that you’re simply born with. The idea is that popularity represents a status level that can be worked upon and developed. This is an empowering and exciting idea, potentially explaining why some of these videos are getting millions of hits. If you’re a child, teen or young adult who isn’t quite as popular as you wish you could be, it’s easy to understand how inspiring these confident Youtube celebrities can be, as they tell that you too can become one of the cool kids!
As an example, take a the title of this clip: how to become popular OVERNIGHT. It’s suggesting that popularity is not only achievable; but something which can be obtained without too much difficulty! This video, by comparison, talks about a popularity trick that you can do easily and instantly. Then, this video goes on to say that you don’t need to be good looking (or have lots of money) to be popular. In other words, they’re telling us that popularity is not something that you’re born with, but something that you work towards.
A little later on, the video breaks down the 5 steps that you can follow to be popular: specifically, find your crowd, don’t complain, practice listening, learn a skill and accept rejection. It’s quite nice to think about popularity as something that can be worked towards through a short series of steps, isn’t it? The latter - i.e. setting things out in the form of steps or a list - is a strategy that many of these videos employ to convince us that popularity is achievable.
For example, in this video a series of steps are presented for becoming popular. Then, at this point in the video, Kimberly tells us in a bright and cheery voice that there are 9 tricks that you can follow in order to become “instantly likeable”. Similarly, this video (which, note, has over one million views!) gives us a series of “tips” and “life hacks” for becoming popular. And this parody video presents a few steps for achieving popularity. This way of communicating is important. By breaking the process of becoming popular into several steps, they’re basically saying that anyone can become popular.
Ultimately, all of the videos give different pointers for how we can become popular. What’s common, though, is that popularity is spoken about as something that can be achieved - quickly, easily and through a series of steps. This also suggests another, totally different way of thinking about popularity: that it is something natural and ingrained. In other words, that popularity is a certain something that only a select few are born with and able to maintain. This, surely, is an idea that many people hold. However, in the videos that we reviewed, this idea was not spoken about directly - probably because the Youtubers are more likely to get hits when they talk about popularity as something that can be achieved!
But when we start to unpack the concept of popularity, we learn that in fact it’s quite a complex thing. For starters, it means different things to different people (and we cover some of these different ideas below). For example, is popularity all about being good-looking? Is it about being good at sport or having a unique skill? Is it about being confident, or having good social skills? Is it about being mean and powerful, or humble and friendly?
Popularity, according to Youtube, comes in many different forms. Despite that, the Youtubers that we’ve reviewed all speak about popularity as if we all know what they’re talking about. However, they often they don’t unpack what sort of popularity they’re actually referring to! So, ultimately, what can we learn about popularity, on the basis of the above? Popularity is a complex thing - but people talk about it in a way that doesn’t quite do justice to this complexity.
When reviewing Youtube clips on popularity, it becomes clear that some people think of popularity as a matter of dominance and hierarchy. The cool kids are at the top of the social ladder; and they need to take steps - sometimes pretty mean ones - to protect their status. If you’re not quite as popular as you’d like to be and have suffered bullying at the hands of cool kids, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.
As an example, let’s take a look at this video. Although it is a parody, the girls discuss a widely held idea about popularity: that people are popular when they’re able to dominate others. Here, for example, we are told that it’s important to “have a designated ‘let me help you with that’ girl”, and that these people are “here to serve you”. At a later point, we see a role-play of some bullying behavior, again suggesting the idea that popular people put other people down. In a similar parody, we are told that being popular is about manipulating, controlling and treating people like garbage! Again, in this clip we see a role-play of bullying and social dominance.
However, the idea that popularity is about power and dominance is also portrayed in other videos that aren’t strictly parodies. For example: in this clip, we are reminded that often, popular people are not all that nice. The video tells us about “shallow bullies” who “throw their popularity in your face”. A little later on, we learn that there are actually two kinds of popular: the antisocial cool kids (which is the idea that we’re discussing here) versus more likeable “prosocial popular” people (which is an idea that we discuss below). Take a look at this clip to get a sense of the antisocial (i.e. mean) form of popularity, before we take a look at the concept of prosocial (i.e. positive) popularity.
So, we’ve seen (above) that several Youtubers tend to think about popularity in terms of bullying and being mean. On the other hand, however, there are a whole lot of Youtube channels telling us that actually, popularity is about being liked by others. For example, take a look at this video’s description of prosocial popularity. Then, in this video the narrator describes popular kids as being likeable: others laugh at their jokes and want to be their friends. Similarly, this video equates popularity with being likeable; and a similar idea is put forward in this video about Chris Hemsworth.
What’s interesting here is that two seemingly opposite ideas are suggested in these videos. On the one hand, being popular is about being an alpha cool kid that puts others down (as we discussed above in the previous theme). On the other hand, a whole lot of people are saying that popularity is about being likeable - not about being mean. This idea, then, paves the road for the following theme, which is the idea that popularity can be achieved if you’re kind to others. Read on to learn more.
Following on from the idea that popularity is about being likeable, there are many Youtube channels telling us that popular people are kind, generous and have good social skills. The implication is that if you do certain things, you too can be popular. But it’s all about developing social skills which allow you to connect with other people in a healthy way. Let’s take a look at some examples.
This video analyzes Marvel superstar Chris Hemsworth in order to work out what makes him so cool. At this point of the video, they mention how he always seeks to elevate the people around him. A little bit later in the video, we’re told that one of the things which makes Chris so charismatic is that he praises others. This is demonstrated here.
In another video, we are told that popular people know how to compliment others. In the same video we learn that to be popular one must be a good listener. Similarly, this video says that we should be genuinely interested in people and truly listen when they speak.
Then, we have this video, which provides a masterclass on being popular through healthy behaviors. The specific behaviors mentioned include using another person’s name, being sympathetic and not criticizing others. The Chris Hemsworth video takes this idea a step further - they say that an important aspect of popularity is touch! Specifically, they show how Chris uses physical touch to put people at ease and make them like him. Take a look. Have you ever thought of popularity being about how you touch people? Well, us neither - however, the video makes a really good point about the link between physical touch, popularity and kindness. It’s also important to remember, however, that touch can make others uncomfortable if you’re not doing it in a way that’s entirely appropriate and consensual!
This is another idea that we saw crop up fairly frequently in the videos: popular people have self-confidence. The idea that self-confidence can make you popular is linked to the debate that we’ve seen unfolding above, where popularity is divided into people who are nice and likeable versus mean and arrogant. Rather, the theme that we’re looking at here says that it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a cool kid or a nice person: you can be popular as long as you believe in yourself. Let’s take a look at the video evidence.
This parody video asks the question: how do you walk down the corridor at school? We then see a character who walks in a way that lacks self-confidence - she is labelled “loser”. Then, another character struts confidently, giving imaginary people the middle-finger as she goes. Clearly, this video is saying that popular people are confident in themselves.
In this video we learn that a part of what makes Chris Hemsworth popular is that he is not scared to share potentially embarrassing facts about himself. He owns what he has done and presents himself with pure self-confidence. Take a look at this fantastic example where he talks about having had his nails painted!
Finally, in this video we learn that one of the steps to becoming popular is to “control your insecurities”. He says “nobody wants to be around the person that is constantly second-guessing themselves. This video explicitly tells us that all you need to do to become popular is have self-confidence. Essentially, then, popularity is described by these Youtubers as the amount of self-confidence that you have.
Ok, so, what do you think: do you have to be good looking in order to be popular? This is another debate that was discussed on the Youtube videos that we reviewed. While some of the videos that we reviewed openly said that popularity has nothing to do with looks (such as this one, which we reviewed above), other videos suggest (directly and indirectly) that popularity and good looks go hand-in-hand. Let’s unpack this idea a little further.
Let’s start by taking a look at two popular parody videos. In this one, Gabriella starts her popularity tutorial with the question: “are you tired of being ugly?”. Take a look. Then, step 2 for becoming popular is “get in shape”, which we see here. Gabriella then says: “I don’t wake up beautiful - it takes a lot of work”. Similarly, this half-serious parody video features four young women (who, note, are perfectly dressed and made-up). They tell us that being popular is about ensuring that you’re at your prime; and they go on to show one of the ladies putting on makeup. We’re also told in no uncertain terms that when it comes to being popular, it’s important to be “hot”. Take a look. Shortly after, we’re told that being popular is also about linking up with other “hot” people. Then, we’re told that step number 7 to becoming popular is about having good style! Physical appearance is clearly an important aspect of popularity, according to these Youtube celebs.
Similarly, Savannah’s ninth tip is to wear things that make you feel confident. In her defense, she does go on to say that it’s not necessarily about looking good or trendy - it’s about comfort and confidence. But, let’s be honest: the majority of us (and especially those of us who are concerned about popularity) are not going to feel confident wearing clothes that don’t look good, right?
On the other hand, this video, which breaks down what makes Chris Hemsworth so cool, mentions (briefly) the man’s good looks. Have a look. However, they go on to say that the popularity tips they give will be applicable to you, regardless of how you look. So, what’s the message exactly? Is popularity about being good looking or not? The question isn’t directly answered. However, what’s clear is that there is a large degree of overlap between being popular and beautiful.
Also, keep in mind the message that is put forward on a more subtle level. What do the people who are lecturing us on popularity look like? Did you notice, in the videos above, how nearly everyone featured was well-dressed, had perfect makeup on and was generally quite attractive? Even in the animated videos, the characters seemed to be fairly good looking. In this video, for example, nearly every character is slender, wearing trendy clothes and generally attractive, as far as one can make such a call on an animated figure! Then, take a look at this animated video - would you say that the characters are good looking?
Ultimately, a picture truly does say a thousand words. Some of the videos tell us that popularity and good looks go hand-in-hand, others try to emphasise different aspects of popularity instead. Ultimately, however, the person who is telling us about popularity - who, we would think, is a popular person themselves - is always good looking. The clear message is that attractiveness and popularity go hand-in-hand.
At the end of the day, popularity is a complex and fascinating concept. By taking a step back and looking at the similarities and differences between Youtube videos discussing how to become popular, we can deepen our understanding of what popularity really means. The seven themes and debates that we have covered here have sought to achieve just that: helping us to think more deeply about popularity and how it can be achieved.
Daniel Sher has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and works at a hospital in his hometown of Cape Town, South Africa. Daniel works as a neuropsychologist, providing assessments for people with brain-based disorders.