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5 inspiring stories from 2021

Before we get too far into 2022, YouTube's Culture & Trends Team shares some of its favorite creators and trends from last year

For many, 2021 was a year they wish to forget. Despite light appearing at the end of the pandemic tunnel, continued uncertainty and disruption undermined any quick return to normalcy. But in spite of last year - or perhaps in part because of it - several amazing stories of breakout creators emerged.

MayTree branches out

One such success was Maytree, a Korean a cappella group that rose to global stardom last year. The group was formed 20 years ago and opened their channel in 2014, but this year was a game-changer for them. Up until January, the channel just had over 16,000 subscribers, but when they uploaded a cover of iPhone sound effects in February, views and subscribers started to surge.

But even this was nothing compared to what was to come in the later half of the year. In October, MayTree uploaded a Squid Game-themed video that has garnered over 175 million views. The channel now has over three million subscribers. What's interesting is that they not only go deep on what they love, but also have a perfect sense of what others love, like the video game Among Us or movies like Harry Potter. With their impeccable a cappella skills, great understanding of global pop culture, and the enduring nature of their content, they're drawing an international audience and proving that the language of culture is universal.

Polo G and Einer Bankz string hip hop along

Last year, during the early days of lockdown, rapper Polo G and multi-instrumentalist Einer Bankz scored a minor viral hit with this improvised jam. Fans ate it up, begging the pair to release an official version. Eventually, the duo caved into their demands, releasing their collab RAPSTAR last April. The song debuted number one on the billboard Hot 100, and on YouTube, it charted in over 20 markets. It even ended the year as one of the top 10 most-viewed music videos in the U.S.

While this “ukulele-meets-hip-hop” format might seem unexpected, it was actually a tried-and-true formula for Bankz, who since 2016 has uploaded over 300 videos just like this to his YouTube channel. Initially beginning with rappers in his native Bay area, Bankz would go on to work with legit stars like Chance the Rapper, Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Wayne, and the late Juice WRLD. He even recorded a session with the OG viral YouTube hip hop star, Soulja Boy.

Thomas Panke builds his channel brick by brick

In 2014, Lego shop owner and entrepreneur Thomas Panke of Frankfurt, Germany decided to launch a YouTube channel called “Held Der Steine” (“Hero of Stones”). He quickly stamped his channel with his unique humor, welcoming viewers with his signature greeting: “I am the hero of stones from Frankfurt in the heart of Europe in my wonderful little shop on a fantastic day.

Three times a week, he now builds Lego sets on his channel and talks to his viewers about all things Lego. 700,000 subscribers later, it's no longer just about Lego pieces. Thomas’ commentary and his humor have reached somewhat cult status in the community. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the “hero of stones” took his off time from regular videos to enter the Minecraft race.

Today, Thomas’ shop only opens once a month. But its primary function is no longer to sell Lego kits. Instead, Thomas unlocks his store for viewers who want to finally shake the hands of the creator that has built the most Lego sets in the history of YouTube.

Bottoms Up

Some have argued that Flo Rida's 2007 anthem “Low” is one of the most unappreciated songs of all time, despite it having one of the catchiest choruses of the 21st century. In 2021, however, creators gave viewers an opportunity to rekindle their love for this lost classic in what became known as “The Apple Bottom Jeans trend.” People uploaded covers of the song centered around the unique style of pants featured in Flo Rida’s hit song, performed in the style of other artists from the Beach Boys to Britney Spears. And instead of having videos of themselves singing, creators simply uploaded a still image of the artist. This made the video appear to be an artifact from a bygone era, even though the song never existed.

But no one should be surprised by this trend.

New memes are popping up every day and they often make use of older media, giving us memes like Barnyard, Thicc Omni-Man, MordeTwis' and others. Once you become familiar with one meme, it creates a path to becoming familiar with another. And before you know it, you become fluent in this whole language that you didn't know existed just from watching videos - like this heart-thumping take on Apple Bottom Jeans.

A community unified, a dream fulfilled

Eleven-year-old Tomás Blanch Toledo of Chile, better known by his online name, “tomiii 11,” dreamed of becoming a huge YouTube creator and streamer. He started his channel in January of 2021. At the same time, he underwent treatment for a degenerative brain disease. In April, he took the world by surprise when he went viral, because his story of wanting to make it as a creator struck a chord with the gaming community.

In a matter of weeks, tomiii 11 went from a couple thousand subscribers to almost seven million. But most importantly, he united the entire Spanish-speaking community of creators to support him. Throughout his treatment, he continued uploading videos from game plays on Minecraft, to unboxings, to creating his own sponsor, Leche Papu.

And he even got his own song - “I want to be a YouTuber” - courtesy of his dad.

Although tomiii 11 passed away last August, he became an icon for the passion the YouTube community has for their craft, uniting it once more so the channel could reach the 10 million subscriber milestone just weeks after his death. One of the last videos in his channel was published four weeks ago with his parents receiving their son’s diamond button, who shared with his community how important this was for Tomás, and how he saw his dream come true.

In their own way, each of these unforgettable stories from 2021 reminds us of the important place that video plays in our daily lives. Video has the power to inform, inspire, and entertain on a level never before possible. And through creators’ vision and passion, video can bring communities, countries, and even the world together. We can’t wait to see what extraordinary moments emerge this year and how they touch billions around the globe!