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Viral sensation

Who is MrBeast?

Here we explain the phenom who is the world’s most successful YouTuber (so you don’t have to ask your 10-year-old).

“I Spent 7 Days In Solitary Confinement.”

“I Paid A Real Assassin To Try To Kill Me.”

“I Filled My Brother’s House With Slime & Bought Him A New One.”

These confessions are also video titles from the biggest online creator ever, Jimmy Donaldson—aka MrBeast. And “biggest online creator ever” might be an understatement.

With over 230 million and rising, MrBeast, 25, has more than double the subscribers of the next-biggest individual creator. He employs around 250 people in the North Carolina town where he lives—a major boost to the local economy. A survey of Generation Z found that he was, by far, their most beloved internet personality.

This year’s Super Bowl garnered 124.3 million viewers—a TV ratings record but fewer than every MrBeast video in 2023. (And speaking of Super Bowls: there was MrBeast with his Kansas City Chiefs hoodie . . . and Kim Kardashian.)


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Okay, so he’s huge. And he comes across as kind of humbly and gee-whizzy, which is surprising  for a social media megastar. But what’s the real appeal?

Here’s what happens in a MrBeast video: Jimmy announces an outlandish competition or stunt is happening, the competition or stunt happens in the form of a fast-paced, high-budget fever dream, and somebody ends up winning tons of money, or a car, or a house, or an island. In its unabashed celebration of opulence, there are echoes of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous—except that sometimes, a rando actually ends up living in the dream house.

As a Zillennial myself—which means “someone who won’t admit he’s too old to be Gen Z”—I could speculate why these videos appeal to MrBeast’s core audience of 13-to-24-year-olds. (Though in his vids he does respect his elders—OG entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Richard Branson have both been featured.)

I could chalk it up to short attention spans, fantasies about otherwise-unattainable class mobility, or the fact that American kids see themselves as temporarily embarrassed influencers. But there might be a more quantifiable explanation: MrBeast jells perfectly with YouTube’s algorithm. I spoke to Adam Chase, a writer/producer at the digital production company Wendover Productions—read: a guy who makes YouTube stuff—and he helped explain.

“If you want a YouTube video to do well, the algorithm fundamentally cares about two main metrics,” Adam told me. “One is the CTR, or click-through rate: of all the people who were shown the thumbnail and title, what percentage clicked on the video? The second is the retention: how much of it did people watch?

“If you just understand that basic idea, you can understand all of MrBeast’s videos. They are almost engineered in a lab to maximize CTR and retention . . . and they’re not clickbait. They deliver on the promise that the thumbnail makes.”

MrBeast and Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson during MrBeast’s “Rock, paper, scissors” challenge.
A screenshot of the YouTube sensation’s March 2023 “The Rock vs. MrBeast for $100,000” video. He challenged Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson to play ”rock, paper, scissors”, with the loser donating $100,000 to charity. MrBeast prevailed—his paper beat The Rock’s rock—but he gave $100,000 to Make-A-Wish anyway. Photo via YouTube

Consider a video like “Every Country On Earth Fights For $250,000!” Click on its over-the-top thumbnail, and it immediately delivers. MrBeast yells, “Behind me is one person from every country on Earth; we’re gonna see which country is the best!”, and by the 35-second mark, the first round of Olympic-style competition has begun. (And someone indeed wins $250,000.)

Making videos like these is laborious and expensive. MrBeast spends several million a month on his channel, a departure from the low-fi vlogs that once dominated the platform. And he’s constantly asking for things that seem impossible, like getting the French government to turn off the lights on the Eiffel Tower, or putting himself through ridiculous ordeals like spending a week buried alive.

“All I do is wake up every day and obsess over how to make the best videos possible.” – MrBeast

In short, his videos answer the question: if you only cared about maximizing the number of people who click on your video, watch it, and subscribe, what might you be willing to do?

When MrBeast reached the (now quaint) milestone of 100 million subscribers, he said as much: “All I do is wake up every day and obsess over how to make the best videos possible. It’s all I care about. It’s the only thing that’s ever really made me happy.”

In this way, MrBeast differs from his predecessors. For comedians like Bo Burnham and Lilly Singh, or musicians like Justin Bieber and Charlie Puth, YouTube was a means to an end—a platform to showcase work and build an audience, not a genre to spend their careers perfecting. Even those who have embraced YouTube as their medium—gamers, teachers, cooks, beauty experts—still use the platform to express themselves, or to practice a craft they love.

For MrBeast, the means is the end; the platform is the genre; the medium is the message. Although many of the videos are wildly entertaining, he isn’t doing this because he has something to say or a talent to showcase. It’s YouTube for the sake of YouTube. And it always has been.


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In a video from 2013, when MrBeast was 15 years old with less than 1,000 subscribers, he promised: “If this video gets 1,000,000 views . . . I would use the ad revenue to do something super epic that I already have planned.”

What super epic thing would he do? That’s secondary. The important part is getting the views.

This may seem a cynical approach to content creation—to say nothing about whether “content creation” is a cynical approach to art. But MrBeast isn’t the only YouTuber to play the algorithm; he’s just the best at it. And unlike others, he’s not using the platform to peddle conspiracy theories, misogynistic diatribes, or insensitive pranks. (In fact, when his friend and collaborator Kris Tyson came out as trans, Jimmy quickly showed support and condemned detractors.)

Instead, the upshot of most MrBeast videos is that someone wins. Whether they’re a contestant winning $500,000, a deaf person hearing for the first time, or an abandoned dog getting adopted, MrBeast has found that doing good leads to good content. He’s even launched a channel, Beast Philanthropy, dedicated to just that.

Obviously, there is self-interest at play. And you can make the case that throwing money at poor people to rack up even more money from YouTube ad revenue is exploitative. But if we must have a “first YouTuber billionaire”—and MrBeast could do it—we could do a whole lot worse than one who might give it all away if it meant a really sick thumbnail.

Hero photo of MrBeast by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for YouTube

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