Shoppers at Eastland Shopping Centre in Melbourne might have been forgiven for thinking that royalty, or at least a president, was in town. Earlier this month, it was the scene of chaos as 15,000 people—mostly made up of tweens and their parental escorts—descended on the shopping centre en masse.
Staff based at the site received an email from centre management warning them to get there hours early if they wanted parking. The cause of all this fuss? It wasn’t a politician, a religious leader or a movie star. It wasn’t even a star from Neighbours or Home and Away. It was a 15-year-old US performer called JoJo, and she represents a new breed of superstar.
Regular television appearances from the age of 10, most notably Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition and Dance Moms, may have given her a launching pad, but it’s not the source of her massive popularity. JoJo is one of an increasing number of YouTube celebrities (or vloggers) who use social media and an identifiable brand—she has designed hundreds of her trademark hair bows—to reach massive audiences and build a devoted fan base, often completely bypassing traditional methods like television.
Regardless of our individual tastes, it’s impossible to argue with the figures—her YouTube channel has more than two million subscribers, and each video gets viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. In an age where television is feeling the squeeze of dwindling viewers, and print media is fighting for survival, those numbers demand to be taken seriously.
For those who have something they believe is worth getting out there—whether it is their own art or the life-changing message of the Christian Gospel—it’s worth looking past our opinion of JoJo’s music and focusing instead on lessons her success has to offer. Vloggers show that you can reach your audience without the resources of a television network or music label behind you, and this is true of a whole range of once exclusive avenues, from writing to music.
The days of only an exclusive few being given an opportunity to share their message are gone, and so are the days of being able to expect audiences to come to us. JoJo and her fellow celebs understand their target demographic is not wedded to TV the way older generations were, so she uses whatever tools are going to work, without changing what makes her unique. It’s JoJo that her fans want to see—YouTube is just the delivery mechanism.
It’s a lesson that the early Christians would have recognised, as would the founders of The Salvation Army. They didn’t limit themselves to traditional methods, but adopted whatever worked, going wherever their audiences were while preaching the same Gospel. In fact, if Youtube had been around in Victorian England we might very well have seen Salvo founder William Booth with a colourful bow in his beard.