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Shane Dawson: The Fallen King of YouTube

Krzysztof is a 10+ year YouTube researcher who spends hours researching, analyzing, and uncovering YouTube trends, challenges, and media.

Who Is Shane Dawson?

Shane Dawson, born Shane Lee Yaw, is a 32 year old YouTube creator that's been on the platform for over a decade and has accumulated 30+ million subscribers across his YouTube channels.

He was one of the earliest top creators and had some of the most successful channels to date.

Outside of YouTube, he has acted in a few movies, directed his own films/mini-shorts, released multiple albums, and was a 2x best-selling author for his books "I Hate Myselfie: A Collection of Essays by Shane Dawson" and "It Gets Worse".

Yet despite some mainstream grabs, it's YouTube where he has shined the most, and his reach on the platform would shock a lot of people who have never heard of Shane or don't understand YouTube.

The truth is that Shane Dawson was the king of YouTube for a long time, and if you don't believe me, then read on to find out why.

1. Shane Dawson's Docu-Series

Shane Dawson's venture into episodic television or the reality docuseries was one of the most intriguing transitions that I've ever seen a youtuber make.

In fact the docuseries did something that their Premium service shows didn't do; make it worth least for a brief period.

Honestly before Cobra Kai came along, their Premium shows have always been sort of a joke, and most people who have subscribed to it only do it for the ad-free, background playing experience.

But Shane's episodic series was different.

What Made Shane's Docuseries so Special?

  • Authentic Style
  • Slick, Contextual Edits
  • Drama & Humor Combo
  • Netflix Level Marketing
  • Multiple Variations
  • Real-time Editing

Authentic Style

His multi-episodic series, though problematic in many ways had a personal, authentic feel to them that were easy to connect with. Some of his most compelling videos were able to humanize people whom outsiders might see as monsters.

His "Jeffree Star" series was able to investigate a character and explore what made them who they are. By the end of that series people actually related to Jeffree and saw the humanity behind the glamour.

Slick, Contextual Edits

The editing was top notch by YouTube standards, and it made each series feel well paced. Shane's videos had contextual awareness and featured clips or snippets to explain something you might otherwise not understand.

They helped set the tone and provide background information for anyone who was unfamiliar with the topic or person being addressed.

The audio/music cues are also timely executed though the dramatic stings felt very amateurish. Still it's amazing that two people, Shane Dawson and his editor/camera-person Andrew Siwicki, were able to piece together a Netflix-esque series that would normally require a full team behind it.

Drama & Humor Combo

Shane had a close group of friends behind him (including his camera-person) that made the conversations feel more natural and gave the dramatic situations some much needed levity.

The audience and particularly his fan base appreciated the lighter moments. The humorous undertones throughout each episode were perfectly suited to Shane's style, and it was an evolution of his past comedic skits for better or worse (more on that later).

Netflix Level Marketing

Shane's presence on YouTube and social media played a huge role in marketing his series, and it opened the window to a much wider audience.

Every series felt like must see TV and a few of his episodic series reached Netflix/Cable level marketing.

Multiple Variations

Every series felt very fresh with videos ranging from ghost hunting adventures to reconnecting with his father to helping out a struggling creator.

One of his most popular series was Shane's investigation into TanaCon, which was a poorly planned and disastrous YouTube creator event. That entire series had a criminal/mystery vibe to it and was on par with standard cable programming.

I think because he's an independent creator, there were no set guidelines to his videos and he was in control of every topic/subject. Unfortunately that didn't always mesh well later on.

Real-time Editing

The most fascinating development that came out of Shane's docuseries was that he was able to see people's feedback on social media and address major issues in the next episode.

I've never seen a docuseries get reworked based on what the audience said because it would be impossible to do so. Youtubers like Shane are interactive, and they've built their success by connecting to their fan bases.

Whether or not Shane planned on this, he created a new form of interactive video where he was able to get immediate feedback and re-edit the series as he saw fit. It was a remarkable achievement that no other company had done before.

2. YouTube Trendsetter

Shane Dawson was one of the first youtubers to create edgy skits, put out music videos/albums, create a podcast, make short-films, direct a movie, write a book, and make documentary style videos.

He was also able to address more serious issues including his terrible childhood, obesity/body issues, and past/current controversies.

He wasn't the only one to do these things, but whenever he did something first, everyone would follow shortly after. Shane even talked about it on his videos/podcasts.

Obviously as a 2nd gen youtuber (post 2008) he didn't start every trend, but I think it's pretty clear that his presence was felt on the platform and it indirectly affected other creators on it.

3. Jack of All Trades

Shane had done it all as a YouTuber, and that's what kept him relevant for so long.

Before reaching peak success in 2018/2019, he made food, slime, and nonsensical challenge videos geared towards younger fans. However he did mix it up with darker, horror-themed conspiracy videos proving he still had that edge of year's past.

Regardless of the more mature content, most people outside his fan base didn't take him seriously and thought he was simply riding the trends. To them it didn't matter how much he achieved in the past, they only fixated on the negative (smart move in hindsight).

It took a momentous content shift for people to finally take notice and even then it wasn't enough for some.

(See 15:30)

4. Presented a Kind & Humble Personality

As a person, Dawson portrayed himself as one of the most tolerant and kindest youtubers around.

The character he played was able to bring humility and modesty out in every video he was in, and it didn't appear that he was just in it for the money. He tried to help people in the past, he showed consideration towards those who have suffered, and he presented real guilt whenever someone was hurting.

His fan base was always quick to point out how caring and kind he appeared towards others even when he was being criticized. During the disastrous events at TanaCon he offered to refund everyone who endured the pain of it despite not being involved (guest appearance only).

He'd done multiple docuseries where he tried to help fellow creators get back on top, and he has humanized people who were viewed as inhuman or cartoon characters to the public.

There's no question his persona was the reason why his videos were so successful, and it's what kept people from moving on to someone else.

5. Survived Multiple Controversies

Being edgy a decade ago came back to haunt people, and Shane knew that better than most (at least until 2020).

He's endured scandals in the past, one of his most infamous ones was when he tried to imitate talk show host Wendy Williams and other black artists for videos. Unfortunately his way of imitating African Americans was incredibly offensive and drew vast criticism from YouTube and the media.

For a long time other creators and media groups saw Shane as problematic and even racist for his tone-deaf portrayal. It's arguably the reason why YouTube frequently demonetized his content and excluded him from their trending page despite having billions of views.

Other more recent scandals included a 8+ year old re-upload of a not so candid monologue about children on his podcast.

A channel uploaded an audio clip of Shane talking about a young person in what he said was a humorous yet negative light, which drew glances throughout the community. Shane has since made an apology video and vehemently denied the rumors.

Shane also drew criticism on his "Jake Paul" series for turning mental illnesses like anti-social personality disorder into entertainment fodder. In part 2 of that series, he made it seem like sociopaths were mostly violent and similar to psychopaths. He also used horror-like music to undermine the disorders.

Shane did apologize for the mishaps and even re-edited his series to address people's concerns over the subject matter.

Unfortunately for him, the controversies would only get much worse.

6. Inspired YouTube Creators

Today's wave of young, powerful youtubers like Tana Mongeau, Ricky Dillon, and James Charles were in some ways directly inspired by Shane Dawson to create their own content and thrive on the platform.

Because Shane was one of the longest lasting youtubers, he not only built a legacy for himself but for other creators.

Shane was passed over by mainstream media, but he managed to ignite a new wave of creation that people didn't realize existed. I bet a lot of people reading this don't even know who Shane Dawson is or why he was such an important digital figure.

The divide between the old and younger generations is so vast that people would be shocked to discover his last few docuseries garnered more views per episode than the most successful shows on cable or Netflix.

You may not know who he is or care, but a lot of people do, and they understand why it's a big deal.

7. Inspired Young Viewers

A lot of young people today want to become youtubers, and I guarantee Shane was one of the main reasons why.

YouTube is a young person's platform (created in 2005) and many viewers today grew up with it. Shane had been around for 10+ years and was one of the biggest pioneers of YouTube today.

We've already seen some of his former viewers achieve their own fame, and we'll see plenty more younger viewers get inspired from them and so forth in a continuous cycle.

However the next wave of youtubers will likely be much smarter, craftier, and more equipped to handle the ups and downs of YouTube.

They'll be business people, creatives, and entrepreneurs, and they'll have former youtubers to thank for paving that path over a decade ago.

(See 45:00)

8. He Was a Good Editor

Shane and his editor Andrew were a fantastic editing team, and it was the main reason why Shane's content was so fun to watch.

We forget how important editors are to any platform whether it be a movie, TV show, Netflix special, or a YouTube series, and it often takes a surprise docuseries to remind us why.

Shane Dawson's "Mind of Jake Paul" docuseries didn't just use jump cuts and quick edits to move the series along; it used the entire arsenal.

There's background music, contextual clips that match what's being said or filmed, flashback sequences, and stylized camera work that keeps viewers engaged.

One of my favorite edited sequences was at the end of Part 5 ("Jake Paul" series) because it served as an excellent teaser as well as a standalone piece.

9. His Comedic Style

Shane Dawson might have been a comedian if YouTube didn't exist because he was mentally sharp and entertaining.

You don't get 10-20 millions of views per video if you can't keep your audience engaged, and Shane had years to perfect his craft.

Obviously not everyone found him funny, but I don't think they were bored by him. Dawson could also switch it on whenever he was on camera, and it clearly carried over from his older videos where he primarily did character work.

At one point I viewed him as the male version of Kathy Griffin with the self-deprecating humor, lightning fast commentary, and varied facial reactions.

His unique style blended in perfectly with his content, and he made a 50 minute video feel like 5.

10. Rode the YouTube Wave

He started with comedy shorts, then music videos, drama-parody skits, YouTube collaborations, trendy content (slime, food tasting), podcasts and finally reality docuseries.

He rode nearly ever wave of YouTube and created his own in the process. The ride wasn't always smooth, but he managed to get through it for a long time.

For most high-end youtubers, the average length of relevancy is 3-4 years. You start off small, then slowly rise, hit a peak, and gradually decline. That's how the curve works for most creators but Shane shattered that mold and even created his own curve for a while.

Shane Dawson was never the biggest youtuber and he was never number one but that didn't matter. He did something other digital stars could only dream of, and yes he was a trendsetter that YouTube ignored (again smart move in hindsight).

But as with most things...reality finally hit, and the former king of YouTube quickly became the fallen king of YouTube.

Shane Dawson: The Fallen King of YouTube

After having one of the most successful periods we've ever seen on YouTube or any platform honestly in 2017-2019, it all came crashing down for Shane.

But before things took a turn for the worst, he ended 2019 on an incredible high note with the launch of his Conspiracy Makeup Palette Collection with Jeffree Star, which I'll admit looked unique and interesting.

The November 2019 launch of the palette came on the backend of his 2nd docuseries with Jeffree that journeyed into the creation of said palette. His final hit docuseries was also when a lot of people started seeing the cracks in Shane's persona.

He went from being this relatable youtuber to someone who seemed obsessed with money, glamour, and materialism. When I was watching the series I still appreciated the editing, the content itself, and the whole process of creating a palette but I definitely saw Shane in a much more negative light.

Other creators saw this negativity much earlier with the Jake Paul series...some saw it when Shane first started YouTube.

Regardless, the docuseries was another huge success and Shane & Jeffree's palette became one of the best selling makeup launches of all time. The series documented the full launch including the frustrating wait times and technical issues on their merch websites (another warning sign).

Once 2020 hit Shane continued to release limited edition shades from his makeup collection and things still looked pretty good. However it didn't take long before a ton of damaging history would come back to haunt him; it was fitting that his downfall coincided with the pandemic.

Shane Dawson Is Cancelled

In 2020 all the ghosts of Shane's past were released and it wasn't pretty.

Every joke, video, short film, film, comment, and podcast revealed a ton of problematic statements involving animals, children, other races, and even a famous celebrity's daughter who was 11 at the time his clip was originally released.

The flood of problematic content was endless and every edgy joke or comment ever made was unveiled for millions to see. When Shane saw the floodgates open he quickly crafted an apology video, but the evidence was just too huge to ignore. No apology would be enough to contain this.

And things only got worse from there as former celebrities and youtubers revealed more info about how Shane wasn't the empath he portrayed in his videos. This was further evidenced on an Instagram Live when his anger and frustration was in full effect.

Suddenly the nice guy that wanted to help everyone turned into the modeled sociopath Shane framed others to be, and every positive statement ever said about Dawson evaporated.

He continued digging deeper by severing ties with close friends, becoming closer with even more troublesome people, and putting money and power over everything else.

Shane went from YouTube's hero to villain instantly, and no amount of PR could save him. His fiancé Ryland Adams didn't make the situation better by getting involved in the drama, and suddenly everyone Shane's ever supported came out against them

As of 2021 Shane is metaphorically cancelled, but there's no doubt he'll always have a fanbase that will support him. He's been missing in action for several months, but I highly doubt he'll stay off the platform much longer.

Regardless, Dawson's downfall was arguably the biggest plunge we've ever witnessed in the online content creator space, and I don't see how he'll ever recover from this. Many creators think he should retire from the platform permanently and there's plenty of evidence to support this, however that is unlikely to happen.

Shane will be around due to the 10 reasons I've listed above. No matter how much negativity he'll draw from this point on, they'll always be fans of him too. Because if you've grown up with someone for 10+ years it's very difficult letting them go particularly if they inspired you to create your own content.

Personally I'm ashamed to have liked him in the first place and I don't see how he could be redeemed. It's not just the horrible racist, sexist and worse jokes, it's the fact that he showed us all who he actually was.

Shane Dawson was the king of YouTube in 2019 but nothing lasts forever and Dawson learned that the hard way.

Your Turn!


Joey on July 03, 2020:

This didn’t age well...

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 21, 2018:

He’s managed to innovate and successfully market himself in a way others could only dream of. My daughter goes to school with who she swears is a prominent YouTuber but I’ve never heard of him. He’s using college as a backup or supplement to his YouTube ambitions.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 17, 2018:

I learned a lot from this article. I would be happy with a fraction of his followers reading my hubs!