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Why is MrBeast, aka the Oprah of YouTube, so popular?

Updated Jan 22nd, 2024 1:26PM EST
YouTube star MrBeast
Image: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for MrBeast Burger

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In his recent videos, he’s paid an assassin to try and kill him; funded a surgical procedure that restored the sight of 1,000 blind people; survived 50 hours in Antarctica; survived a plane crash; gifted an island to one of his subscribers; built a Willy Wonka-like chocolate factory; and re-enacted the series of challenges from Squid Game. As a result of content like that, and more, MrBeast (aka Jimmy Donaldson, aka the Oprah of YouTube) has 233 million YouTube subscribers and is now wealthy enough to have branched out into philanthropy as well as offline commerce (via, for example, his line of chocolate bars).

His massive presence also look set to result in yet another expansion of the MrBeast brand — Amazon Studios is reportedly in talks to close a deal with MrBeast for a competition show-version of his YouTube content, a show that would presumably live on Prime Video. That news come from Puck News’ Matt Belloni, who writes in his latest What I’m Hearing email newsletter that: “When (MrBeast’s) team took the show out to the streamers last week, it made sense that Amazon’s Jen Salke, who is looking for more populist entertainment, emerged victorious.

“One source pegs the deal, if it closes, at nearly $100 million, though that’s not confirmed. (Amazon declined to comment). It’s a competition show—no surprise, given Beast’s frequent contests and giveaways—and the first episode will air on his YouTube channel before continuing on Prime Video. There will also be brand partners included, of course, which could offset some of the cost for Amazon.”

MrBeast poses with a fan
YouTube star MrBeast poses with fan at the launch of the first physical MrBeast Burger Restaurant at American Dream on September 4, 2022, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Image source: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for MrBeast Burger

Even a cursory snapshot of MrBeast’s content empire can help explain how he got here. In a video from last spring, for example, he and his friends set out to survive on a raft in the ocean for seven days. That video quickly racked up tens of millions of views on the basis of its entertainment value, while other recent MrBeast videos include one in which he funds a procedure that allows 1,000 deaf people to hear for the first time.

As he explains in that video: “We got our hands on over $3 million of cutting-edge hearing aid technology that, unlike old hearing aids, analyzes people’s specific hearing needs — allowing them to hear again without causing any damage.”

MrBeast’s YouTube videos are all, as a rule, extremely lavish productions with snappy editing that have the feel of episodic TV — and, consequently, they tend to rack up 100 million+ views, with some surpassing 200 million now and then. With each successive upload, it also feels like the stakes get more dramatic. With titles like Would YOU Quit School for $100,000, I Survived 50 Hours In A Maximum Security Prison, and World’s Most Dangerous Escape Room, these videos practically click themselves for you.

YouTube personality MrBeast
YouTube personality Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, arrives for the 36th Annual Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California, on March 4, 2023. Image source: MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images

The flipside of MrBeast’s popularity, unfortunately, is that he also attracts an army of haters and nit-pickers who find a way to chime in with something negative, no matter what he does. And no matter that, at least on the surface, his is some of the most wholesome and entertaining content you’ll find on YouTube.

Feel-good content, philanthropy, and controversy

His Instagram bio is probably a great place to begin. Previously, it read: “I want to make the world a better place before I die,” speaking to his positivity and to his philanthropic side. It’s since been uploaded to read as follows (making reference to his line of milk chocolate bars): “Go to your local Walmart, 7/11, Target, and Speedway in America to try @feastables you’ll love it.”

In other words, to his legion of detractors, there’s an undercurrent of exploitation — of charity for clicks — that seems to keep the wheels of the MrBeast enterprise constantly turning.

This argument especially came to the fore in the wake of one of his latest videos, the one in which he paid for the operation that helped restore the vision of 1,000 blind people. Rather than enjoy and appreciate it for what it is, MrBeast’s videos like that one draw responses like the following:

  • Via Twitter: “It’s deeply frustrating to have to rely on a benevolent content king making feel-good videos, rather than addressing the root causes of these problems”
  • Buzzfeed: “Another huge problem: MrBeast’s video seems to regard disability as something that needs to be solved.”
  • Also Twitter: “There is something so demonic about this and I can’t even articulate what it is”

Another of the videos that we mentioned above, the one about MrBeast helping 1,000 deaf people to be able to hear, attracted this tweet that got some pretty strong engagement on X/Twitter: “I don’t think ya’ll realize how problematic Mrbeast’s new video really is… Acting like being deaf is something that needs to be ‘fixed’ is such a toxic mindset that only an able-bodied male such as himself would have. Disgusting.”

On other platforms, you’ll find users debating notions like (on Reddit): “How Mr Beast’s Charity Content Grossly Exploits Poverty and Why Millionaire Charity Doesn’t Work.” And, via Quora, “Why do many people like Mr. Beast? Is he exploiting a psychological loophole that causes people to enjoy his content?”

Well, as long as we’re not being dramatic about it …

Then there’s the fact that he’s been sued for $100 million by Virtual Dining Concepts, a ghost kitchen company that operates his MrBeast Burger chain. That suit is in response to one that Donaldson himself filed against VDC last month, attempting to sever their business arrangement and also claiming that VDC’s burgers were “disgusting” and “inedible.” Variety has more details about the legal battle, which may or may not spell trouble for the biggest YouTube star in the world.

My two cents – and my 5 favorite MrBeast videos

By way of a summary, here’s what I’ll say about MrBeast. If I’m being honest, I get where some of the criticism of him comes from. In one recent video, MrBeast surprised a hard-working waitress who has to rely on Uber to get to work with her very own car … albeit a new free car that just happened to have MrBeast’s Feastables bars logo displayed on it (“MrBeast you can do better than that,” one TikToker commented).

MrBeast followed up that video by telling his followers they took the branding off.

And how about that blindness video? I can acknowledge that maybe there was a tone problem with it, in certain places. As the video got underway, MrBeast is in full YouTuber mode — he giddily explains to the camera what’s about to happen, and that “It’s gonna be crazy!!!” All that was missing was the admonition to “be sure to click ‘like’ and subscribe.”

For me, the bottom line is that MrBeast’s content is generally positive and upbeat. It’s also entertaining, but, more importantly, he does what everyone is constantly pushing the wealthy to do — which is to give back. He makes videos in which he pays for things like people’s surgeries so that, yes, he gets clicks and views … so that he can then keep bringing in the resources that allow him to make these kinds of videos.

According to the Beast Philanthropy website, Donaldson has also helped donate more than 5.7 million pounds of food, deliver more than 4.7 million meals, and feed nearly 300,000 people. Last year, Donaldson also donated $3 million to go to Ukrainian refugees. What have you done for society lately?

MrBeast, meanwhile, can keep doing what he does as long as people keep watching his videos. And speaking of his videos, here are my five favorites.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.