A Shirtless Sensation
"I am big, it's the pictures that got small!" shrieks indignant Hollywood legend Norma Desmond in the classic 1950 film noir Sunset Boulevard.
Little would Norma know that more than half a century later, the pictures with some of the biggest audiences would reside on the smallest of screens: roughly 4x6 inches on a standard desktop monitor. And that some of the biggest stars would not be born of any studio system but would achieve fame on makeshift soundstages in living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms around the globe.
Fade in on the dawn of the golden age of Internet entertainment and the birth of the YouTube celebrity.
With an audience of more than one billion unique visitors a month who watch an average of four hours each, YouTube has grown from a small startup in 2005 to a $3.5 billion business in 2012. In 2011, one trillion videos were collectively watched on small screens around the globe, giving YouTube a larger audience than all other broadcasting companies combined.
A recent report by YouGov BrandIndex ranked YouTube at the top of its 2013 top 20 brands best perceived by the LGBT community. This translates into big traffic from the gay market and even bigger revenue from advertisers looking to reach the demographic, providing a huge opportunity for content providers with gay sensibilities to cash in.
Once an audience is established, the possibilities to capitalize on "cyberlebrity" are almost endless through merchandise sales and fees from speaking arrangements. In very few places of the gay cybersphere is this more true than on the three YouTube channels owned by shirtless fitness and self-help guru Davey Wavey.
With more than 660 videos viewed in excess of 75 million times over three YouTube channels, and with a combined total of more than 600,000 subscribers in over 160 countries, Davey Wavey certainly has found his audience.
A Cyberstar Is Born
A certified personal trainer, Davey started off like so many others in the early days of YouTube: as a vlogger. Proving that sex does indeed sell, the tipping point that catapulted him into YouTube stardom came in 2007 with the vlog entry "I Caught My Hot Neighbor Masturbating." That entry went viral quickly and has been viewed more than two-and-a-half-million times. Within the same month, that figure doubled with the follow-up video "Masturbating Neighbor Strikes Again: I Took Pictures," which today has been viewed close to six million times.
With material like that, Davey's material had only one direction to go -- up.
With all-American looks worthy of a Disney prince and the physique of an Olympic gymnast, the well-spoken Davey Wavey repeatedly gets away with a multitude of crimes against good taste. On his original YouTube channel, "Wickydkewl," he has covered more than his share of lowbrow topics that range from the mundane "Big Gay Vs. Little Gay" to a previously unspeakable subject in "Gay Secrets Exposed: Anal Douching." The jury is out on whether these subjects are chosen to be helpful and informative or for their gratuitous shock value. What is clear: that with a wink to the camera and his tongue firmly in cheek, Davey Wavey, unlike many others in his chosen medium, is in on the joke.
When asked, he says: "I just like making videos that challenge me and that challenge my audience. I don't want to create content that feels old or stale, so I'm always pushing myself to try something new."
So how does a YouTube personality make money creating something that, in essence, is given away for free?
YouTube's business model isn't too different from the model used by network television for years. Its audiences are often subjected to some form of advertisement in the video window they're watching, and any money generated by that ad is then split between the video's creator and YouTube.
Then there's sub-branding and merchandising.
In 2008, Davey used his newfound celebrity to promote his career as a personal trainer. He launched his second YouTube channel, "Davey Wavey Fitness," with short exercise videos and diet tips that serve as online commercials for his website, daveywaveyfitness.com, where he markets a weight-loss program that includes the sale of e-books, fitness videos and podcasts. For those looking to show off the fruits of fitness labors, he's introduced Davey Wavey Apparel, a line of T-shirts and tank tops with gay-positive slogans like "Don't Be Gaycist" and "#YesHomo."
The impetus behind Davey's fitness career came out of a personal struggle with his own body image at an early age. He explains: "When I was young, I was overweight. As I approached my teenage years, I struggled with an eating disorder and became very thin. It wasn't until age sixteen that I opted for a healthier path of eating better and exercising. Little did I know, I'd discover one of my life's greatest passions -- and now I use my online presence, in part, to share that passion with other people."
According to OpenSlate statistics on online advertising, in 2012 YouTube's top 1,000 channels made an average of $23,000 per month, or a little more than a quarter million dollars a year. While Davey Wavey's web traffic and income falls far below YouTube's highest-grossing star, South Korean rapper Psy of "Gangnam Style," he no longer has to train clients in the gym to pay his bills.
"Being Davey Wavey is my full-time job," he says. "It’s a testament to the fact that when you’re doing what you love in a way that helps other people, even if it’s just to make them laugh or smile, you tap into true abundance."
As with all successful ventures, the production values of Davey’s "Wickydkewl" YouTube channel have increased with more diverse content that leans comedic. His recent videos "What Gay Guys Think About Vaginas" and "Real Lesbians React to Lesbian Porn" have amassed over five million views. In an effort to return to his vlogging roots, in 2010 he launched a third channel, "Davey Wavey Raw," to share unscripted stories and offer a deeper look into his life.
Proving a versatility beyond the flippant, Davey has ventured into serious territory that shows his sincerity. In addition to contributing one of the earliest videos in the "It Gets Better" campaign, he has devoted several others on his channel to addressing issues common to most gay men, like body image and self-love. His "Wickydkewl" channel includes more than 10 videos on the subject of coming out.
In 2011, he responded to the suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer by filming "250 Balloons to Remember the Fallen," in which, fully clothed, he inflates and sets free 250 multicolored balloons, each labeled with the name of a gay teen who has taken his or her life. A little over a year later, in December 2012, Davey took to the winter streets and subways of the Big Apple, where, stripped down, he asked New Yorkers to graffiti his body with their greatest fears; the resulting video, "Naked in New York," shows him returning home to wash the fears off his naked body in the shower. Reminiscent of Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree exhibits, each video is a stark departure from his tried-and-true penis-centric fare, displaying an honest attempt to bring performance-art sensibilities to the microscreen.
When asked about his crossover from vlogger to performance artist, he says: "I like making videos that challenge myself and my audience. I’d love to do more performance videos down to road, once a good idea comes to me. Inspiration usually comes to me in the shower. So maybe I should start taking more showers."
Haters Gonna Hate
Following the advent of the YouTube star came the inevitable afterbirth, a voice almost as loud as its predecessor: the Internet "hater."
In 2012, Davey Wavey received the dubious distinction of an official entry in UrbanDictionary.com, the Internet’s lexicon of slang, cultural words and phrases, which reads:
Davey Wavey: A gay youtube celebrity who uploads on a variety of gay topics, particularly gay sex, sometimes for comedy.
He touts himself as an introspective individual and some sort of new age/fitness guru who encourages people, particularly gay men, to love themselves for who they are. People usually either see him as a great inspiration or a major hypocrite for exacerbating gay stereotypes, coming off as excessively vain/shallow, or giving bad advice.
Since his videos always involve him wearing no shirt/just underwear, most people (girls and gay guys) watch him for fap [masturbation] material. It’s best to mute his annoying voice and enjoy watching him flaunt his body.
Person 1: Did you see Davey Wavey’s new vlog on youtube? It was so motivational!
Person 2: Honestly, I have no clue what he said. I was too busy fapping to his pecs and hard nipples.
Ever self-assured, he counters this left-handed honor pragmatically. "I’m just being me," he says. "It’s our job to be ourselves. If being myself happens to overlap with gay stereotypes, so be it. But it’s not each of our jobs to break every gay stereotype. If we tried to do that, we’d lose ourselves in the process. No matter what you do or who you are, people will criticize it. So I just spend my time and energy on those people who enjoy and appreciate what I do."
It’s been over half a decade since Davey’s voyeuristic confession of watching his neighbor set him on the path to cyber stardom. When asked about his former masturbating muse, he responds: "I never met him, but I’m very thankful. Don’t let anyone tell you that nothing good comes from jerking off. It launched my career."