Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where—in partnership with global creator company Jellysmack—we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
Here’s something you probably know: K-pop is everywhere.
If you’ve been on the internet, turned on any music awards show, or pulled through a McDonald‘s at any point in the last year, you’ve come face to face with the BTS boys, who at this point are among the best-selling music artists in the world (their latest album, Be, almost instantly went platinum). And if you’ve been tapped into what’s happening on YouTube, you’ll have seen the latest tracks and music videos from BTS and fellow Korean groups like Blackpink absolutely dominating viewership records, beating out past holders like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande.
But official videos aren’t the only traction K-pop’s getting on YouTube. Fan videos drive significant view counts, too–especially when they’re made by talented artists.
Enter Ellen and Brian, a recently married creator couple who went from co-captaining their high school dance squad to scooping up tens of millions of views for their K-pop dance covers.
Ellen and Brian are both Chinese American, and technically met way back in 2006, while attending an international middle school in Shanghai. It wasn’t until they joined their high school dance squad, however, that they actually started to notice one another. By their senior year, they were co-captaining the troupe, and though they separated for four long years at different colleges (Ellen at UCLA and Brian at the University of Richmond), they came right back together once their degrees were in hand.
That was when they joined YouTube.
At the time, Ellen was already a K-pop fan. Brian was slower to come around, but eventually he too came to dig the “music, eye-catching performances, dance choreography, trendy fashion, and group dynamics within each K-pop artist group,” the couple says. Expressing that enthusiasm with dance was a natural continuation of their co-captaining–and a way for them to destress, since they both had full-time jobs. Taking their dance covers to YouTube also felt natural: the platform seemed like the place “where all the high-quality and timeless content belongs,” they say.
Since 2017, Ellen and Brian have uploaded nearly 300 videos, the vast majority of which are dance covers of chart-topping K-pop hits (and the vast majority of which are not monetizable; we go into monetization and the challenges cover artists face in depth here). By May 2021, their channel had accumulated 2.6 million subscribers and their videos had tallied more than 244 million views collectively.
Those figures are impressive, but they aren’t what put Ellen and Brian on our own charts at Gospel Stats. Instead, a single video boosted their monthly viewership by more than 1,150%. The 44-second clip, like the rest of the couple’s content, featured K-pop. But it wasn’t a dance video–it was about Brian styling his hair.
To date, that upload (posted Aug. 25) has brought in more than 74 million views. It helped boost their channel from 5.6 million views and 20,000 new subscribers in August to 70 million views and 150,000 new subscribers in September. In the first week of October alone, Ellen and Brian gained an additional 20,000 subscribers and 12 million more views.
So, has their sudden rise in engagement changed things for them? Do they have any new career goals? What do they think their future holds?
To find out, check out our chat with them below.
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about the two of you! Where are you from? How did you meet?
Ellen and Brian: We are Ellen Min and Brian Li, a married Chinese American couple living in Los Angeles. Ellen was born in Philadelphia, while Brian was born in Reno, Nevada, and grew up in California. During our childhood, we both moved to Shanghai, China, with our respective families and attended an international American school there, which is where we met each other.
Tubefilter: Your channel bio mentions that you started dancing together in 2010. What’s the story there? Were you part of the same dance troupe?
E&B: We actually met each other in 2006, since we were in the same classes in middle school. However, we barely talked to each other. We then joined the same high school varsity dance team in 2010 and started dancing with each other. Two years later, we were both co-captains and running the dance team together, which is how we got really close to each other.
Tubefilter: What made you decide to start a YouTube channel together? Why did you choose YouTube over other platforms? What made it seem like the “right” place to share your stuff?
E&B: We always had a passion for dancing and creating content since we were young. After we graduated college (Ellen went to UCLA and Brian went to University of Richmond) and started living together in L.A. in 2017, we were eager to put out dance/lifestyle/K-pop-related content on YouTube and wanted to grow the channel together.
The reason why we chose YouTube is because we felt like that’s where all the high-quality and timeless content belongs (no matter the language or the length of the content) and where it could reach the most people globally. We also love the fact that all the content on YouTube can be easily searched up at any time (as opposed to a running feed where older content may be difficult to find). We always watch YouTube during our free time, so it was a no-brainer for us that we would start building our channel there.
Tubefilter: Your biggest videos all have to do with K-pop. What turned you two into K-pop fans and made you decide to start doing K-pop dance covers?
E&B: Ellen became a K-pop fan in 2009 after falling in love with Girls’ Generation’s “Gee” and “Genie.” When we started dating, Brian wasn’t a K-pop fan yet. Ellen would always show Brian all the latest K-pop songs/dances/trends, and Brian eventually hopped on the K-pop train as well due to Ellen’s influence. We both love K-pop for its music, eye-catching performances, dance choreography, trendy fashion, and group dynamics within each K-pop artist group.
Because of her interest in both dance and K-pop, Ellen initially started doing K-pop dance covers by herself in high school; then she attended UCLA and founded UCLA’s first K-pop dance team. After Ellen graduated, we thought it was the best time for both of us to do K-pop dance covers together, since we were finally done with four years of long-distance and both had a common interest in this. We both had full-time jobs at the time (not related to dance/K-pop), so starting a YouTube channel together and filming K-pop dance covers was our hobby and our way to destress.
Tubefilter: Sometimes we have to ask creators which video sent their channel’s view count skyrocketing, but with yours, it’s pretty clear. What inspired Brian’s clip about styling his hair like a K-pop idol? Did you expect it to take off the way it did?
E&B: Since our content emphasizes K-pop fashion a lot, we often get questions from fans about hairstyling/makeup/outfits. Brian was always into hair styling, and COVID-19 has taught him how to cut his own hair at home. We thought it would be nice to showcase a little bit of that via a Short, and we have also always wanted to do more lifestyle-related content. We were totally not expecting the video to do that well. It was extremely mind-boggling how the views just skyrocketed like that.
Tubefilter: That clip isn’t the only Short you’ve made. You’ve recently started uploading short-form videos in addition to longer-form content. What effect has Shorts had on your channel? Do you think you’ll continue to make Shorts content? Are you still more focused on long-form?
E&B: Being able to do more Shorts on our channel has allowed us to do a wider range of content that we previously wouldn’t have thought of doing. This includes doing more short dance videos, incorporating more lifestyle content, being creative/trying new things, and just doing anything that we wouldn’t really post if it were to be a long-form video. We think it is the perfect way to integrate more content as a supplement to our long-form content. It also shows our subscribers and viewers different sides of us. While our long-form content will still be our main focus, we will definitely continue to do more Shorts, since they help our channel grow and help ourselves explore more and be more creative as creators.
Tubefilter: Can you talk a little bit about your production process? How long does it take you to create the average video, from conception to upload?
E&B: Typically, our usual dance cover videos take four to ten days to produce. It takes about one to two days to learn a whole dance to a song that we want to cover and another few days to practice and fine-tune the details on every move while also putting together multiple outfits for each video. The filming day is the most exhausting day because our filming (from doing makeup and hair, getting dressed, filming and dancing each section multiple times, to finishing the last cut) usually goes from around 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next morning. Ellen works full-time, so we always film at night, and that also keeps the lighting consistent throughout filming (for editing purposes). The day after filming, Brian usually spends about three to 12 hours editing the video.
Tubefilter: How do you two split channel responsibilities? Do each of you handle specific things–like editing, uploading, answering business inquiries, and so on–or do you split tasks?
E&B: Since Ellen works full-time (unrelated to our content/YouTube channel), Brian does majority of the work for our YouTube channel. We have completely different work styles and we are good at different things, so we split the work pretty nicely. Ellen does all the planning, scheduling, pre-production work (choosing what songs/dances to do, what kind of outfits to wear, how to plan the transitions within each video, etc). Brian does all the actual production work, including setting up the cameras and lighting, as well as editing everything. Brian also handles all the business inquiries and brand deals, and we usually talk through everything so we are both on the same page.
Tubefilter: Has your recent engagement uptick changed anything for you professionally? Do you have any new plans or goals for your content career?
E&B: The recent growth in our channel didn’t change much for us professionally. Ellen still works full-time in academia, and Brian quit his job last year to pursue YouTube/dancing/content creation as a full-time job. However, due to music copyright issues, all of our dance videos (covers and tutorials) are copyrighted and not monetizable, which makes it hard to be a full-time dance creator. We plan to continue to make more dance content while exploring more lifestyle content in the future to be able to capture a bigger audience as we grow our channel.
Tubefilter: What’s your favorite part of making content as a whole?
E&B: Our favorite part of making content is the ability to create something unique, something that we’re proud of, and something that we can share with others around the world. We love the process of working on the content together as a couple and also enjoy seeing everyone’s reactions, love, and support when each video goes live.
Tubefilter: What’s next in the immediate future for you and your channel? Where do you see yourself in five years?
E&B: We are always trying to improve our content in various aspects, including having better production, better dancing, better styling, etcetera. We have been focusing on quality over quantity, so we hope to continue this focus in the near future while also making sure we have a good work-life balance. In five years, we hope to still do dance and K-pop-related content on our channel while also putting out more lifestyle content, as we probably will have children by that time!
Jellysmack is the global creator company that detects and develops the world’s most talented video creators. The company’s proprietary video optimization technology and data drive social audience growth, unlocking new revenue streams and amplifying monetization.
Currently home to over 150 influential Creators including PewDiePie, MrBeast, Brad Mondo, and Bailey Sarian, Jellysmack optimizes, operates, and distributes creator-made video content to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube. Jellysmack-managed content boasts 10 billion global monthly video views and a cross-platform reach of 125 million unique U.S. users, making it the largest U.S. digital-first company in monthly social media viewers.
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