PewDiePie vs T-Series: No Matter Who Wins This Scrappy Internet Brawl, We Lose

Pop Culture

PewDiePie vs T-Series: No Matter Who Wins This Scrappy Internet Brawl, We Lose

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The internet has given us a lot over the last couple of decades, but no one could predict that T-Series – the company that holds the rights to an extensive music catalogue spanning Bollywood oldies and bhangra and hip-hop mashups – would one day be called a “bitch lasagne” by a Swedish man-child who makes memes for a living. But apparently, if you fall deep enough down the rabbit hole of YouTube’s algorithm (picture the black hole image, only with a lot more Joe Rogan), you’ll see that’s exactly what’s happening.

The battle between T-Series and PewDiePie (his mother named him Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg) started last year, and should have ended soon after, when the massive corporation overtook the blogger to become the YouTube channel with the most subscribers. Instead, it ended with PewDiePie’s videos being taken down by the Delhi High Court after he thought it would be a good idea to rap about poverty and the caste system in India — all the while displaying the knowledge of a frat boy with a serious marijuana habit.

The Delhi High Court presumably wasn’t feeling the vibe of these diss tracks when it directed PewDiePie to take them down last week. The first of the two, called “Bitch Lasagne” is directed at T-Series and is pretty catchy (if you’re the kind who enjoys listening to memes, that is.) A majority of the song is comprised of the words, “Bitch lasagne, bitch lasagne, T-Series ain’t nothing but a bitch lasagne,” repeated at random, proving indeed that the art of the lyric hasn’t died yet. The video, meanwhile, features PewDiePie doing his best to imitate Dhinchak Pooja, and not much else…

Now, to be fair to PewDiePie, not everyone in the YouTube world loves T-Series as much as your average Govinda fan. The main grouse is that T-Series, as a corporation, has a clear upper hand over original content creators. As this article from “Wired” points out, the company over the last few years has “cleverly exploited YouTube’s algorithm with a stream of high-quality videos”, while individual creators struggle to put out a maximum of two a day. This, most YouTubers claim, ruins the spirit of the platform (“Broadcast Yourself”) for good. So “Bitch Lasagne” doesn’t comes as much of a surprise.

The trouble started when PewDiePie released the second of his tracks. The song starts off as a congratulatory video for T-Series, before the lyrics get obviously snarky and, at points, downright weird. There’s a moment where he declares that he’s about to “genocide like Hitler”, and another in which he offers advice on how to fix poverty (by putting ads on T-Series videos). He also asks India to deal with the caste system before taking on YouTube and jokes that Indians have “poo-poo” in their brains. His fans — about 90 million of them — cheered him on.

Riveting social commentary aside, when did YouTube become a battleground between an ignorant manchild and 1.3 billion people? How did a guy who reviews video games for nine-year-olds become the only man who could fix the caste system since Babasaheb Ambedkar?

Apparently, PewDiePie’s own career graph has gone from the “king of YouTube” to the guy who’ll support Hitler if it meant he’d get ten more followers. PewDiePie’s material was once a mix of rant videos, video game narrations, and joke songs. Of late, however, his channel has been accused of being a breeding ground for neo-nazis and alt-right sympathisers.

The vlogger lost deals with both Disney and YouTube last month, after the Christchurch mosque gunman went live during the attack, urging people watching to “subscribe to PewDiePie”. In the past, he has asked two non-English speakers to hold up a sign saying “death to Jews”, dropped the N-bomb during a live stream, and called another online personality a “stupid Twitch thot”. Each time, he’s put up a weak defence, such as “millennial irony…” or “I’m in on the joke…”

It’s funny no science-fiction movie was ever able to predict that one of the biggest battles in the future would be fought over something as stupid as subscribers on YouTube, or as this NYT article calls it, an “internet nation-state”. But apparently, in an age when irony has completely lost its meaning, and the crossover meme is considered the highest form of art, it’s completely normal that a YouTube battle would escalate into Nation vs Uninformed White Boy.

For now, PewDiePie has gone from being the fun uncle who buys you cool gifts to the mildly racist uncle who has to say something outrageous at every family gathering. If he had been the bigger person, and simply acknowledged that he couldn’t take on a corporation like T-Series, he might have come out looking better. Instead, in this battle for YouTube supremacy, he’s done the unthinkable. PewDiePie has made T-Series look like the lesser of two evils.