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From Where I Stand: Is The KSI vs. Sidemen Drama Genuine?

>> The Context

On August 3rd, mega YouTube (YT) personality Olajide Olatunji, more commonly known as JJ or KSI, sent out two tweets that would ultimately transform what was a relatively uneventful UK YT scene. Through the tweets, JJ expressed that he is leaving The Sidemen, a group of British YouTube personalities who rose to prominence for their group gameplays.

This announcement came as a surprise, because JJ has been attributed to creating and leading the group since it was first established on 19 October 2013. The name “Sidemen” itself is a nod to having the other six members as JJ’s sidemen, because he was the most popular out of all seven when they started. Furthermore, Sidemen member Vik said on a 2016 panel that, “The Sidemen is seven people, if we got rid of one of them, it wouldn’t be The Sidemen anymore, so it wouldn’t be a thing” [1].

Prior to this community-shattering revelation, JJ took a three-month social media hiatus before surprisingly returning in late June to release his third EP titled Space. With JJ out of The Sidemen, the group now consists of Joshua Bradley AKA Zerkaa, Simon Minter AKA Miniminter, Ethan Payne AKA Behzinga, Vikram Barn AKA Vikkstar123, Tobi Brown AKA TBJZL, and Harry Shaw AKA Wroetoshaw.

The six remaining Sidemen: Josh, Simon, Ethan, Tobi, Harry, and Vik (clockwise). Images are not mine.

Following his tweets, JJ then uploaded a YT video on August 6th titled I’m Leaving The Sidemen, where he announces that he will be staying in Los Angeles with fellow YT personality Bryan Le AKA Ricegum indefinitely and cites Ethan as the main reason for leaving the group [2]. This confirmation video triggered a chain of response videos involving pranks, diss tracks, and reactions by other Sidemen members and YouTubers (YTers) who are close friends of The Sidemen. At present, just under two weeks after JJ’s initial tweets, the back-and-forth between him and The Sidemen has yet to subside, and the conflict has blown up in the YT community, with all sorts of YTers weighing in by reporting (e.g. Daniel Keem AKA Keemstar AKA DramaAlert) and/or reacting (e.g. Jesse Duban AKA Fangs) to the main chain of videos. As of August 15th, however, JJ is reportedly back in London for reasons he is unwilling to disclose [3][4].

The main (but by no means exhaustive) chain of videos up until August 15th is as follows:

Some thumbnails of the diss track music videos. Which track is your favourite so far? Credits to the music video uploaders.

In addition to these videos, there is also a lot of arguing on Twitter. Ultimately, the conflict has divided YTers and their fans into three main groups: Team KSI (including Team Deji), Team Sidemen (including Team Behz), and Team SKRRR (created by Tobi for people who are reluctant to pick sides and just want to spectate the drama). The underlying question this blogpost aims to address, however, is whether this KSI vs. Sidemen beef is genuine in the first place.

>> The Pros (of having the drama for JJ and The Sidemen)

  • Significant increase in awareness and interactions

Example of a comment I found under Simon’s diss track that’s aimed at Deji.

With eclectic YTers hopping on the bandwagon to add fuel to the fire, JJ and The Sidemen are likely to be reaching out to new viewers literally every second. This invaluable exposure trumps the more conventional way of introducing oneself to another YTer’s fans by personally collaborating with the YTer in a video by miles. With one diss track music video, for example, the uploader is presented to the fans of every single YTer who posted a reaction video to or a drama-reporting video about the music video. Conversely, YTers who reacted and reported on the video themselves come into the radars of fans of the music video uploader, and by extension, fans of those caught in drama with the music video uploader (as viewers need to watch the videos of everyone involved in the drama to gauge its proper context and progression). It’s a massive web of indirect collaborations and arguably the ultimate symbiotic relationship for obtaining YT exposure.

With increased consumer awareness of JJ and The Sidemen as YT personalities comes more views, watch time, new subscribers, and relevant interactions. The first two directly translate to more YT revenue, whereas the other two lead to an expansion in fanbase that in the long run can result in more revenue as well. Relevant interactions in this case refer to YT video comments and social media follow-ups (e.g. new viewers looking them up on Twitter/Instagram and following the accounts). Recently, there’s been a decline on video comments that are relevant to actual contents of the video; most comments are spams revolving around promoting one’s own videos, fake giveaways, and mainstream jokes. Nevertheless, whether it’s expressing what they think of the diss track or simply claiming which team is winning, comments are considerably more pertinent now that the beef’s happening. This can be beneficial, because brands who are potentially interested in working together with the YTer can see that his/her viewers are really engaging with the content he/she is making. As for social media follow-ups, it’s pretty obvious that having fans follow the YTers on other platforms would allow them to spread words and promote products across different outlets in addition to YT.

  • More opportunities for collaborations

That ties in nicely to this second point. Remember when I said that more subscribers and relevant interactions can lead to more revenue in the long run? This is because, statistics regarding those subscribers and interactions can help these YTers secure collaboration opportunities with huge commercial brands and even more highly successful YTers, leading to increased revenue eventually.

>> The Cons (of having the drama for JJ and The Sidemen)

  • Weaken and even sever long-standing friendships

The Sidemen has accomplished tons during their 3.5+ years as a group; they’ve recorded thousands of videos together, starred in a Comedy Central special titled The Sidemen Experience, established Sidemen Clothing, ran annual charity football matches and Upload, as well as published The Sidemen Book (which led to an audiobook and a book tour) just to name the highlights. With the current rate at which this drama is developing, it’s highly possible that the conflict will result in severed ties. Most of the diss tracks seem to mock and reveal highly sensitive personal information. For example, Harry claimed that Deji has two kids [5], Deji revealed that he has slept with the same girls who slept with Simon and Tobi [6], and JJ mocked Harry’s girlfriend for being a gold-digger [7]. It’s honestly worrying that a single line can drastically weaken long-standing relationships between those in and around the drama. Then again, The Sidemen is also notorious for making explicit jokes about each other in their gameplays (particularly when playing Cards Against Humanity), so it might take a lot more savage diss to permanently break the bonds between them. 

Some of The Sidemen’s greatest accomplishments. From left to right: The Sidemen Experience, Sidemen Clothing, annual charity football match, Upload, and The Sidemen Book.

  • Rebranding hassle

Yes, The Sidemen has already hit many milestones, but they’re also still in the process of completing more. With JJ’s unexpected exit, a degree of uncertainty looms over the future of Upload and Sidemen Clothing. The Sidemen, JJ, and Deji are all scheduled to attend Upload 2017 [8]; JJ has also re-assured that he will be attending as he owns part of the event [9]. Nonetheless, your guess on how the beef will translate at the event – if it translates at all – is as good as mine. Moreover, I’d imagine that rebranding as a group will lead to a few logistical hassle, not only because they can no longer sell Sidemen merchandise with JJ on them, but also because it might affect the way the group is managed or affiliated with brands.

  • Exhausting

Drama is generally mentally draining, and drama involving diss tracks is all the more demanding. It takes a lot of time to write, record, edit, and produce great diss tracks along with their music videos. On top of this, there’s also the added pressure of having to release the diss track in a timely manner without doing what’s already been done in order to keep the audience eager and engaged. As such, regardless of whether or not the drama is real, we can’t dismiss the tremendous effort that’s been dedicated to sustaining it.

  • Negative portrayal

Another drawback of having this drama for JJ and The Sidemen is that it may portray them in a negative light to both brands and potential fans. All this quarrelling can paint them as quite spiteful and rude, especially to brands who might not have as much time to research the conflict’s history and context. There’s a mainstream saying in public relations that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but with a platform as pervasive and collaborative as YT where people can react to each other’s videos and re-upload videos that are unlisted/deleted by the original uploaders, time might not be as effective in discounting the bad publicity into mere publicity.

>> My Current Verdict

The video that started it all.

Based on the aforementioned context, pros, and cons, let’s revisit the question this post sets out to address: is the KSI vs. Sidemen drama genuine?

First off, yes, I do believe that JJ is actually leaving The Sidemen. I think that he’s been contemplating and discussing it since he went on the three-month social media hiatus to supposedly “evolve and learn” – maybe even earlier. To be fair, that hiatus also eased fans into the idea that JJ is no longer part of the group.

Nevertheless, I feel that the drama derived from JJ’s decision is deliberate to a certain extent. This is because, although he cited Ethan as his main reason for leaving, he didn’t provide much details as to why that is. If Ethan has annoyed JJ to the point where he needs to quit from a group he helped build from scratch, then I’d expect JJ to be more livid and to spill more dirt about the things Ethan did that pushed him over the edge. Frankly, with adpocalypse and the crazy growth of Team 10 through drama [10], I can understand why it’d be a waste to make JJ’s exit drama-less.

As such, I’d hypothesise that JJ and The Sidemen agreed to use Ethan as a scapegoat and to allow JJ’s exit to trigger diss tracks and pranks. However, as it’s difficult to predict how the drama will develop once it’s out, I’m quite certain that the tracks weren’t pre-prepared. This in turn makes the drama more organic, because we get to witness how the YTers were pulling all-nighters to finish their diss tracks [11] [12] and how they were reacting to claims made by other tracks.

In conclusion, whilst based on a genuine decision, the drama surrounding the decision itself is not entirely genuine. That said, just like any other YT trends, both the viewers and other creators have played an active role in moulding the drama into what it is now. At the end of the day, fair play to The Sidemen if they were using JJ’s decision as a platform to evolve along with the YT landscape – clearly, it’s successful. Case in point, at the time of publishing this blogpost, JJ, Ethan, Harry, Simon, and Deji are all on Social Blade‘s top 500 most subscribed YT channels in the last three, seven, and fourteen days [13].

Mad subs and mad views indeed! Top: Vik’s tweet 15 hours after releasing his diss track [14]. Bottom: Simon and JJ gained more than nine million views each on videos that’s been up for less than a week.

Then again, everything I’ve written might just be another silly JJ vs. Sidemen conspiracy theory. JJ has always been a wild card after all. What about you? How do you make sense of the drama?

>> Citations

[1] www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH54zOr1Sfc (start on 21:53 to go directly to quote)

[2] www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zeg_RDsn-4

[3] www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GfzY3Y3Z7w

[4] www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LuYHotNS-w

[5] www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mXMJSodFnI

[6] www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOTBjtud8z8

[7] www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQKEJyDiIZc&t=0s

[8] http://uploadevent.com/guests/

[9] twitter.com/KSIOlajidebt/status/897068509544423425

[10] www.wetheunicorns.com/debate/team-10-drama-paul-brothers/

[11] twitter.com/wroetoshaw/status/897631451923050496

[12] twitter.com/Behzinga/status/896267554825662464

[13] https://socialblade.com/youtube/top/trending/top-500-channels-14-days/most-subscribed
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