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A decade of YouTube and Korea in the World of DaveBy Tammy Park, Ye Ji-hun
Published : Dec. 2, 2023 - 16:00
In the vast landscape of YouTube, where content creators rise and fall, Dave Levene Jr. stands out as one of the first-generation YouTubers in Korea with over a million subscribers on his YouTube channel, “World of Dave.”
Levene’s entry into content creation is a tale of randomness and unexpected viral success. In 2013, a video he posted on his personal Facebook account for his friends to watch went viral overnight, reaching over 40,000 likes and thousands of comments. This unplanned foray of online content sparked a chain of comedy shorts, marking the beginning of Levene’s journey.
“I was really young at the time, so getting that kind of attention was mind-blowing. If you look back at (the videos) now, they're extremely cringe and really hard to watch. But at the time, people found it funny, so I just went off with that,” Levene, an American expat who has called South Korea home for over 15 years, said in an interview with The Korea Herald for the “Life In Korea” series.
However, YouTube in Korea was not as prominent as it is today. The term “YouTuber” was virtually unheard of, and the platform was overshadowed by other mediums like Facebook, Vine and Korea’s very own Kakao Story. The platform was mainly used by entertainment companies for uploading K-pop music videos. Leveraging the popularity of Kakao Story, Levene began linking his YouTube videos to his audiences there. However, as Koreans gradually transitioned into YouTube, Levene found himself in the right place at the right time – younger generations exploring the platform led to a natural and organic convergence. In the absence of established YouTubers, he found himself in a pioneering position, inadvertently becoming a first-generation YouTuber in Korea.
Levene’s decadelong journey on YouTube is marked not only by the content he creates, but also by the dynamic shifts in his audience. With a surge in foreign viewership and an influx of English comments, he noticed his Korean audience digressing from his channel. While Levene emphasized that the core of his content remains consistent, the challenges lay in determining the type of content that resonated across linguistic and cultural boundaries.
According to Levene, the distinction between content tailored for an English-speaking audience and a Korean-speaking one primarily lay in the video editing style. While Western content creators focused more on grand-scale content with minimal editing and background music, Korean creators seemed to favor heavy subtitles, fast-paced edits and multiple visual effects. The latter aligned well with Levene’s preferred style of editing, which is why he believes his content was more appealing, interesting and relatable to his Korean audience.
During his time in Korea, he also witnessed shifts in Korean people’s approach to comedy.
“There used to be a huge difference between Korean and Western humor. Korean humor used to be a bit more cringey in today's standards -- there was a lot of toilet humor and slapstick comedy. It was also very conservative - there was a limit to what you could say or do. But now, Korea’s comedy space has become way more open-minded and accepting to edgy humor. So I like it better now,” he said.
Journey to Korea
“My background actually has nothing to do with Korea. I mean, to some extent, it does,” said Levene. Born in Miami and raised in a Latino household with a Cuban mother and a Peruvian father, Levene spent most of his childhood being exposed to Spanish.
When he was 12 years old, his family moved to the heart of Koreatown in Atlanta, and his father began pushing for English in the household.
“Miami is very Hispanic,” Levene explained, “so if we had never moved, I would have just been a normal Latino kid, which is annoying because I’ll tell people I’m Latino or Hispanic and people are like, ‘You look white.’ I think a lot of Latinos can relate, but Central and South America is very diverse, you have a lot of different people there, so skin color is not a thing. I didn’t get that as much when I lived in Miami, but when I got to Atlanta and especially Korea, I began hearing that a lot.”
Growing up next to Korean supermarkets and going to school with Korean American classmates gave Levene exposure to the Korean American community, but one thing he noticed they all had in common was how they’d always visit Korea during the summer. “It was a ‘gyopo (overseas ethnic Koreans)’ thing to go visit your family,” Levene said.
On a whim, Levene ended up joining a friend’s annual summer trip to Korea. The taste of freedom in a new country and the way he was able to fit in naturally with how things were there enticed him into extending his three-month stay into a permanent residency of almost fifteen years. “For some reason, Korean clicked with me. So I learned it a lot faster than I expected. And after some time, I was like, I can’t just stop here, so I ended up staying,” he said.
Coming full circle
Looking back at his journey, Levene noted that the content sphere had come full circle.
“When I first started doing YouTube, a lot of videos were way shorter than they are now,” he said.
“If you look at my earlier videos, some would be as short as 15 to 30 seconds and longer videos would be 2 to 3 minutes. But YouTube changed their policy (so that) you get monetized more when videos are longer than 10 minutes. That changed the space. Short videos disappeared for a while, but now, with TikTok, Reels and YouTube Shorts, people are back to making shorter-form videos, (which) used to actually be my specialty.”
At the end of the day, Levene credits having been able to continue creating content thanks to the good combination of people and having stayed true to his own style. “I don’t think I had a particularly generation-changing idea, but I think it was a good idea at that time because nobody was doing it. I think I did a good job making my own style of editing and my own style of videos.”
From an accidental viral video creator to a seasoned content creator in Korea, the story of “World of Dave” is a testament to the dynamic nature of content creation and the evolving landscape of YouTube in Korea. To learn more about the behind-the-scenes and his experiences of being a first-generation YouTuber in Korea then and now, check out “Life In Korea” on The Korea Herald YouTube channel.
Ye Ji-hun contributed to this article.
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