KSI has been making headlines this week and not for the reasons that usually come to mind. The YouTuber, boxer and musician released heartwarming visuals for his latest single Holiday and within a matter of days, the track has already reached number one on the Official Trending Chart, Spotify’s UK Song Debut and YouTube’s Trending list for music. While many of his fans have noted the summer hit marks a new era in his career (it’s his first collaborator-free single) for me, it signifies a shift into a new chapter of his efforts to rebrand.
Olajide Olatunji, better known as KSI or JJ to his friends, is one of the biggest YouTubers in the UK and like most internet personalities, has been embroiled in a series of controversies. Groups like End Violence Against Women have accused him of making sexist remarks and trivialising rape during his earlier years on the platform. Meanwhile, in 2012, he was caught in a highly publicised sexual harassment scandal after making inappropriate comments to women in a video filmed at the EuroGamer convention. As a result, Microsoft cut ties with him and he was banned from future EuroGamer events. KSI apologised and hoped that moving forward, he would “be judged on the great content and value he gives to brands and partners, without controversy”.
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While some, including myself, still saw the YouTuber as loud and obnoxious – I mean who releases a book titled I Am a Bellend? – for the most part, KSI stayed out of trouble. As he declared in his apology, he focused on growing his digital presence and as a result, now has over 20 million subscribers on his main YouTube channel and 13 million on his second, JJ Olatunji. In 2013, he formed the YouTube collective Sidemen with fellow personalities Simon Minter, Vik Barn, Joshua Bradley, Harry Lewis, Tobi Brown and Ethan Payne. The group now has a total of four channels – with their main channel gathering over 12 million subscribers – and are widely known as one of the biggest YouTube groups in the UK. KSI even took a break from the spotlight in 2017 for six months and made his boxing debut the following year with two high-profile boxing matches against fellow YouTuber Logan Paul, winning the second in 2019. The following year, he released his debut album Dissimulation, which became the biggest studio album released in 2020.
It’s clear that for almost a decade, KSI has been working hard to rebuild his brand. Yet, the release of Holiday has seen these efforts come full circle. As many fans have noticed, the “post-pandemic” track is a very different sound compared to the YouTuber’s run of brash dance-pop hits. Its theme of love and optimism embodies a more mellow and arguably mature approach that I don’t think we’ve seen in any of KSI’s content before. Just days after releasing the track, we also saw him reunite with his brother and YouTuber Deji for a video where they publicly squashed their beef and expressed their support to one another. A move not many had anticipated following such a long-running feud after Deji accused KSI of physical and emotional abuse, which the latter quickly debunked.
None of this is to say these actions negate his past – they definitely don’t. It just offers one of the few examples of how holding influencers and online personalities accountable can spur growth. I mean have you watched Holiday? Its warm visuals are so off brand it’s – dare I say – almost touching.
By Jennifer Adetoro, culture editor of CORQ.
Beauty’s biggest YouTubers are highly problematic yet always survive scandal