5 A-list artists who got their start on YouTube

Morgan Greenwald

While today’s content creators prefer to make short and simple videos for TikTok, influencers and wannabe-A-listers back in the day uploaded their work to YouTube in the hopes that it might go viral enough to get them discovered.

Sadly, the hefty majority of people on the internet never end up making it big. However, there are some talented acts who, as luck would have it, do end up getting noticed by producers, agents and big-name celebrities.

Below, we’ve rounded up five world-renowned artists who largely have YouTube to thank for their careers. Without the video-sharing platform, we might not have singing sensations like Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes!

1. Justin Bieber

Before he was selling out Madison Square Garden shows in just 30 seconds, Justin Bieber was making homemade singing videos for YouTube.

“It had a hundred views, then a thousand views, then ten thousand views, so I just kept posting more videos and more videos,” 15-year-old Justin told Good Morning America in 2009. “Eventually, I got found by my manager who flew me to Atlanta to meet Usher.”

After a bidding war with big names like Justin Timberlake, Usher helped get Justin signed to what is now Island Records.

“It was truly his talent, his ability to, on the spot, produce that magic,” Usher said. “There was something really eager and something so poised to be something. I didn’t know what he would be but I knew I wanted to be involved.”

2. Alessia Cara

According to Billboard, Grammy-winning singer Alessia Cara posted her first YouTube cover — Jessie J’s “Price Tag” — at just 13 years old. It didn’t take long for the talented artist to get noticed by execs at EP Entertainment, and at 16 years old, she signed a management deal with them, plus a record deal with Def Jam.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s real at all,” Alessia told Spin in 2015 about her newfound fame. “I feel like sometimes I’m just watching myself outside of my body.”

3. Shawn Mendes

If you were around during the age of Vine (RIP), then odds are that you remember some of Shawn Mendes’ six-second covers.

Between Vine and YouTube, the “Señorita” singer had hundreds of thousands of followers — enough to get him noticed by numerous record labels.

“Island Records was the first record label to … acknowledge me,” Mendes told the Associated Press in 2014. “After that, quickly Republic Records, and then Atlantic Records, Sony Records and Warner Bros. It was all the labels at once.”

4. The Weeknd

Unlike most other successful YouTube artists, Abel Tesfaye — AKA The Weeknd — gained notoriety on the platform anonymously.

In 2011, The Weeknd uploaded three songs to YouTube under the username xoxxxoooxo: “Loft Music,” “The Morning,” and “What You Need.” The anonymous artist quickly caught the attention of the music world, with Pitchfork describing the track “What You Need” as “a twinkling, moonlit R&B protestation all made the more sensual by an anonymous, butter-dripping voice challenging a lover’s relationship with suggestive come-ons.”

Once Drake tweeted a link to The Weeknd’s full mixtape, it didn’t take long for fans to uncover the artist’s true identity. By the end of 2011, The Weeknd was proudly putting on shows and releasing more music.

5. Tori Kelly

Though some people might recognize Tori Kelly from her stint on the ninth season of “American Idol,” the singer actually gained traction long before that through her YouTube channel, which she started in 2006.

“I started writing music when I was 15 in my bedroom, and I’d post them on MySpace and from there it shifted to doing covers on YouTube, and building my Twitter,” Tori told Elle in 2015. “And then there was Instagram, and then Vine and Snapchat even. It means I get to be really close to the people who are supporting my music, and it’s also cool because they feel close to my journey. We’re kind of going through it together.”

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