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The Online Conquistador

Oct 06, 2016

Rubén Doblas Gundersen may be one of the most famous people you’ve never heard of. The man known to his fans as “El Rubius” is the Spanish-speaking superstar of YouTube, whose 20.9 million subscribers outnumber those of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga’s channels combined.

Like PewDiePie and the Californian duo behind Smosh, Doblas Gundersen is part of the original wave of YouTubers, known for their high-energy, personality-driven vlogs (video blogs). Today, he’s the site’s eighth most popular user.

Yet beyond his hardcore fanbase, Doblas Gundersen is a relative unknown outside Spanish-speaking areas. This interview, held in his minimalist Madrid apartment, is his first with an English-language publication.

Doblas Gundersen began recording his video games aged 16 to amuse friends, and sharing the footage, with humorous commentary, on an up-and-coming website called YouTube. Thrilled with 400 monthly views, he was shocked when a gameplay of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim racked up 600,000 hits in a week. His fanbase rocketed and by 21, he realized YouTubing could become his career.

Rubén Doblas Gundersen AKA El Rubius, a Spanish YouTube personality photographed in Madrid, Spain, Sept. 2016. Jesús Madriñán for TIME 

Doblas Gundersen’s subscribers are mainly 14 to 22-year-old males, with females comprising 30% of his views. His fans mostly live in Mexico, Spain and Argentina, but he keeps a close eye on analytics and says he knows an 80-year-old Chinese woman who watches every upload religiously. He began to be aware of the extent of his fame when he visited Argentina two years ago. “Three thousand people were waiting at the airport. We hadn’t organized much security – everyone was screaming and grabbing at me.”

Aware of his profile especially among young males, Doblas Gundersen vows never to drink or smoke in his vlogs, and has begin to advocate for better behavior online. He doesn’t believe social media platforms do enough to protect users from bullying, and voiced his sympathy for Leslie Jones, the Ghostbusters actress who was inundated with racist tweets. “Being on the internet gives people the ability to say what they want without much thought.” He recently attended a vloggers’ conference hosted by YouTube in New York, where he joined others asking the platform to explore new ways to prevent trolling. “They said they’d look into it, but I haven’t seen any changes yet,” he says.

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Doblas Gundersen has worked with big corporate names including Pepsi and McDonald’s, but he’s adamant he’ll never let advertising influence his content. He recently released an anti-censorship video to reassure his fans. “Some U.S. YouTubers have had their revenue cut because of things like swearing. I wanted my subscribers to know I’ll never change my tone – even if I don’t get the money.”

Despite his newfound celebrity, Doblas Gundersen remains humble about his job. “I was doing this when I was getting 400 views – getting four million is just a bonus.” Above all he wants his fans to know he is still just a regular Internet user like them. “If I am a leader, then I’m the leader of the weirdoes,” he says. “My videos say it’s okay to be different; I think they make people feel less alone.”

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