The New, Kinder King of YouTube
King Vader has built his brand on parodies like "Hood Naruto"—and a commitment to avoid beefing.
Image: YouTube/King Vader
No matter how a King Vader video starts, or who the cast of characters is, it always ends the same way—the Power Rangers thwart a bank robbery, the Walking Dead crew fight off a hoard of zombies or Naruto and Sasuke finally meet face to face—then it’s time for an elaborately shot dance break. It doesn’t have to make total sense, if anything, it’s even funnier the more it doesn’t.
22-year-old Dominique Barrett, known on YouTube as King Vader, has been famous since his adolescence. He started accumulating followers on Vine in 2014, making short, funny videos with his friends in his home state of Maryland. He’s known for his specific brand of parody, mostly of anime and superhero movies and TV shows, and his distinctly black rewriting of the characters. His most watched videos on YouTube are part of a series called “Hood Naruto,” which have racked up more than 20 million views.
“There’s no limit with Vader,” Terrill (who goes by Tazz), Barrett’s childhood friend, who appears in a number of his videos, including “Hood Naruto,” told Motherboard in a phone interview. “Nothing is ever too crazy or too outrageous.”
And it does get pretty outrageous—like the Power Rangers’ Megazord hitting the Orange Justice, or when the Toy Story toys aid in a robbery. Vader always goes for the laugh, but never at someone’s expense. In the field of online personalities and influencers, that makes him a bit of an outlier, and he’s that way intentionally.
Some of the most beloved internet personalities, like YouTubers Logan Paul and PewDiePie, also elicit equal amounts of (often righteous) anger. Pewdiepie has repeatedly been criticized for using racial slurs and Nazi imagery in his videos, and encouraging his followers to troll competing channels and the world at large. And Logan Paul alongside his brother Jake has risen to prominence for videos like “WE PEED ON MY BROTHER’S BED!” and “SECRET SERVICE ARREST MY BROTHER PRANK!” Love them or hate them, it doesn’t matter. If the Paul brothers and PewDiePie can get clicks, even if they’re hate clicks, they still reap the benefit. PewDiePie remains the most popular YouTuber in the world. And in the fallout of Paul showing a dead body in a video while he laughed with his friends last year, he still had his most successful year financially, earning $14.5 million in 2018. Though his reach online is much smaller, Barrett tries to stand at odds with them.
“Some people will do anything for the clicks,” he told Motherboard. “If I want to get views, I can just go outside and scream in public or whatever. But what do you do once you have all those subscribers and followers if that’s all you do?”
He doesn’t rely on drama or rivalries to drive people to his content.
His brand is built more on collaboration. More often than not, he’s hanging out with his crew of influencers and comedians, who call themselves WOLF GRAPHIC, which is made up of some of his childhood friends from Maryland. They appear in each other’s videos and cross-promote their content.
"I literally went from working at Wendy’s before all of this to doing a sponsorship with them"
This is all to say Barrett has opted for what he says is a more honorable approach to finding internet fame. He wants to be regarded as a creative above all. “When you’re showcasing your talent and people are getting behind you for that, that’s genuine,” he said. Barrett largely gets his inspiration from anime and video games and other things him and his friends are into. “I like to make videos about just things that I love,” he said. “But I like to put my own twist on it, so when people see them they’re like ‘Wow this is a King Vader video.’”
His behind-the-scenes approach to making videos is the same—by relying on the network of creatives him and his friends have formed, he’s been able to create a consistent style. If you look closely you’ll notice that he mostly works with the same actors in most of his videos—from planning to shooting to editing, it’s largely a collaborative process. They even invite their fans to come and participate in shoots.
Barrett’s approach has taken him far. He started out making Vines in high school with friends, and now he’s getting endorsement deals. “I literally went from working at Wendy’s before all of this to doing a sponsorship with them,” he said. “Now they’re paying me to actually do what I love doing, instead of flipping burgers.”
When Barrett started making videos with his older cousin, Brandon, at 11, he already had dreams of being a filmmaker. They wrote and shot videos based on their lives, posting them on YouTube and forcing their family to watch. “We loved it. We were so grateful for 100 views, 50 views,” Barrett said. “For us, it was like people are seeing us. This is amazing.”
But things changed in 2013 when he heard about Vine, and he saw a path to fame open up to him. Like many teenagers at the time, Barrett hopped on quick with his friends, and started posting videos about life and girls and high school. At first it was slow, but eventually, the views starting racking up. In about a year he hit 10,000 subscribers and he and his friends became mini-celebrities in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia). “I told myself I was gonna be Vine famous,” he said. They started hosting meetups at local malls, so their fans could spend time with them, including other Viners who they would later collaborate with.
And he persisted, consistently posting videos for two more years with the jokes getting sharper, slowly building a following, until June 2016, when one of his Vines entered the internet cultural zeitgeist.
It starts simply. Barrett walks into a room full of people for a supposed job interview. One interviewer asks if he has any special talents. He pauses. Then tosses a plastic water bottle in the air as they watch in awe, and he lands it perfectly upright (a Vine meme in 2016). The ground shakes, bass blasts, literally knocking everyone out of their chairs. In 2019, the joke still lands, but the clip really capitalized on everything that was popular on Vine at the time. And it blew up.
That Vine made the local news and was on every meme account, and was included in a round-up on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0. Today, it’s been looped more than 31 million times, and that’s not counting how many times it’s been viewed on other social media platforms. “I felt like the world was watching me that day,” Barrett said.
He at least caught the attention of some Vine employees. Shortly after, Barrett was invited to visit Vine’s headquarters in New York, where they told him he was going to be verified on platform. “It’s like I was being taken seriously for what I do. That check proved it,” he said. “I was just at a loss for words.”
As more people started to watch his content, he started taking it more seriously. The editing got sharper, and he incorporated more special effects into his videos, which became something he’s known for. When he hit more than 100,000 followers on Vine, he felt like he was on the right path. “I couldn’t waste that window. I had to deliver,” he said.
But in October 2016, just a few months after he was verified, Twitter announced it was disabling Vine’s uploading feature. With competition from other social media platforms incorporating video features, like Instagram, Vine couldn’t keep up. Barrett along with other Vine users were crushed. By 2016, it had grown into a vibrant community for artists, filmmakers and musicians. “It felt like a home for everyone,” he said.
In one the last Vines he posted, he asked his followers to find him on other social media to keep up with his content. “My dream was way bigger than one app,” he said.
While some former Vine stars have found viability in TV, film, and music like Shawn Mendes and King Bach, the vast majority either faded into obscurity when the app shuttered, or like Barrett, migrated to other social media, like Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, and later, TikTok, where they post similar content to their Vines. Almost three years later, Barrett's videos have gotten steadily more and more elaborate, more heavy on the special effects and even more ridiculous. And have proven a viable source of income for him. He left his childhood home in Maryland to move to Los Angeles for more opportunities. And he’s done endorsement deals for Burger King and other companies and was invited to showcase his character “Hood Naruto” at LA Comic Con.
His career has taken off to the point where he’s been able to put down a payment on a house in LA that he plans to move his whole family into.
Since his early days on Vine, he’s kept a pretty tight circle of people around him that he works with, mostly friends from his childhood. Tazz wants to pursue a career in comedy. Brandon, who goes by WriterBoy, now serves as his manager. “You have to surround yourself with people that have big heads,” Brandon said of Barrett’s friend group. “You feed off of each other. You push each other.”
Barrett sees his videos as a stepping stone on his path to a career in the film industry. He wants to star in action films and become the “greatest director of his generation.” It’s a lofty goal, but setting lofty goals is something he makes a habit of.
“A lot of people get discouraged when their friends or family don’t believe in them,” he said. “You have to make people believe in you. You have to give them a reason to.” He says now his family messages him when he uploads something new, instead of the other way around.
Later this year, he plans on releasing longer narrative-driven videos, a departure from the parodies he’s known for, which he hopes his followers will still appreciate. “Everything I do is just to impress them,” he said.
He also says he’s in talks for more promotions and has started the process of pitching ideas for shows to networks. “The ball is in my court,” he said. “Now I have to put up the work.”