Chances are that if you're not a teenager — or around teenagers — you haven't heard of Hank Green. Or, if you have, you might only know him as the YouTube guy who interviewed the president this year.
But for the community of mostly young people who call themselves "nerdfighters," Hank Green and his brother, John, are heroes.
"Nerdfighters" don't fight nerds. They are the nerds — and proud of it.
Hank and John Green founded the YouTube channel vlogbrothers in 2007, which now has over 2.5 million subscribers.
John Green also writes novels for young adults. One of his books, "The Fault In Our Stars," became a box office hit last summer, and a film based on another of his books, "Paper Towns," is coming out this July.
And Hank Green has released five studio albums — in addition to that interview with President Obama, which got him international attention.
But it's hard to explain just how adored Hank and his brother are until you see it. At the Middle East in Cambridge recently, the line for Hank Green's concert turned the corner and stretched several blocks down Mass. Ave. — mostly teenagers, some with their parents.
Radio Boston producer Emma-Jean Weinstein used to be one of those teenagers, and she went to the Middle East to catch up with Hank Green and nerdfighters — many of whom had been waiting there for hours.
Embracing Nerd Culture With Music
"Especially in Boston, there’s a large nerdfighter community," says nerdfighter Kate Antommaria. "There's Facebook groups, everybody always interacts in the comments of videos, things like that. And it's a way that you kind of, like, kind of get to see other people who have similar interests to you."
"This concert's going to be so different from other concerts that people are used to," says Laura Morgan, a 20-year-old Wheelock College student. "It's a total different type of atmosphere and the people that are here are so different from, like, regular concerts because this is not going to be a regular kind of concert. It's just going to be a bunch of nerds."
"A lot of very loud, very enthusiastic singing," says Antommaria. "No pushing, no shoving, it's just going to be, like, everyone freaking out simultaneously over everything that everyone loves."
Hank Green says it's actually strange when his friends and family come to his shows.
"They’re like, 'I didn’t really get that you were a rock star.' And I’m like 'Yeah, it’s not really that, but it kind — yeah, a little bit.' You know, and mostly I’m not. Mostly I’m like a science teacher, but I also happen to have a week out of the year [where] I’m a rock star, and that’s a weird thing. And, like, it’s a little bit selfish because, what a cool thing to be able to do. I used to go to these shows in places just like the Middle East and I loved that and it was such important part of my life and now I can do that for other people. It’s awesome, I’m very lucky."
He says his songs are about nerd culture, but also just about straight science. When asked what songs she was most looking forward to hearing, 15-year-old Meghan from Saugus said the quarks song is one of her personal favorites.
That's right, quarks. Those things that combine to form composite particles called hadrons, but that's not how Green explains them right before he starts playing "Strange Charm: A Song about Quarks."
"All those things that we think of as stuff are made out of things, and the things that are made out of those things are also things. Those things are things, too. The things that are made up of those things? Well, those things are called quarks!"
As predicted, the crowd explodes.
"His only goal in life is to sniff out a female anglerfish and if he finds one, he bites her on her side and then an enzyme dissolves his flesh," explains Green during the show. "Their skin fuses together. Her circulatory system joins with his until he is fed by her beating heart."
Green's other songs include "T-Shirt and Jeans," which is about trying to not identify as anything in particular when putting on clothes. There's also "Hug Scream," about dealing with anxiety and doing things that are hard and scary.
"You know, normal punk rock stuff," says Green.
How Vlogbrothers Evolved
Though Hank and John Green's videos have been around for almost eight years, some of their fans just started watching recently, like 14-year-old Mekayla Sullivan of Sharon.
"It's strange because even people who are fans of us now don't necessarily know why we're doing this thing and how it all began," says Green.
And he says that, before vlogbrothers began, he and his brother only liked each other "ok."
"We didn't ever talk, really."
But they decided to make a video for each other every weekday for a year — they didn't communicate through any textual means, no instant messaging or emailing.
"By the end of that year we felt like it was a pretty big deal, and that major shift happened when my song about Harry Potter got featured on the front page of YouTube.
Now, Green says he and his brother, John, talk a lot.
"We talk way more about life than we ever did, but we talk more than about life."
Because, in addition to being brothers, the Greens are now very much business partners. They have several relatively big companies together, like the aforementioned VidCon, as well as DFTBA Records, the record label Green co-founded. But their personal relationship has still undeniably strengthened.
"I know so much more about my brother. Oftentimes adult siblings don't really get the chance to become adult friends and those original sibling relationships remain."
Not that that isn't there, of course.
"The older brother, younger brother thing exists and will never go away, but just knowing who he is as an adult is really great, and it's worked out fantastic."
Building a YouTube Conference
"VidCon is a very special experience," says 20-year-old nerdfighter Ellie King. "It's just a three-day conference with just all nerdfighters and YouTubers. It's an incredible community, and the first year, which was in 2010...I went and it was just the most overwhelming thing I've ever experienced, and I made a bunch of friends who I'm still friends with today."
Green says he and his brother started VidCon because they felt like somebody was going to do it eventually, and video blogging was becoming less of a hobby and more of an industry. But that industry has continued to support Hank and John's original endeavor, almost eight years later.
"I'm so happy that we get to keep doing vlogbrothers and that people still care about vlogbrothers," says Green. "That's still the thing I do. Everything else is just an extension of that thing."
One extension of that thing? Green's interview with President Obama at the White House in January — it was part of something called #YouTubeAsksObama.
"That was really, really cool," says Green. "And also, it's a great thing to say when people are like, 'You do what, now?' I don't tend to do it but my friends will. So, I'll be at a party and I'm trying to explain what I do for a living and my friend will be like, 'He interviewed the president.' And people will be like, 'WHAT?! Oh, ok. That's a real thing. Then tell me all about it!' Whereas, if you're just like, I'm a YouTuber. I make YouTube videos for a living. People over the age of 30 are like, 'That's not a thing."
But with the under 30 crowd, Green is still a rock star.
"Every time I go onstage I am overwhelmed...that this is my life. And it’s so easy to forget and it’s also really easy to feel like it’s all kind of fake and you faked your way into it and you just got lucky or, you know, somehow you’ve tricked all these people into thinking you’re a big deal. But it isn’t that. People really like the things that we do and they’re useful and helpful...both for doing well in school, which is important, but also being a person."
- "Hank Green asked those in the crowd who were at his show alone to raise their hands. 'Talk to those people,' he instructed the rest of the audience, 'because they're very brave and awesome.'"
This segment aired on May 1, 2015.