As of 2013 — when a group of MIT researchers pulled the data — the identities of the two human beings who had dedicated Wikipedia pages in the most languages were not surprising: Jesus Christ (214 languages) and Barack Obama (200).
Neither was No. 4, Confucius, or No. 5, Isaac Newton, or really any of the people who rounded out the top 20: Hitler, Einstein, Aristotle, Muhammad, Marx.
No. 3, you might not be able to guess. No. 3, if you don’t pay rigorous attention to pop culture, you might not even know at all.
No. 3 was Corbin Bleu. Who? Corbin Bleu! That’s right: A supporting cast member of Disney’s High School Musical series was (and may still be), by this one measure, better represented globally than da Vinci, Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, and Michael Jackson. The researchers found Corbin Bleu pages in Spanish and German and French, but also Romanian and Serbian and Magyar and Vietnamese and Swahili. And 185 more.
The data was collected by Pantheon, a project of the MIT Media Lab “working collaboratively to quantify, analyze, measure and visualize global culture.” Here’s what the rankings look like:
So, there’s only one question: What the hell?
Sure, Bleu is a celebrity, but not a huge one. He has 989,000 Twitter followers, which is a lot, but well outside the top 1,000 (No. 999 in Twitter followers, a Turkish singer named Hande Yener, has more than 3 million). And while Bleu was No. 3 in number of Wikipedia language editions, in terms of page views, he wasn’t even in the top 100 — way behind celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Miley Cyrus. But when it comes to Wikipedia language editions, no contemporary celebrities really compared to Bleu. The next-highest living celebrity was Lady Gaga, who, at 133 pages, comes in 45th place.
So maybe it’s a quirk of his fame: High School Musical is very popular, of course, and has a dedicated fanbase. The most recent movie in the series made a quarter of a billion dollars at the box office. But it also featured actors, including Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, who have become much, much more famous than Bleu. And in 2013 Efron had Wikipedia pages in a mere 66 languages — barely a third as many as Bleu — while Hudgens lagged behind with 59.
Neither does Bleu’s standing appear to be the work of one Corbin-mad, linguistically dedicated Wikipedia fiend. A random search of the Bleu Wikipedia page edit histories revealed no common names or IP addresses associated with page edits or creations. Nor were the pages all created at once; they appeared at what seemed to be a fairly random pace over the past 10 years, ever since the English page was created on Jan. 2, 2006, by a user named Damionbak.
Among the baffled: Corbin Bleu himself. “What?” Bleu said when BuzzFeed News informed him of his place between the leader of the free world and one of the most important philosophers in the history of human civilization. “Holy shit! Really? I wonder why that is! Are that many people looking me up? What the hell! That’s amazing. That’s ridiculous, actually. That is unnecessary, but I will definitely put that on my resume.”
So here we find ourselves, with a somewhat famous man and an abiding mystery.
So why is Corbin Bleu so huge on Wikipedia??? Help us figure it out!
High School Musical 3: Senior Year made over $250 million at the box office. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that High School Musical made a quarter of a billion dollars at the box office. The original High School Musical was never released in theaters.
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