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#TrendsIMO: Reaction Videos and Why They (Sort Of) Need to Stop

It’s time to stop going “easy on them”.

Amit Vaidya Oct 21, 2021
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There used to be a time when the world seemingly stopped with the release of a new song. Whether it was a boy band, rock Gods, that big sophomore release from an artist with a massive debut single or as we’ve just witnessed, the “comeback” release of a big global artist like Adele with a tried-and-true sound and style – there was hype, there was promotion, and then there was time to listen, judge, listen again and develop an opinion.

Social media has brought the world together and in particular for music fans has become an instant way to be alerted about a new release. We now have countless ways to access that song immediately. Gone are the days of waiting for a song to “drop” on our radio station or MTV telling us when a music video will release. Instead, the clock strikes 12 am on Friday (most of the time), and the song is released to the world.

But with a global release plan now the routine way of the world, a universal urgency to listen that big new song has also become paramount. Like those Marvel comic blockbusters we’ve trained ourselves to go rush to see on Fridays, we are now doing the exact same thing when it comes to music. And it is actually kind of cool – gone are the days of cities, countries or stations deciding how and when we access and hear the track.

But with everything so instant, here’s the real question I’m beginning to ask, do we really need to hear each other’s reactions about it as instantly?

I ask this because I’m a little scared that nothing will ever have lasting cultural meaning if we are all in a race to critique and react. YouTube has always been the home of reaction videos and the numbers just don’t lie – it’s a massive source of content and it is extremely popular.

Let me first make this very clear, I’m a huge fan of reaction videos, especially for music videos. In particular I love seeing young vloggers doing first time reaction videos to songs from the past that were hits before they were born or much younger. For older music fans like myself, it’s a way to see a song we loved reach a whole new generation and to see the joy that they feel in experiencing something from the past, there is a purity there that gives me hope. And for younger viewers, many times, these channels are a way for them to get exposed to older artists and songs.

One such vlog channel is twinsthenewtrend. Their reaction video of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” is truly a thing of beauty. Seeing their reaction when the beat drops more than midway through the song is priceless and there’s a reason their video went viral (9 million view and counting!).

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Of course with those kinds of numbers, and literally with everyone having access to a computer or phone to listen to the song, that means they also have the ability to record their own reaction videos and there comes the problem. While YouTube is quite strict with its copyright rules, it’s extremely difficult to regulate. Once the content is up (which is next to immediate), even if flagged or brought down, by then, most have already gotten enough hits or end up getting streamed elsewhere. Record labels like their artists being talked about but from a royalty point of a view – it becomes all the more challenging.

But that’s actually not my concern. My actually concern is about the cultural impact and significance of music as a sign of the times. The videos that these vloggers are reacting to of the past actually adds something to the conversation. It actually has helped boost sales for catalog artists, brought certain artists back into the spotlight, or made them that much easier to utilize for the next TikTok dance! But what about a same day, first time hearing reaction video to a brand new song? What actual purpose are these videos serving other than for the uploaders? Is it actually good for the artist? Is it actually good for the song?

Adele
Adele.

Adele released “Easy On Me,” her first new song in more than five years on late Thursday evening. If you type in the song on YouTube, after the original music video, you scroll down and will see literally an endless, and I mean endless line of first-time hearing reaction videos. Curious to see if I was being judgmental, I watched quite a few, probably more than 50 of them.

Most reacted nearly the same way, they didn’t really offer much other than what they usually offer for all the other reaction videos they do for their respective channels. In just three days, the most popular of the reaction videos have already been viewed more than 150,000 times respectively .

I understand that many of these vloggers are “characters” and they’re putting on a “show” but I actually feel that they are doing a great disservice to the artist and the song because they aren’t giving listeners/viewers the chance to have an opinion and let them take their time finding a connection, if there is to be one. They’re actually not doing that themselves and it’s unfortunate because much like “fake news,” their little video — while not harmful on its own — when bundled with thousands of others creates a false narrative about the song, good or bad. Let’s get this very straight, most of the vloggers are doing a first-time reaction video of Adele or BTS or Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber or Drake because they know they’ll get hits and hits means money in their pocket, not the artists.

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The argument is that the artist benefits, and more reaction videos means more hype. If that were the case, so many more hip-hop artists would have seen their YouTube success transcend beyond that. The whole video reaction video to music originated in the hip-hop universe. It was a great way to highlight struggling or underground artists and bring them to the forefront.

But with the financial incentive now there, what’s ended up happening is that the biggest artists also have the largest number of videos about their songs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy we all can have an opinion and express it. But with everyone being an immediate critic now, we often are unable to delve deeper, look at the artistry of a song, understand the meaning behind a music video, factor in the context of the artist’s musical journey and how the new song fits into that landscape. We are rushing to react and forgetting to feel, or perhaps being led to believe that we must feel within a very quick amount of time and whatever that feeling is, it’s the one that needs to shared.

One of the greatest joys in my life is talking about a moment in music history and how a song became a hit. Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost sight of the fact that besides documenting everything, we also need to better understand and process what we document.

After six years, Adele released an extremely personal song about her divorce. We didn’t even give her one week’s grace time to go “easy on” her. We listened, cried on camera, reacted, tweeted, spoofed, seen or sent a thousand memes. In essence, we made a timeless song feel dated and oversaturated already because we’ve completed what we had to say. And now on to the next.  

The true irony is that old school radio programmers and genuine music listeners will continue to play her song for many months to come but the impact, the legacy of the song, the cultural place it ultimately may end up having won’t be there. New songs will be required to drive new content.

Perhaps we’ll have wait 30 years for vloggers of the future to better enrich us about any given song right now. Because their first-time hearing reaction video will understand the era and the times we were living in, and they’ll be doing it for the music, and perhaps be the boost the artist needs to remember they left an indelible mark in music history.

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