Reaction Shots

Help! I am addicted to YouTube reaction videos. While there’s a sub-genre dealing with films, which can be fun to skip through — watching someone react afresh to favourite bits in a movie you know well has a distinct pleasure, a bit like being in a new relationship, it’s the song ones I’m hooked on. Probably the reason they;re so addictive is that they’re so rarely satisfying.

The overall premise of the genre is “I love music but I’ve absolutely never heard any, watch me make discoveries.” I occasionally check out songs I don’t know, but the real impulse is to find a song I like and see someone’s face light up in amazement. But then you want them to make a meaningful observation about what they’ve heard, and that rarely happens. Part of the problem is that a very first listening to a song isn’t necessarily the time you’ll have the deepest things to say about it. Still, sometimes just seeing people’s faces is a joy in itself. I like these guys, Jay and Amber:

One thing that happens quite often is a song with definite gay resonance gets heteronormalized because it’s being watched without context. Or the listeners aren’t catching the lyrics — there’s at least one very embarrassing misreading/unreading of the Kinks’ Lola out there.

The above video is joyous, not for the critical insights but for the sheer pleasure displayed.

Some reactors do go deeper, and it helps if they’re musically inclined. JP is a drummer, and he does cool stuff like reading the lyrics and checking Wiki in real time, to give a better grounding in context. Like most reactors, he’s eclectic, but prog, glam and punk feature prominently on his channel.

Some of the more successful channels are quite aesthetically pleasing, in a simple way.

I told my mum about this phenomenon and she immediately said, “And do some of them maybe pretend they’re reacting more strongly than they really are?” DEFINITELY. There’s a whole genre of Black music fans reacting in astonishment to the Righteous Brothers or the Bee-Gees — having thought, from the artists’ voices voices, that they must be Black, or women. This gets a little dodgy at times — pandering to a white audience, with lots of Mantan Moreland acting. And it can also feel like some strange sequel to the “Blacks without soul” skit in AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON.

But a lot of this stuff is perfectly sincere. I like Jayy, who doesn’t get into chin-stroking analyses but whose very visceral reactions are always highly visible and who can put what she’s feeling into precise words :

The overall impression is that the younger generations (though there are some good older vloggers too) have abandoned musical compartmentalisation and have an open attitude to music quite different to the kids in my day, who used very specific musical genre choices to define themselves, and were often violently hostile to anything outside their chosen niche. This might encourage a more superficial investigation of songs and artists, but it’s still perfectly possible to go deeper, and it’s kind of the approach I favour with film viewing, which might be part of why I respond to it.

5 Responses to “Reaction Shots”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:


  2. Yes, Reckless Youth is awe-inspiring. SO dead-on accurate.

  3. Oh no. Just when I thought I was out, you PULL ME BACK IN.

    There’s so many of these things, and if you don’t know the phenomenon exists there aren’t any. That’s the internet for you.

  4. The reactors also go in waves, I should have mentioned, with everyone discovering The Animals, then Ram Jam. Currently it’s Neil Diamond.

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