I’m not sure quite when it happened, probably only in the last few years, I suspect, but there is this new(ish) “phenomenon” known as “the reaction video”, and it says as much about the human condition as it does about the quick buck, bandwagoning of pop culture.
For those not in the know, the reaction video is when someone films themselves reacting to a well-known video, like TV’s abhorrent Gogglebox, for music. It all started innocently enough, with seemingly real music fans filming themselves talking about a record as they played it. I like to think that these were genuine first listens; there was something about the amateurism and passion with which such people spoke that was both engaging and convincing.
But, like all good ideas, things quickly get hijacked. The reaction video of today is a slick affair, highly monetarised, bereft of any real value and largely unconvincing and has reached a point where the better-known reaction channel owners seem to be able to make a full-time living out of such a system. It’s “influencers” all over again! Urrgghh! Again, the TV program Gogglebox, a program where we watch people watching TV programs and are supposed to be entertained by their thoughts and reactions, is the perfect parallel. The train of thought goes like this. Imagine if you are involved with a TV show – actor, producer or crew – that gets featured, and you find out that the ratings for Gogglebox are higher than those for your show; it means that more people enjoy watching someone watching your show than actually watching your show. It is both voyeuristic and insulting!
And a similar argument can be said for reaction videos. Imagine if you are a grassroots band looking to get your video in front of as many people as possible, and you realise that one of these reaction channels is getting twice, ten times, one hundred times the viewers you do. People would rather watch someone else nodding along to an old Zeppelin record or mugging at a Queen video than would check out new music. That is a bit unhealthy, you have to agree.
Now, I will say that not all such channels are without value. Some are run by genuinely passionate music enthusiasts, and some by experienced musicians who can pick apart a song and tell us exactly why it works so well, show us the deft key changes, the dynamic lifts, the clever mechanics, but those are the exception.
I know that you can make a supply and demand argument, posit that such channels only thrive because people want to watch them, and that is true, and there isn’t any coming back from such a point. But I will say that other popular things in this world include Wetherspoons pubs, Nando’s, everyday wear from JD Sports and Boris Johnson, so strength of numbers isn’t always the best gauge for anything.
My main dislike is the fakery. Many of those running the most successful channels claim to be music fans, sometimes even taking on the role of experts, who have never heard Bohemian Rhapsody before, or In the Air Tonight or Dancing Queen. Where have these people been all their life? And then, when they do play something, they have to pretend that it is the first time they have heard the song, even though last week they were wearing the band’s t-shirt whilst pretending not to know who Tom Jones or Frank Sinatra are, presumably a freebie from some record label or PR firm.
And when such music fans do try to comment on a record, the level of vacuous nothingness, “it’s catchy, ” I like music with guitars,” he has a nice voice,” that they come out with makes you feel more stupid for having to have listened to them.
I suppose the reason for these videos’ popularity is validation. People take comfort in knowing that others are not just listening to their favourite songs but publically endorsing them. It is, I guess, the same motivation that makes tribute bands so popular and cover bands so ubiquitous—safety in numbers. I would argue that if you want to support music, time watching music videos would be better spent searching for your next favourite band rather than revelling in your last one. Why not help get grassroots bands viewing figures to a point where they can profit from the system? (Better still, buy a few CDs or tracks and give directly to rising bands.)
I would attach an example to the bottom of this rant, but I don’t want them to make money from what is essentially a scam. The only Reaction video is this one…