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Reacting To The Reactionaries – A Collection of YouTube Music “Reaction” Reviewers

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You can only do something for the first time once.

After you have your first… oh, I don’t know, pancake, you can never have pancakes for the first time again.

Before you think I’m stoned out of my mind…I’m not.

(BUT MY HANDS ARE SOOOOOOO BIG!!!)

… I’m actually going somewhere with this idea.

Do you remember the first time you heard your favorite song?

And after it became your favorite song, did you get a kick out of playing it for your friends?

Did seeing their reaction make you happy? Well, I mean, if they liked it. I think this used to happen more when we sat around listening to records. It sometimes happened with CDs, too.

But once you could make a mixtape on cassette or burn an CD-R of your favorite new songs, you weren’t necessarily around when your friends listened to it. You might not have seen the smile, or the shrug, or the CD getting thrown in the trash.

These days you can text your friend a link to a Spotify playlist, that they may – or may not click.

Sharing music in person is a little thing of joy that we’ve sort of lost, but the Information Age has brought us a replacement.

Instead of friends, we can see complete strangers listen to our favorite songs for the first time. If we subscribe to their YouTube or Patreon channels, we get to know these strangers. It’s almost like they’re actually friends.

Reaction videos have become a very popular part of YouTube.

The basic idea is someone records a video while listening to a song they’ve never heard before and reacts to it in real time.

Just like your friends did when you played “Gangnam Style” for them.

There are reaction videos for movies, TV shows, memes, and other YouTube videos. But let’s focus on the music ones.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of music reaction channels.

If I’m honest, some aren’t that good. They’re either low quality technically, with bad lighting or audio, or the reactions aren’t insightful or fun.

The good reaction videos are appealing because you simultaneously have the nostalgia of an old song and the reactor’s shock of the new. If the reactor is personable, funny, smart, or otherwise charismatic, reaction videos can be good fun – even with songs you don’t like.

One of the best parts is seeing someone discover new artists and immediately want to hear more of their songs. This won’t happen in the case of one hit wonders, but if someone listens to, say, The Beatles for the first time, subscribe to that channel. They’re about to start a music discovery journey.

That’s exactly what happened on a channel called Call Me Caroline.

She did that with their first album and one of the commenters said she should listen to all the albums in chronological order.

So she did. Here’s that first one:

In Caroline’s case, it was her age that left her unfamiliar with The Beatles.

For Elizabeth Zharoff on a channel called The Charismatic Voice, it was the genre she didn’t know.

But after listening to Rock and Metal, she’s become a fan of that kind of singing, too.She not only reacts to the music, she stops frequently – sometimes too frequently – to describe what the singers are doing with their voices and the music theory behind the songwriting. It’s technical, so it’s good for singers and musicians, but she makes it interesting for non-musicians, too.

Here’s her analysis of “Chop Suey” by System Of A Down. She may have perfect pitch because she turns around and plays the chords on the keyboard without having heard the song before:

Beth Roars is another vocal instructor with a reaction channel.

But her ability to describe how voices work makes it easy to appreciate the thought that goes into each vocal performance.

She doesn’t do a lot of that in her reaction to REM’s “Shiny Happy People,” but she did her research and described the song’s origin. I didn’t know the story, and it puts the song in a new light:

There are also Classical composers reacting to Metal. Rappers reacting to Swing. And Metal guys reacting to Jazz.

But lest you think all reaction channels are run by professional musicians, some of the best are done by people who know very little about music. 

One of my favorites is Rob Squad Reactions.

He grew up listening to Rap and she listened to Country, so it was fun to watch them make beginners’ mistakes about Rock and Pop and Jazz as they learned. 

Watching a Traveling Wilburys song, they recognized Tom Petty and Roy Orbison from previous videos and wondered if the other three, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison, were famous, too.

They know better now.

Their channel is two years old. Amber has progressed from being shy in front of the camera to jumping in with really astute observations. They tend to put a positive spin on everything and like 98% of the songs they hear, so they could probably be a little more discerning. But finding the joy in everything is a skill a lot of us could use.

Still, they had a little trouble with “Rock Lobster” by The B-52s, and their utter confusion makes it a fun watch:

One of the first reaction channels I stumbled on is by Jamel_AKA_Jamal.

Other channels have the same trouble and will allude to having videos blocked. But, like Beth Roars, Jamal is perpetually positive, and his motto is “Be a good human.” This is how he reacted to “The Weight” by The Band with The Staples.

The channel I’ve discovered most recently is called MerchantOfAlba.

They’ve recently moved to England. She didn’t think she would like Heavy Metal, but she’s into it now. Here’s the first time they reacted to Rammstein.

However, I think that the song you should judge any reaction channel by is the live version of “Hocus Pocus” by Focus.

Almost every channel does it eventually, and whether they take its artistry seriously or dismiss it as weird tells you what you need to know about the reactor. 

I recommend this reaction by The Fairy Voice Mother.

She is able to describe how Thijs van Leer sings and plays the flute at the same time.

She also gives a brief yodel instruction – but the real fun is her amazement:

If you haven’t watched reaction videos before, search YouTube for your favorite song and the word “reaction.”

There’s a certain joy in watching someone hear it for the first time, which is something you’ll never be able to do again.

I’ll list some other good channels below. Thanks for reading.

And, in the words of Andrei, “Have a lovely day and all the best.”

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” Upvote! 

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Bill Bois

Bill Bois - bassist, pie fan, aging gentleman punk, keeper of the TNOCS spreadsheet:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/138BvuV84ZH7ugcwR1HVtH6HmOHiZIDAGMIegPPAXc-I/edit#gid=0

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Low4
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January 19, 2024 10:17 am

My reaction to this column is that, as an Athenian, it makes me happy that you feature two Athens bands of yore.

I stumbled on reaction videos a couple of years ago and go through periods where I binge watch a few. I’m familiar with and like several of the channels you mention, especially RobSquad and Jamel/Jamal. I also like Popcorn in Bed, which is a movie reaction channel. The host and her sister seem very genuine.

Low4
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January 19, 2024 11:31 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Easy for me to spot, since I live in Athens and was a student here at UGA back in the late ’70s/early ’80s.

cstolliver
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January 19, 2024 4:54 pm
Reply to  Low4

Chris Molanphy has a Hit Parade episode that juxtaposes the two, if I remember correctly.

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 19, 2024 10:25 am

A great piece on a phenomenon that’s suddenly everywhere!

At some point in my travels to Japan (maybe 2007), I noticed more and more TV shows that featured a small group of critics who reacted to the show as it unfolded. There were some formal cuts for their commentary, but there was also a small screen to show their facial reactions in real time as the show went on. It was so odd to me when I first saw it, but it makes sense. We are social animals, and our emotions are validated and amplified by watching others react to something as it’s going on.

It certainly makes perfect sense as a format to revisit something that you love, and vicariously enjoy someone else experiencing it for the first time.

There are video game playthroughs that are many hours long each, and these are incredibly popular on Twitch and YouTube. I don’t deny watching someone visit some significant emotional beats from Hollow Knight, not to mention someone’s absolute frustration with some of the harder parts of the game.

But there’s also musician reaction videos for video game soundtracks! Here’s one I enjoyed:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK4rUyYEb7c

Aaron3000
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January 19, 2024 10:25 am

Nice, you’re in my wheelhouse lol.

Aside from those you’ve mentioned, there’s two more (in Florida) who I’ve got subscribed. One is Andy & Alex, a couple of young dudes from Tampa who get bonus points for playing the song all the way through and then giving their in-depth discussion/grades at the end. Then there’s Brad & Lex (the Couch Gang), a married couple from Clearwater who stopped posting to YouTube about a year ago (due to copyright strikes), but most of their videos are still up. Brad sits stone-faced during the song while Lex dances in her seat, and has some of the weirdest ways to describe how the song sounds (usually food-related).

Also, since you brought up Charismatic Voice, my favorite meta moment is when she reacted to “I Believe In a Thing Called Love”, then Justin Hawkins of The Darkness reacted to her reaction, which culminated in the two of them having a two-plus-hour chat about singing techniques and a whole lot more:

https://youtu.be/zyl8rqEizic?si=1jFienej21JgdXWs

Last edited 1 month ago by Aaron3000
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January 19, 2024 10:26 am
Reply to  Aaron3000

Here’s the the first two reaction videos that led to that one:

Elizabeth reacts to Justin:

https://youtu.be/bZOiw34802k?si=pkPFAu-EOFGt_LcI

Justin reacts to Elizabeth:

https://youtu.be/ovXzWeMFBSg?si=RfhSypmBRpGEkAiS

Last edited 1 month ago by Aaron3000
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January 20, 2024 12:05 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Also, I’m a dope… Didn’t even notice until now that you already had Andy & Alex/Brad & Lex in your additional list! 🤦

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LinkCrawford
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January 19, 2024 11:09 am

I have a lifelong buddy that loves watching these, and is always encouraging me to watch one or another. I give in sometimes, and they can be fun! I definitely enjoy the ones that have more music background so they can comment on the technical aspects of a song, but that isn’t entirely necessary. I also tend to steer away from ones that seem to like every song they hear, or treat a simple key change as a life-changing, amazing moment. (It was just a key change…)
.
But I do enjoy them, and often learn things about the songs I love.

JJ Live At Leeds
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January 19, 2024 12:49 pm

I’ve never watched a reaction video. I’m torn between thinking I have no interest, curiosity given how well you’ve sold it and onto wondering how to find the time to introduce another distraction into my life.

If I give it a go, I’ll be sure to go with one of your recommendations.

JJ Live At Leeds
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January 19, 2024 1:15 pm

Bit late now to have this thought but to get things really meta we should have all recorded ourselves reading this and uploaded our own reactions.

Watching people read could be the new watching paint dry / cure for insomnia.

lovethisconcept
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January 19, 2024 6:32 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

So, I’m reading this on my laptop, and my chin was in my hand until I started typing.

cstolliver
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January 19, 2024 4:53 pm

Thanks for the fun read and good suggestions for videos to check out. During the height of the pandemic, I found myself watching the “TwinsthenewTrend” videos of music reactions, and I particularly enjoyed their reaction to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” I wasn’t always certain their videos were really their “first time” hearing the music, but their responses were entertaining nonetheless.

lovethisconcept
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January 19, 2024 6:45 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

I thought that one was really fun. They are not my favorites, but I have enjoyed some of their videos. I loved the one where Obama surprised them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jWjk5zA12U

lovethisconcept
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January 19, 2024 6:47 pm

I love to watch reaction videos. Lost in Vegas is my favorite. In fact, I have another open tab right now with their reaction of “Fortunate Son”. Shout-out to free thinkers everywhere!

cappiethedog
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January 20, 2024 1:01 am

“Harmonicas are back.”

-Caroline

“There’s a Place” is my favorite Beatles song. I was ecstatic when my friend first played it for me. He knew I liked The La’s. A while back, the mothership published an article which asked musicians to name their favorite Beatles song. Some artists went deep, really deep: The Quarrymen? Alas, no “There’s a Place” which sounds like it could have charted.

Oh, Caroline didn’t like it.

I’m crushed.

And it started out so promising, hence me hitting pause to quote her.

cappiethedog
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January 20, 2024 5:01 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I love the commentator for “Shiny Happy People”. I read against the grain all the time. I’m her audience. I’m willing to play along. I googled “Shiny Happy People”. Katherine Dieckmann is the director. She was at the helm for “Stand”.

“Stand in the place where you work,” if you want it to be, could be a reference to the “sent-down youth”. The four people dancing on the compass legend are college-aged. They all look like socially-conscious hipsters.

What is the first close-up?

Landed feet on “east”.

Maybe, just maybe, “Shiny Happy People” is an answer video to Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Kill”. (Which has been removed from the internet. Oh, no!)

Have a great day, Mr. Bois!

cappiethedog
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January 20, 2024 9:39 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

Oh, “Shiny Happy People” commentator, look what you’ve done.

0:21: A hammer and nail can be construed as communistic imagery.

0:28: My goodness. The hipsters, perhaps, are moving to the country. That wide dirt road.

0:41: An elderly woman is feeding ducks. It doesn’t look like a farm. But it could be a labor camp of sorts. Are the young people there? If yes,

the dance scenes play like a propaganda video. Look how shiny and happy they all look.

2:29: Cow. The hipsters are milking cows.

2:42: The turning of a screw, metaphorically, suggests something terrible.

2:46: Friends and family waving goodbye to their loved ones.

Gosh, I loved being in class. Doing exactly this.

Ozmoe
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January 20, 2024 8:32 am

This is a wonderful blog on a topic dear to my heart. It gives me such joy and hope when younger listeners discover, say, the incredible vocal talent of Karen Carpenter on display during the 1970s. But my favorite reaction compilation video has to be this one. Look how astounded everyone is about how hard Ram Jam rocked “Black Betty” back in 1977: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjO7CMFx4Q0

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