20 of ’20: #16. Reaction Videos

All my life I’ve loved music, and all my life I’ve wanted people to love the same music I love. It’s a delicate dance, sometimes, trying to get the people close to you to love the music you love. Over time, you learn to be selective, whittling down the people who may respond well to the music you suggest. In younger years I would tell everyone to listen to the music I love, disappointed when they weren’t interested. Now I have three or four friends that I text on a regular basis, “Hey, listen to __________. I think you might like it,” and who respond positively.

A couple of years ago, however, I discovered an avenue to scratch the itch for someone else to love the music I love: The YouTube Reaction Video. The premise is simple. One or two people listen to a song they’ve never heard before, and post a video of their reaction to it. When I first discovered the Reaction Video, it was a secret corner of the internet which I thought was only known to me and the people who posted the videos. In 2020, the Reaction Video took off, and I was there for it.

All total, I’ve probably watched over 20 separate reaction videos to Sugarland’s song “Stay.” Like many country story-songs, it contains the perfect element for a reaction– a revelation or (in the case of “Stay”) a twist at the end. It also is a great test song to see if the reactor gets the twist. It takes me back to my childhood and teenage years, sharing a song with someone and looking at their face, just hoping they would get it the way I did.

The Reaction Video reached its peak in 2020 with a pair that have become the kings of the Reaction Video, the guys from TwinsTheNewTrend. These are two young twin brothers who grew up in a religious household that didn’t allow them to listen to music outside of gospel. Not they are getting older, and have decided to listen to all the music they were denied when they were kids. They became my favorite early this year, because they actually REACT to the music, without spending much time pushing pause to dissect what is going on. They became a hit this year with their perfect reaction to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”, earning a visit with Barack Obama, who encouraged them in their pursuit of understanding the music from a wide range of genres. Watching their reaction to the iconic drum refrain of “In the Air Tonight” reminded me of what I felt when I first heard it. It reminded me of joy and surprise.

One thing of note about Reaction Videos: Most of them are from people of color, and MANY of them are their reaction to music recorded by white people. This speaks all the ways that black and brown people have bent over backwards to understand the world of white people, without the same amount of reciprocation. It was also an exercise in what artists like Rhiannon Giddens and Mickey Guyton have tried to graciously teach us the past few years: The music of poor whites and poor black people from the early days of our country come from the same tributaries, and belongs to all of us. It’s time we share in both the music, and the bounty.

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