On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked if I would consider doing “Reaction” videos to unfamiliar tunes, then post them to YouTube. It’s not something I’ve really given much thought to. And given the absolute glut of such clips on the site, I don’t know if I would really be adding anything of use.
For the uninitiated, “reaction” videos consist of various music fans taking on a band or tune they’ve never heard and offering up their immediate impressions of said band or tune. Some reactions are more dramatic than others, and the takeaway is usually the band gaining a new fan or two because of the tune.
It’s a pleasant enough concept, I guess. Not long ago, I found myself stumbling into this particular rabbit hole. Before too long, I began to see a few similarities. Some were more positive than others. And most told me why I’m not really the right person to do these things. I offer a few notes:
(By the way, I have come nowhere near seeing every one of these videos. The conclusions I reach can be construed as sweeping generalizations worthy of deeper study. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much time on my hands.)
- Most of the people doing these videos are playing the role of the “fish out of water.” For example, a hip-hop fan is introduced to progressive rock or metal; or a classical composer is introduced to an intricate rock piece; or a country fan learns about jazz. You get the idea. The point is, the listener is pulled outside of his comfort zone and sent somewhere he normally wouldn’t go. That won’t work for me because I’m pretty open when it comes to receiving music, which means I rarely feel out of place. (I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying I’m fairly adaptable.)
- Most of the participants are millennials playing music from the early 80’s to the 90’s. Their exposure to music seems (or pretends) to be, for the most part, one-dimensional. That won’t work for me, either. I’m very much Generation X and have gone out of my way to find new and interesting musical forms. To say nothing of the fact that I grew up listening to the music they’re reacting to.
- The videos are a living testament to why we MUST have music education classes in our schools. Some of these kids seem to have NO idea where music comes from, or how it’s made. They can’t conceive of an instrument outside the human voice. They think beats come from producers, as opposed to DRUMMERS. They have no idea how drum kits work! (“Why does he have all those drums? How does he know which one to hit?”) They are completely unaware of the sounds a guitar can make, aside from the obvious. They mistake guitars for basses (since they both have strings) and synthesizers for pianos (since they both have black and white keys). Needless to say, I can tell the difference. That all started with having music classes in my school.
- Most of the music being analyzed comes from progressive rock/metal bands like Pink Floyd, Rush, or Tool. I have more than a little music from those bands seared into my brain from decades of listening. Surprising me would be quite difficult. I suppose I could choose some more obscure music, but the goal is to react to songs many people know.
- “Reaction” videos seem to involve the listener stopping the song being explored frequently in order to offer up an immediate impression. This goes COMPLETELY against my internal programming. I need to hear the ENTIRE song in context before I can offer up an educated impression. Stopping a tune mid-riff or phrase is positively MADDENING! My OCD musical brain will NOT allow it! Besides, they might get the answers to their questions if they’d just let the song reach its conclusion!
So, there’s that.
My former career necessitated the ability to tell when someone was lying to me. Which is why I think I can get away with saying more than a few of these videos seem a little contrived, and the reactions seem a bit less than genuine. It’s like the reviewer spent a little time looking for the perfect, catch-worthy phrase and it took a couple of tries to capture it. I can’t prove that, but it’s the vibe I got.
Still, I have found a couple of rather enjoyable moments, like when these two were introduced to the music of Rush:
Or when this young lady experienced David Gilmour’s guitar work in Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”:
Or this guy digging the drum work of Tool’s Danny Carey:
Are they all 100 percent genuine? I’d be lying if I said I knew for sure. But I kinda doubt it. (Though I was kind of touched by the Pink Floyd reaction.) Regardless, I don’t think I’m the right kind of person for this kind of thing.
Don’t get me wrong: I react to music all the time. I’d just be doing it “wrong,” based on all these other clips. So … never mind. I think I’ll pass.
In the end, my best reaction appears to be not to react at all.
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell
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