Feature: The rise of the reaction video – and anyone can do it

YouTube. What would we do without it, right now? One of the few ways that remain of accessing ‘live gigs’ for starters – the ones you attended at least, whether they were filmed professionally or shakily on a ‘phone – or your favourite ones that you didn’t attend. A trip down Memory Lane in the hope there will be more memories in the future.

But I don’t want to talk in general terms about the value of YouTube, rather about the rise of the ‘Reaction Video’ (RV), by way of reference to one band. Before December 2018 I wasn’t aware such things existed. Then I went to my first Nightwish gig. This is a band I was aware of, by way of a YT video of the Finns’ last ever performance with their original singer, Tarja Turunen, before they sacked her, and in particular their take on the theme tune to ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, which is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen and heard from any rock band. So much so that I’ll slip it in, here, in case you’ve never seen it.

So while I’m no metalhead (I vaguely follow a couple of other metal bands, that’s it) off I went to the Manchester Arena and came away a big Nightwish fan, and remain so to this day. As I discovered more about them the more of these reaction videos I found, and their number has multiplied almost exponentially just recently.

Conservatively, I estimate that there are now as many as 1,000 RVs on Nightwish songs and live performances alone and hundreds just on their signature opus ‘Ghost Love Score’, especially the live performance at the Wacken Festival in Germany in 2013. As for how many RVs there are overall, that’s anyone’s guess; tens if not hundreds of thousands.

Many of the Nightwish ones focus specifically on their current vocalist, Floor Jansen. Let me interject for a moment to say the following. ‘Ghost Love Score’ is in my humble opinion possibly the most impressive song written this century and Nightwish concurrently possibly the leading arena band and the most under-rated. That’s open to discussion. But if Jansen isn’t the #1 female vocalist in contemporary music I don’t know who – apart from Turunen – is. Check out ‘Shoemaker’ from the most recent album and give me the name of any female vocalist who can replicate what Jansen does in five minutes; from belting rock to top class operatic soprano. And she can do it live.

And that is why so many of these RVs are from professional vocal coaches; at least half of them in this instance. It’s a simple matter of them using social media to further their career of course, but it’s a two-way process because you can learn a hell of a lot about music from them, and while you’re actually enjoying a video.  

Apart from the voice coaches other large contributing sections are active or retired musicians and what you might call the serious music fans who want everyone to know their opinion, but usually not egotistically. The former can often also bring a professional perspective, naturally, while the latter might make up for a lack of expert nous by researching the subject in depth. In both cases their videos are often both entertaining and informative.

At this stage I’m going to drop in just one example (if I included many of my favourites you’d be here all night). This one is of ‘Ghost Love Score’ (I’ll stick to the script) by a YT legend, HalfLife Sistah, which has almost racked up one million views. While her husband, who goes by the name of ‘Wolfkain’, provides the serious, insightful input, Sistah’s job is mainly to cry, which she could do for America at the Olympics. And Wolf has his moments. They’ve been around a long time and review all genres. In this one she has just been introduced to Nightwish while Wolf hasn’t listened to them since Tarja was fired. A little weird, sometimes distracting, but always entertaining.

Then there is a vast alternative range of reactors such as other metal musicians and from other genres, including pop at one extreme and rap/grime at the other, roadies, music enthusiasts who do no more than repeat ‘Wow’ every minute or so, from start to finish, even fathers and daughters, mothers and sons; all drawn to another form of music they may not be aware of, by accident or design.

Some are embarrassingly amateurish and others so professional as not to talk over the music, leaving that until the end, and inserting text clip comments during the performance.

By design I mean that for the band’s followers there is method. The majority of hits come from them and they bombard the reactors with requests. They are usually happy to oblige because they soon learn they will get typically 50k to 500k hits on each one of them. So the business is being driven rather more by demand than by supply, which then increases the supply and generates more demand, a virtuous circle.

But the circle also increases the artist/bands’ awareness. Every hip hop head who reacts to Nightwish introduces them to a new audience from their own speciality; in this case of similarly minded hip hop heads. It has pushed Nightwish to the point, almost 25 years after they started, where they are one of the most sought after bands on the planet.  Certainly the fastest growing ‘established’ band. 

To be honest it is all getting a little overwhelming now. And it does pose a serious question. Just as paid-for music magazines have been superseded by amateur/semi-pro e-zines and blogs there is the risk that they could succumb to the onslaught of the RVs. Video killed the Blog star. Why bother to read a review when you can listen to and watch a performance along with an accompanying spoken review? Furthermore, as I suggested in the headline, anyone with a YouTube account and access to the right equipment can do it, irrespective of the value of their opinion. Music appreciation thoroughly democratised?

And why do blogs not do it?

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