Do you remember the first time? The joys of YouTube reaction videos

Do you remember the first time? The joys of YouTube reaction videos

Earlier this month a wonderful thing – remember those? – happened. Twin brothers Tim and Fred Williams, who post YouTube vids under the name Twinsisthenewtrend, shared a clip that went viral. In it, the affably enthusiastic 21-year-olds sit down to listen to Phil Collins’s moody, 1981 reverb anthem In the Air Tonight. And, well, that’s it. The clip is just them, doing that. But their reactions made it one of the most talked-about videos of the year, clocking up over six million views in three weeks. Because there’s a twist: the twins had never heard this song before. Their minds are suitably, and adorably, blown.

“I ain’t never seen nobody drop a beat three minutes in a song!” they hoot, delighted, after Phil clatters in with that drum fill – the one we’ve been so familiar with for so long that it’s passed into the graveyard of hoary old cliche. But hearing it through fresh ears – their ears – and watching the twins as they’re floored for the first time reminded people what an amazing musical moment it is. As a direct result of the clip, the song shot to No 2 in the US iTunes charts.

First-reaction videos have been a thriving, and rather joyous, subsection of social media for years. In 2018, YouTuber Bman shared a video of him experiencing Bohemian Rhapsody cold. Watching the full gamut of human emotions – gentle contemplation, wistful sadness, wide-gobbed amazement – shimmer across his face, as the song lunges from one operatic movement to the next, is nothing short of wonderful. “WHERE HAVE I BEEN?!” he asks at the end, on the verge of tears. Bohemian Rhapsody is such a pillar of music that it’s taken for granted, in the same way gravity is taken for granted. Bman reminds you what a monumental achievement Freddie Mercury managed to pull off, because you’re right there with him, hearing it anew.

If you sometimes think “If I hear Lynyrd Skynrd’s Free Bird one more time, I’m going to catch that stupid bird and throttle it”, then allow YouTuber No Life Shaq to remind you how flat-out brilliant it is. If Heart’s cheesetastic Never has started to pong, then Sincerely, KSO will Febreze the guff away with her sheer, unbridled joy. Enter Sandman sending you to sleep? Tom Fearon’s slack-jawed amazement might make you reconsider. Their enthusiasm is infectious. As viewers, it goes beyond simple nostalgic appreciation of these songs: it’s a way of reliving your own first experiences of them by proxy.

Most importantly, despite predictably joyless accusations that many of the videos are staged, they represent a level of wholesomeness that is sorely lacking in music appreciation right now. No snark, no whataboutery, absolutely no pretension. Just people loving some great music, possibly reminding you that you – yes, you – still love it, too.

Environment