Black YouTube creators often react to genres as diverse as Kpop, thrash metal, and opera.
There's been renewed controversy in recent months about how non-white artists are often pigeonholed or overlooked at music awards.
Hip hop has overtaken rock as the United States' best-selling music genre, yet artists like Tyler, the Creator, have brought up how Black artists are labeled as only "rap" or "urban" acts by the Grammys. BTS is just as popular as Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish, but this year the MTV Music Awards created a new Kpop category instead of adding them to the pop category.
"All artists need to be validated on some level, and until Black artists get full validation for all their contributions to popular music, none of these industry awards mean shit," says Anthony Baber, a Black American DJ who plays a diverse range of music on his radio show in South Korea. "Everything you hear is just the next group/culture discovering black music (soul, gospel, whatev) and fitting it to their style, without giving credit to where it came from."
There's a lot of stereotypes that still exist about music consumers as well, such as the notion that Black music fans don't listen to "white people" or "non-Black" music. Meanwhile, Black YouTube creators are constantly breaking these stereotypes, reacting to genres as diverse as Kpop, thrash metal, and opera. In fact, young Black men are some of the most enthusiastic fans of Kpop, although mainstream media tends to paint Kpop stans as white and Asian teens.
Some of these channels have huge subscriber bases, and their comments sections are prime examples of generational and racial divides dissolving. It's pretty magical.
Here are five videos that give us a taste of the dynamism of what's going on over on Black YouTube:
No Life Shaq reacts to Pantera - "Domination" (live)
Often extremely white and aggressive, heavy metal might be one of the least historically Black-friendly music genres. However, heavy metal also provides the soundtrack to some of the best reaction videos.
This Pantera performance—performed for over a million people in a Russian airfield during the last days of the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991—is already tinged with aggro surrealism. Now add No Life Shaq's reaction, grooving to the kamikaze guitar riffs.
"The more I get into this heavy metal genre...I'm gonna go to a concert...I'm missing out on life if I don't," Shaq says in the video.
At 7:06, Shaq's "WHAT THE F*CK!!" cranium-grab at the virtuosity of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott (the legendary guitar soloist who was shot and killed onstage in 2004 by a deranged fan) is like that of any Pantera neophyte, listening to Dime for the first time.
Also like anyone listening to Pantera for the first time, Shaq throws off his headphones in the middle of the song, mumbles in shock and awe and takes a few moments to walk the crackling energy off.
JBLETHAL TV reacts to Luciana Pavarotti - "Nessun dorma"
TV shows like Hannibal—which easily convince audiences that opera is designed to thrill the stone hearts of European psychopaths like Dr. Lecter—play into the idea that opera is the bastion of the old, the white, the well-heeled and privileged prep school crew. Classical music executives often bemoan the shrinking of their aging fan base, but the industry's outreach to the younger generation holds that same invisible assumption: that young white people of yore are the prime audiences of the future.
Meanwhile, one of the most authentic reactions to classical music ever features a young Black man pausing a reaction video to Luciano Pavarotti's rendition of "Nessun Dorma" because tears are about to run down his face.
Already Pavarotti's signature song, this live performance has everything that may turn off any American under the age of 50—non-English language, not a single synth instrument, and a distinct lack of any familiar pop music structure.
And yet, JBLETHAL TV is vibing hard. The highlight of his reaction is at 5:27, at the spine-tingling culmination point where Pavarotti's tenor voice soars into another dimension, prompting JBLETHAL TV to pump his fist in full-on hype mode.
XXYungLordXX reacts to BTS "Mic Drop"
"I don't know what they're saying...but I fuck with this!" says XXYoungLordXX about BTS, Korea's most famous music act.
The description box simply says "BTS IS LIT!" but XXYoungLordXX and rapper AK Da Cannon's reaction to BTS's "Mic Drop" is one of the most popular Kpop reaction videos on the platform. Kpop is deeply influenced by hip hop, which bands like BTS have acknowledged via million dollar donations to Black Lives Matter.
The two, who mainly react to hip hop music, are boppin' and smokin' right out the gate as they compliment the style, swagger, and beats of BTS. The whole reaction video is a mood, but their pointed appreciation of Korean rap comes in at 4:46, when both agree that RM's rap section is their favorite (they also agree that RM looks like Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy). RM and Suga of BTS were part of the underground rap scene in the Korean cities of Seoul and Daegu, so the shout-out from American rappers has no doubt helped BTS themselves break stereotypes of being a typical Kpop band.
Too LIT Mafia reacts to Slipnot "Spit it Out" (live)
Within two minutes, Too Lit Mafia pauses the video, wondering aloud why he is vibing so hard that he's putting on his "game face" as if he's at the concert in-person.
Slipknot is known for their Halloween-esque stage costumes and "numetal" sound, which is heavy metal mixed with other genres, mainly rap (other numetal acts like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park also feature rap heavily). The opportunity to create and combine new genres of music has been afforded to white musicians for a long time, though it's definitely not a new phenomenon, and artists like Lil Nas X are bringing new awareness as to how Black artists have also long been blending genres.
This reaction video caught the attention of Slipknot lead singer, Corey Taylor, who wrote on his Twitter during Black Lives Matter protests: "If I can offer people a moment to take their minds off of our national hurt, I want to extend the invite to @toolitmafia for an evening with Slipknot."
A definite highlight of the video is Too Lit Mafia's expression at 8:03 at Slipknot's Joey Jordison's drum turning.
BRISxLife reacts to BLACKPINK - 'How You Like That'
One of the biggest Kpop reaction channels is run by BRISxLife, who has been reacting almost exclusively to Kpop for years and has also vlogged extensively about going to concerts and even interviewing up-and-coming Kpop groups.
This whole video is a vibe, to be honest, and filled with commentary that shows that BRISxLife is a legit superfan, not just a bandwagon jumper. At 2:41, he swings his arms like Lisa, and says "y'all know where that's from!" (referencing BLACKPINK's previous hit 뚜두뚜두 (DDU-DU DDU-DU)
Fun fact: Black creators have been amongst the pioneers of Kpop reaction fans - some of the very first Kpop reaction videos were from more than 8 years ago by Black British fans, and it has been their seal of approval has helped Kpop gain traction in America.
One of the insidious assumptions that plagues Black creators is that they aren't interested in a variety of genres, so it may be easy to write off these featured creators as outside-the-norm. This couldn't be further from the truth; a simple search shows Black creator after Black creator making reaction videos about a broad range of music.
"I have heard many times that all blacks just listen to rap. I've been stereotyped from the moment I started reacting," says JB LETHAL TV. "I have a genuine love for all genres of music and I was not afraid to step out and show that."
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