MUSIC REVIEWS: THE MEDIUM MATTERS

The mode of review, is possibly just as important as the music.


By Tyler Bonson: Music Columnist


Anthony Fantano, a hugely popular personality and music reviewer who uploads videos to a main channel (theneedledrop), a second channel (fantano), and used to upload to a now inactive channel (thatistheplan), was profiled by The New York Times at the end of September 2020.

The piece details how Fantano was inspired by similar video formats and personalities for other cultural areas, and how he developed and now leads the music review/reaction content creator community. The review and reaction distinction is an interesting one. How do these similar and yet different approaches to music play out?

Reviews and/vs./or reactions; here, distinctions can be arbitrary. All differences and similarities appear valid. One is the other: a reaction is a review; a review is a reaction. And yet, they are distinct in terms of the product’s intention and marketing. “Reaction” videos, like ones by BIGQUINT INDEED, Rock Reacts, and ZIAS!, tend to be filmed in real-time, obviously, for the intended immediacy, capturing that surge of something, anything, everything. Whereas reviews tend to be after-the-fact, “considered,” and most likely at least bullet-point scripted. Fantano has his track “reviews”, which are built more like “reactions,” and his album reviews.

For track “reviews,” the viewer can see, though sped up, Fantano listening to the track for the first, and possibly second and third, time, while making quick notes, before giving his off-the-cuff and immediate opinions on the track immediately after. There is no cut, no delay. His album reviews are more scripted, with visible cuts, sometimes with dubs or super-imposed, post-production audio-visual recordings and on-screen corrections, and sometimes with skits.

With Fantano, there isn’t a sense that one is any less valid than the other; it is more of a reaction to the music product itself: track and album: teasers for the final full-length product. There’s a trend that follows this too. Most reaction videos are for singles or music videos. Though BIGQUINT is a notable exception, as is ShawnCee, reacting to albums, in real-time, with videos cut to notable moments, to keep the video-length appropriate. Logically, the video’s length is part of the essence of why this content is so popular. It’s easily consumable (not to patronise, but: consider the well documented tendency of quick, fun, and next-one consumption of contemporary culture). It’s functional, it’s marketable.

Fantano’s track “reviews” are more like reactions. But he isn’t marketing himself as a reactor. He is a professional music reviewer. “The internet’s busiest music nerd.” This is his brand. Hence, “reviews” not “reactions”. There could be a sense of gatekeeping in this implicit distinction. To be taken as professional, serious, a “music nerd,” be a reviewer. It is a “craft.”


MACKAYAN: MUSIC REVIEWS, MEDIUM MATTERS

Reviewers are more accredited than reactors. Though this isn’t necessarily about who is “qualified.” If the requirement is to be a musician, reviewers and reactors are: Fantano plays bass, Dad React’s Ruairi plays drums, ZIAS’s B. Lou is a rapper. Producing music develops technical understanding, which is a valid topic of discussion for reviews/reactions, obviously, but doesn’t provide any greater understanding of the concept or emotion of an album. Reactors display an emotional connection with a track.

It is exactly what they intend and market. Though, cynically, they could exaggerate their reactions; it is no less valid. Discussing the emotions or concepts of an album has no quantifiable basis, per se. A reaction video going viral is a valuable marketing tool for artists and labels. Phil Collin’s ‘In The Air Tonight’ recently charted again after a pair of twin’s reaction went viral. Maybe this is the quantifiable validation for reaction videos, as labels and corporations see their product gain popularity and the reactors’ channel sees a large increase in traffic and subscribers.

These videos are remarkably valid, commercially. Fantano is quoted as saying he has the power to “break someone,” give their music an audience. The NYT article opens with an anecdote about Daughters’ You Won’t Get What You Want receiving a rare 10 from Fantano and how their sales and streaming numbers spiked. Artists also share their excitement or thanks for being mentioned by Fantano in his weekly track roundups, or getting retweeted by him, or just getting a shoutout. He has weight.

His work can offer similar commercial validity. Socially, both reactions and reviews can offer similar perks. Fantano and other “reviewers” – DeepCuts, Pad Chennington, ShawnCee – have active communities. They offer a space for people to discuss music. Reactors’ videos do the same and offer the chance for people to share clips like the ‘In The Air Tonight’ clip and initiate conversation. How music is narrativized becomes a key question then. Impulse-experience; theorising. How people position their selves in relation to music. Discourse is all that exists, which spikes like stocks.


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