Does being a music fan qualify a person to be a music critic? While some professionals may be skeptical, many music lovers are taking to YouTube to express their views about singles and albums to a young but informed audience. It's a phenomenon that is gaining momentum at a time when professional critics find their métier impacted by musicians who are increasingly self-promoting their works.
Anthony Fantano is one of these music fans who has become a music critic on YouTube, posting his critiques under The Needle Drop channel. Fantano has been practising this activity for over a decade and boasts over 2.26 million followers on the video-sharing platform. And he posts critiques for fans of all kinds of music genres, from BLACKPINK to 21 Savage, The Velvet Underground to Rihanna. Fantano is a self-described music geek who authoritatively deciphers yesterday's and today's music alike in unapologetic fashion.
"Legendary Detroit rapper comes back, releases a sequel to some of his most disliked albums 'Relapse' and 'Recovery.' In a way this album is like a meditation on his waning relevance," he said about Eminem's "Revival," adding bluntly that this album was simply "bad."
His reviews are blunt and direct and can even have an influence on certain musical careers. According to the New York Times, Anthony Fantano helped relaunch Rhode Island rock band Daughters, thanks to a bombastic video review concerning their fourth album "You Won't Get What You Want."
And while Anthony Fantano is a leading YouTube figure in this area, he is not the only one bringing new life to music reviews on the platform. Todd Nathanson, aka Todd in the Shadows, shares more elaborate video reviews with his 371,000 followers. Together his videos have accumulated more than 87.5 million views on his YouTube channel!
"When I started doing this, it was a novelty [on YouTube.] Taking pop music seriously was part of the joke. But nowadays, that's completely normal -- we've got a billion Patrick Batemen. Everyone takes it seriously. Back in the day when 'American Psycho' was written, that was how we knew he was crazy -- that he took pop music too seriously. And nowadays it's just the normal conversation," Todd Nathanson told Billboard.
Meanwhile, Eric Callero has adopted a more retro approach in the videos that he shares with his 135,000 vinyl-loving followers. He reviews albums from Pink Floyd to the Beatles as well as jazz legends like John Coltrane. Another YouTuber, Shawn Cee, has opted for a more understated way of presenting his reviews, which focus on big names in rap and hip-hop such as J. Cole, Logic, Travis Scott and Kid Cudi.
"Reaction videos" are booming
Shawn Cee is also known for his "reaction videos," in which he films himself listening to a tune or an album for the first time. This voyeuristic format, which allows viewers to see the listener's emotions (surprise, disapproval, love) directly on his/her face, is gaining traction on the platform.
Over 7.5 million users watched Tim and Fred Williams (aka Twins the New Trend) discovering Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" for the first time. While the two American brothers had posted hundreds of similar videos since they created their channel in 2015, this one quickly became a viral sensation.
"I never knew that reaction videos were even a thing! I love your respect for the older artists and passion for their music. Our music. Now your music. You make us oldies feel like we are the ones hearing our favorites for the first time, through young ears," commented a YouTube user describing herself as an "old white lady."
The resulting collective enthusiasm for this 1981 Phil Collins tune even had an impact on music sales, which saw growth of 1100% following the Williams twins' video in July. A result that confers a certain level of legitimacy on these new music critics and the way they target a wider public than the music press does.
With this new generation of influencers, the old guard is trying to strike back amidst an economic climate that is extremely uncertain for the music press. While magazines like Mixmag and The Fader temporarily suspended their print publications as a result of the health crisis, Billboard and Rolling Stone recently announced that they are now part of the same press group, PMRC. A move that could lead to a certain standardization of their content, according to some experts in the industry.
"The fact [is], these parent companies are certainly not independent," said journalist Cherie Hu to Pitchfork magazine. "I think that indirectly affects the kind of stories they're focused on, and the extent to which they can be critical of the industry in which they're participating."