Old Music, New Ears: Those “Reaction” Videos

It’s one of the sweet ironies of music fandom. We have our favorite songs stuck in our souls for decades, but will never again experience the elation of hearing these numbers for the very first time. Fortunately, others do have this experience: YouTube provides young listeners, new to the music we know so well, sharing their experiences as they film themselves listening to these tunes. It makes for an engaging experience.

“Reaction Videos” have become an addictive cottage industry, combining the pleasures of vintage music and the uplifting responses of people giving their initial impressions of the tunes we know, love, and take somewhat for granted. Here’s a starter list of some great reaction videos that serve up welcome positivity and music appreciation.

Andy & Alex, reacting to The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreaming”

Andy & Alex are a popular YouTube duo, college students in a fun basement-y setting. They give off a whiff of “Wayne’s World” mixed with genuine musical knowledge and likability. It’s a joy to watch them listen and react to The Mamas & The Papas’ 1965 classic as they bliss out from the opening notes and onward. They go off into shared head bobs and excitedly discuss the harmonies, LP cover art and musicianship (“That flute was better than 60-80% of all guitar solos!”). Andy & Alex give us an increased appreciation through the freshness of their viewpoint.

Empress Joy-Jean, reacting to Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky”

This is one of the most poignant and affecting reaction videos out there, delivered by Empress Joy-Jean, a beautiful Nigerian lady with soul and insight to spare. Her visceral reaction as she listens to Pink Floyd’s aching ode to the ultimate acceptance of death and the peace that follows is extraordinarily moving. As soon as Empress Joy-Jean hears the otherworldly vocals of singer Clare Torry, she immediately grasps the arc of the song and is moved to tears and insights that will stir anyone with a pulse.

HarriBest, reacting to Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles”

Harri is a quietly witty, astute reactor as he takes a dive into the musical and lyrical nuances of Billy’s classic track. He listens to it with a musician’s full concentration, then parses out the song with fresh observations, analysis and humor. He is an appreciator from within and without and does right by Billy Preston’s music as he hears it for the first time.

Jamel_AKA_Jamal, reacting to Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come”

Jamal is a well-established YouTube reactor with a large following who appreciate his joie de vivre and total dedication to classic rock. He gets a fabulous little shoulder dance going when he gets immersed in the music and has a buoyant demeanor that would make him fun to watch in any context. Here, reviewing Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” he goes into a little spasm of glee at the 1:49 mark when he realizes this is a tune he had heard before, but he didn’t know its name or the band that made it a hit. He takes us through the enjoyable vintage visuals of their live 1970s performance and groove, enhancing the appeal of an already cool song.

Rob Squad Reactions, reacting to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”

The Rob Squad is a young married couple, J and Amber, who sizzle with good cheer and upbeat vibes. Their unconditional love for one another, their audience, and the music they review in their daily offerings make them a winsome pair. Here, they react for the first time to the entirety of “Little Red Corvette” as performed live by Prince in the 1980s. And we get the hilarious, relatable experience of seeing the moment when Amber keels over for Prince (with his stylin’ swag and unbridled sexuality) in the way that most of us did back in the day. They don’t completely grasp the risqué complexities of the track, but they begin to get the gist as husband and wife gleefully bond over their amazement for the late cherished artist.

Sarah Dengler, reacting to The Bee Gees’ “Too Much Heaven”

Sarah Dengler is a lovely, spirited Nigerian reactor, broadcasting from Germany. She unspools with astonishment while listening to the Bee Gees’ harmonies and instrumentals for the first time. It’s truly heartening to see Dengler take such stunned pleasure in a track that has become so much a part of our shared playlist that we don’t think to appreciate its miracles anymore. She schools us mightily as her eyes widen, her jaw drops and she asks, “Is this real?” “How is this possible?” Her unfettered glee makes us reflect anew on the pure joy of music. Cue the tears of gratitude.

-Ellen Fagan

Photo: Getty Images


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Ellen Fagan is a forever New Yorker, long-time Greenwich Village resident and vintage Duke University graduate with hippie-esque leanings. The best description of Ellen was given to her by a sardonic lawyer during the voir dire of one of her myriad Jury Duty stints: "...housewife, mom, voracious reader, freelance writer, copy editor, jewelry designer and frequent cyber-sleuth."

3 comments on “Old Music, New Ears: Those “Reaction” Videos

  1. Tom Chargin

    Wonderful. Remember watching Mama’s and the Papa’s
    From front row at Civic Auditorium in San Jose 1967 as a 14 year old. My first ‘rock’ concert.

  2. Ellen this is my favorite piece of yours yet. What a wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon! Empress Joy Jean is my favorite reactor of this bunch. Her face is so expressive!

  3. Steve Lux

    Hi Ellen. Great piece! I would also recommend Call Me Caroline, a musician and reactor from Austrailia. She went through every Beatle album in order and I loved watching her discover my favorite band!

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