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Digital culture: Youtube entertainment

Annoyingly brilliant!

Published 7:24 am on Thursday 26th August 2021 by Beat Magazine

If we think of social media stars, then mostly of pictures of model types - tanned, lightly dressed, a bright white smile on the photoshopped face. Mark Rebillet certainly does not correspond to this ideal type. He prefers to appear in a tightly cut silk bathrobe and crocodile leather shoes, sometimes exclusively in boxer shorts. When he grooves himself in ecstasy with his keyboard, drum machine and looping laptop, his head rotates on his neck, which is apparently much too thin, like that of a turtle, so that one worries that it might fall off. His videos have titles like „Bisexual Jesus“, „Oh god, this asshole again“ or „I made a song about my favorite thing.“ Nevertheless, Rebillet is a star by every imaginable definition. His YouTube channel has 1.5 million subscribers, his Facebook profile over 2 million fans (three times as many as Jean-Michel Jarre, for example), and his long-running hit “How to funk in two minutes” has almost 10 million views. There are now podcasts about him, interviews with him, reaction videos to his songs and hate videos designed as clickbait. Rebillet is a phenomenon - and part of a new generation of musicians, producers and fans who use innovative concepts to set up very individual niches in the apparently barren industry.

Inexplicable

Very soon there will certainly be many who want to copy or explain Rebillet. That can only fail because Rebillet is unique and, in its very own and occasionally annoying way, a little genius. One can understand his success. However, it is hardly possible to draw universally valid formulas and conclusions from it. For years, the French-American has been going from one restaurant/cafe/pub to another and has refined his fusion of stand-up comedy, slapstick, live looping, cheerful madness and sweaty beats there. Many of these early shows can be found on the Internet, filmed modestly but effectively with a single camera, and it is remarkable how over two to three hours Rebillet transformed every location into a witches’ cauldron and any audience, however unwilling, into a devout group of boisterous fans. In these shows everything is improvised, from the music to the lyrics to the humorous interludes. The audience becomes his accomplice, with whom he chats and argues jokingly, whose reactions he integrates into his sketches at lightning speed, to whose smallest impulse he responds with a musical hook. If you have the time and leisure to click your way through his shows online, you will hardly find any repetitions, but you will find the breathtaking productivity of a man who once described his concept as follows: “Even when nobody is watching you - especially when nobody is watching you - you have to create content that people can look at at some point.“

The power of the melon

In a new video series (keyword: „Dumb Frenchman recommends music!“) Rebillet now also gives music recommendations that show him in a more serious mood. This sudden change from sexy soul monster to reviewer may be surprising, but it is not quite so absurd. After all, it‘s part of Rebillet and his colleagues to constantly switch sides and mix up the most diverse activities. His friend, video blogger Anthony Fantano, better known for his “The Needle Drop” project, is a good example. The bald man with oversized round glasses, who is affectionately and disrespectfully called „melon hat“ by his fans and enemies because of his lack of hair, can today call himself the most influential music journalist on and off the internet. Records he reviews are heard, positive reviews can give a band a breakthrough. It is significant that some Linkin Park fans believed it was realistic that the scathing The Needle Drop review of the tragic farewell work „One More Light“ was responsible for frontman Chester Bennington‘s suicide. This is an amazing position of power because Fantano, with a few exceptions, is not interested in mainstream artists. His videos, although professionally edited, are made with minimalist equipment similar like those of Rebillet. A close-up view of the reviewer, the cover of the album and the well-stocked record cabinet in the background - that‘s all it takes for each review to reach up to 300,000 people watching. You may or may not like his reviews, some of which are excruciatingly long - the success of The Needle Drop, which is now a well-paying full-time job, is well deserved. Fantano understood YouTube as deeply as few others. In addition to his review channel, he runs two others, of which the one running under his family name „Fantano“ is perhaps the smartest. There he invites his social media followers to send him what they consider to be the worst lyrics or band names, which he then dissects with pleasure in his videos. At the same time, he goes through the discographies of Radiohead or Björk, from the best works to the worst, discusses why it is good that Daft Punk have broken up, introduces the albums with which a beginner “Synthie-Pop”, „Death Metal“ or „Ambient“ can approach. There was more comedy in the early stages of The Needle Drop. This part has shrunk considerably in the meantime. Instead, between all the talk, there is a less than four minutes short video in which Fantano jams on bass with Rebillet - a little gem. These features help Fantano to stay ahead in the competition. He has to, because countless competitors are now vying for the viewers‘ favor with nearly identical channels and overlapping music selections: „Obviously, a lot of what you find in this field today is heavily based on my aesthetic, style, and my way of talking,“ he knows.

The knowledge behind the hits

If all this is too silly, far-fetched and absurd for you, Rick Beato (pronounced Biato) might be able to help. The producer, engineer and guitarist uses his quasi-retirement to explain the music-theoretical background of current and past hits to an audience that is eager to learn something. One would think that there should hardly be any increased interest in this. But when the allegations of plagiarism against current songwriters increased for a while, trained musicians like Beato, who were able to make well-founded statements based on specific note examples and their huge experience in the industry, were suddenly in demand.

The video, in which Beato calmly explains why the court decision on the song „Blurred Lines“ by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams was a mistake was a pleasant victory of sanity in a heated situation. But even if Beato clearly enjoys teaching theory and generating part of his income from an expensive PDF book, he is not first and foremost a teacher, but a passionate listener. At regular intervals he goes through the current Spotify Top 10 in front of the camera and shares his feedback as a producer. He finds something to praise in almost every song, focuses on what makes the tracks special and gives a feeling for the qualities of today‘s producers. But the real hit on his channel is a series called “Why this song is great”. To do this, he digs through music history for his personal favorites and uses the multitracks to analyze why these classics are classics. That sounds pedantic and sometimes it is just that, but at the same time it is almost irresistible and addicting for music fanatics.

Rebillet, Fontano and Beato aren‘t even the biggest fish in the Youtube pond. The Swede Seth Everman takes a similar approach and thus reaches an even larger audience - perhaps also because videos like „How to create Billie Eilish‘s ‘Bad Guy’“, in which he rebuilds the hit with sofa cushions, dish scrubbers, his fingertips and an old Yamaha keyboard, come across a bit more rough and striking. But their success gives hope, as it shows ways to let your creativity run free outside of the well-known formats such as albums and concerts. To call Rebillet a great musician is actually an understatement. Still, it is unlikely that he will ever write a single song that will be played outside of his performances. And Rick Beato is more likely to be remembered for his attempts to educate people about harmony and songwriting than for his studio productions - even though he has already written a million-seller with the song „Carolina“.

It is not difficult to understand why these three Youtubers are so well received (or at least encounter such highly interested rejection). On the one hand, their channels offer support and fixed points in a music world that needs such support and fixed points more urgently than ever. Through their activities, Fantano & Beato define what is worth being part of the canon, what is worth being heard and discussed. They use the tendency of the net to hyper-specialize in order to present mainstream-compatible content in an exciting way and to delve deeper into it than one could ever have imagined. In sum, this creates a new kind of alternative mainstream, a basis for shared experiences that may only have been known to the Golf generation recently. In a way, a binge night with Mark Rebillet is what the Saturday evening with Thomas Gottschalk was for us or our parents - many thousands of others are certainly doing the same right now.

Above all, however, these formats lead to one central insight: in the end, music is entertainment and, despite all seriousness, can be sexy, silly or totally meaningless. It doesn‘t necessarily have to serve a purpose, provide ingenious gain in knowledge, or solve problems, except perhaps to relieve one‘s own boredom for a few minutes. Not every educated citizen will like this, nor will everyone who thinks the stars mentioned are more short-lived phenomena rather than real artists. But as a counterbalance to the superficial, hollow influencers, their contribution is definitely like a breath of fresh air.

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