A few years ago, an easy hack to get a couple of million views on YouTube was to make a video of you ‘reacting’ to Jake Paul’s latest song or old cable TV shows. YouTubers such as Ethan Klein (of h3h3productions), PewDiePie and JonTron skyrocketed to stardom when they entered the reaction video market. But over the years, the genre has drawn significant criticism. A number of creators, particularly Jack Douglas who runs Jacksfilms, one of the oldest channels on the platform, have labelled the reaction video format as “lazy.”
Recently, Douglas called out YouTube superstar Alia Shelesh, who goes by the moniker SSSniperwolf and has amassed 33 million subscribers. He claimed that Shelesh simply watched TikToks without adding any comedic insight, and profited off pre-existing content without giving due credit. Kinda like that classic bit from Bo Burnham’s most recent special Inside, with a YouTuber reacting to a reaction video of a reaction video of a reaction video (it’s reaction videos all the way down).
Similarly, Kick streamer Félix Lengyel—who recently signed a record-breaking exclusivity contract worth USD 100 million—has come under fire for playing videos of lesser-known creators such as LeMMiNO on stream while he’s off having lunch or doing his chores. This content re-mixing means fewer people go to watch the original video, stunting the growth of smaller, less-established creators on the platform.
This incredibly nuanced debate is currently raging in a very-not-nuanced way on the internet. It’ll take a while to see where public opinion eventually falls. But don’t worry, we’re not here to drag you into the online slug-fest. Instead, we’re here to remind you that there are plenty of creators out there putting their own spin on the reaction video genre, making it a lot more entertaining and engaging. Here are some of our favourites who create truly transformative reaction video content.
If we had to describe Cody Ko’s (born Cody Kolodziejzyk) YouTube content in one word, it would be “frictionless” (IYKYK). The YouTuber, podcaster, DJ and father-to-be first found fame on the short-form content platform Vine. He made the switch to YouTube in 2014. In the nine years since, Ko has racked up 6 million subscribers on his eponymous channel and 1.8 million subscribers on his second channel Cody & Ko.
His content largely consists of reacting to dating and reality TV shows, the work of outlandish creators like Jeremy Fragrance, and videos from some select subreddits. Ko got his start collaborating with his business and podcasting partner Noel Miller on their series That’s Cringe, which was an instant hit on the platform. His humour stems from his incredibly goofy online persona, which will remind you of that friend who always pauses the video you’re watching to dish out a quick zinger or two. He’s consistent, funny and consistently funny and you need to watch him now.
Nicholas D Green, better known as NickIsNotGreen on YouTube, has mastered the art of the sardonic put-down. In an interview with Character Media, an online publication which reports on the latest in Asian American culture, entertainment and news, he mentioned how difficult it is for him to “plug out”. That reflects in his content, where he uncovers hidden gems like “water influencers” and abysmal freestyle rappers.
Green’s videos are characterised by his youthful exuberance, even as he tackles issues of race and representation while staying true to his comedic style. His frequent collaborations with fellow content creators give him a chance to kick back, relax and showcase his quick-witted snark. He’s also known to mix in personal content, introducing his viewers to his beloved cat and even describing his own mental health struggles. Insightful social commentary, highbrow humour and outright foolishness, all are on full display on this channel.
Another Vine star who had to hopscotch over to YouTube, Drew Gooden has cemented himself as the go-to voice on all things pop culture. He’s got a lot to say about done-to-death franchises, internet trends and TV shows, and there are over 4 million people eager to tune into his hot takes. Gooden isn’t your typical reaction YouTuber though. Instead of just watching a video while intermittently making jokes, he adds a layer of interactivity by, for example, enrolling for the MasterClass he’s talking about. Or devising an AI bot to prove how easy it is to bypass copyright laws.
One standout characteristic of Gooden’s content is the in-depth research that informs his reactions or opinions. A video which drives this point home is Efficiency in Comedy, where Gooden reacts to an episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S and The Office, breaking it down into how many jokes were written into each episode, how much dead air the laugh track resulted in, and how true the writers are to the characters. He combines comedy and maths—a subject that comes up in a lot of his videos—to formulate a fully informed opinion. It naturally takes Gooden months to churn out one video, but he truly deserves your attention.
Another innovation in the reaction genre, Girlfriend Reviews has taken the backseat gaming phenomenon and made an engaging YouTube channel out of it. Operated by husband and wife duo Matt and Shelby, the channel answers the question “should your significant other play this video game?” one video at a time. Yes, they aren’t reacting to another piece of content. Rather, they are reacting to each other and how they behave while playing certain video games.
The couple kicked off their channel in 2018 with a review of Red Dead Redemption 2 and found instant success with that particular video racking up 2.5 million views. Their inherent chemistry shines through as they react to each other’s gaming skills. Unlike the sea of gamer-dudes who yell all day on YouTube, Girlfriend Reviews parts the polluted oceans with a relatable sense of humour and their cute banter.
Kenneth Morrison—or CinnamonToastKen as the YouTube community calls him—is one of the OGs on the platform. He created his channel 12 years ago, in the days of yore, and has put out a plethora of content including animated clips, gaming videos and now reactions. Ken is joined by his partner-in-crime Dane Dufford aka Buffpro as the duo watches old episodes of Dr Phil or To Catch A Predator while sharing a hearty laugh with each other and their fans.
As a father of four, Ken’s sense of humour has slowly evolved over the years and now mainly comprises of dad jokes. But that doesn’t stop him from calling out the idiosyncrasies of the content he’s watching. His infectious laughter makes any video an easy watch and before you know it, he’s taken over your home feed.