by Keidra Chaney
The YouTube Music Awards are a great idea. While Spotify and Pandora gets most of the attention (and the scorn) when it comes to music discovery apps, lots of music fans go to YouTube first for music discovery and sharing. YouTube has created stars in Justin Bieber, Lana Del Rey and Macklemore (whether you actually think they deserve their stardom is another issue altogether) Thanks to YouTube/Google’s search algorithm and simple functionality it’s really hard to beat it as a music discovery tool, and YouTube taking advantage of that, as they should. By all accounts, the award show itself was a stilted mess and watched by less than 200,000 viewers. (Not a surprise; YouTube is too slow and clunky for streaming most of the time.) However, YouTube’s music awards notably acknowledge the importance of online culture as a driving force for the music industry, in ways that the industry itself can’t seem to wrap their heads around.
Particularly for fans of non-mainstream/Top 40/non-U.S/U.K. music genres, YouTube becomes a lifeline for new music discovery, and a source of community and conversation. I’m thinking of K-pop here, but also for a bunch of other genres like metal, EDM and Christian pop/rock. The comments here rival the volume of conversation on a fan blog or dedicated social community. And most importantly, YouTube’s conversation is fan-driven, and lacking in the gate-keeping and hierarchy of more traditional outlets. That freedom to discover, to communicate, to respond is what makes YouTube such a great forum for niche fans to connect and mobilize. And mobilize they do. Check out any YouTube posting for Girls Generation (or any K-Pop group, really) and you’ll see a global community of fans stumping for their beloved group in a variety of award categories. This happens with other fan communities, certainly, but because so much of that global fan conversation is focused on YouTube, it makes total sense that mobilizing fans would be easier for K-pop fans here.
And YouTube knows this, I think. YouTube can position itself to cater to these niche music fandoms in a way that other music discovery communities can’t do, because of the volume of conversation and interaction that only YouTube has right now. It’s one of the few environments where that holy grail of online culture – engagement – actually happens in one place, especially for niche fan communities that don’t have anywhere else to go, really. So if YouTube continues these awards, an “upset” like Girls Generation will more than likely happen again, and again, and again, until it’s less of an “upset” and more like the standard.