RELEVANT Roundtable is when we ask our slate of culture writers a question and compile their responses. This week’s question: What was your favorite YouTube video of 2018?
Matt Conner: Of all first-world problems, few things are as frustrating as package thieves—the folks who walk through a neighborhood and case which porches feature the most available loot. Not only is the act cowardly, but there’s nothing that can really be done to prevent it. Law enforcement officials didn’t seem that excited about chasing down the guy who stole my pre-ordered Nick Hornby book, and so I was left feeling not only powerless but violated. Enter Mark Rober, a NASA engineer with a popular YouTube channel. He recently put his genius mind to work on this very problem and invented the ultimate revenge tactic. I don’t want to spoil any number of cool surprises here, but suffice it to say, I yelled “Take that!” a few times while watching this.
Jesse Carey: I’m someone who has dealt with anxiety and doubt. I also have a tendency to mask both with humor. That’s why I like this short video so much. In it, comedian Stephen Colbert explains to Oprah the single Bible verse that changed his life. It’s not a verse about grace. It’s not a verse about being convicted of sin. It’s not a verse about humor. It’s not even a verse about Christ’s love (at least, not directly). It’s about countering anxiety and fear with hope and a reliance on God. In 2018, in a year marked by fear, rhetoric and anxiety about what the world is becoming, Matthew 6 couldn’t be more relevant: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear … Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Lauren Beatty: “2-year-old bakes” has to be one of the most precious videos of the year. In the first video of an at-home cooking series titled “Roman’s Cooking Corner,” Roman narrates while he bakes a cake (with a tiny bit of help from his off-screen mom). His mixing skills are a bit questionable, but somehow you’re sucked in to the process. Occasionally he gets giddily distracted from the tasks at-hand and greets the camera with a delightful “hello.” You really can’t watch this video without getting warm and fuzzy feelings. Roman’s mom should receive major credit for raising a kind, adorable, creative kid who is not only allowed to truly be a child, but also appreciates sprinkles.
Editor’s Note: Warning, the next video contains some profanity and graphic content.
Tyler Huckabee: Someone’s gotta say it, so I guess it’ll be me: Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” was the sort of slam-the-brakes cultural moment the internet hasn’t had since Lemonade, a definitive break in the discourse that overwhelmed our social channels. I was stuck between watching it on repeat and texting friends to make sure they’d seen it. As a piece of art, it felt intensely of the moment even as its imagery didn’t have any of the easy, obvious Donald Trump masks or “but her emails” references that pollute the streams of lesser commentary. The exactingness of “This Is America” comes from its intimacy. Donald Glover’s face contorting into various pictures of ecstasy, agony, terror and euphoria while carnage engulfs the world around him was too personal to feel like looking in a mirror, but nevertheless inspired a chorus of “same, same” from the social media denizens trying to wrap their minds around what was happening.
In the immediate wake of “This Is America” there was no small number of takes about what it really meant. The millennial obsession with social media? The entertainment-ification of journalism? Creeping authoritarianism? And, well, folks: in this video, a black man gets shot in the head and then Donald Glover looks into the camera and says “this is America.” Not exactly subtle. But it says something about us that an intensely uncomplicated piece of art could nevertheless end up the subject of so much debate. “This Is America” has a very simple message. It’s just not one America itself is fully ready to acknowledge yet.
Tyler Daswick: RELEVANT doesn’t dive much into the wide, wide world of sports, so allow me to show you Fergie’s infamous national-anthem rendition at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. It’s terrifically terrible on a conceptual, vocal and performative level. It makes you clutch your own face. It’s like if Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy birthday Mr. President” was performed for the entire country all at the same time. This is “The Star-Spangled Banner” as seduction.
On its own, the performance is worth a shock-watch, but the player reactions make this video a repeatable viewing experience. The national anthem is usually a time when players check out and start focusing on the game, but Fergie was so transcendentally bad you see their competitive masks break apart, and when Draymond Green finally busts a gut right there on the Jumbotron, the whole arena cracks up right along with him. It’s a music video and a reaction video all at once. “Let’s play some basketball!”
Josh Pease: I’m “Why are those darn kids watching The YouTubes so much?” years old. I don’t follow YouTube channels. I didn’t know who Logan Paul or pewdiepie were until the websites I frequent mentioned them. I suppose you could say that, when it comes to YouTube, I’m feeling more and more like Jackson Maine, old and obsolete, watching the next generation surpass me with a mix of pride and existential horror. Maybe, I’m realizing, it really is time to let the old ways die. Which is to say that even though I’m not on YouTube much, I’ve still watched the A Star is Born trailer around 120 times. I still have two ears and a heart, don’t I? This video is so good I still haven’t watched the movie itself, in part because I’m pretty sure the film can’t sustain the magic packed into this 216 seconds.
Seth Tower Hurd: One of the great things about the modern state of pop culture is the options for a deep dive into any subject, but YouTube is overcrowded with “experts” ranting on everything from cryptocurrency to soundcloud rap, so the truly innovative and refreshing voices can be hard to find. If you love movies, bookmark Reality Punch Studios. I stumbled upon the channel’s stunningly in-depth breakdown of Pirates of the Caribbean while researching a piece for RELEVANT on the film’s 15th anniversary. The 53-minute analysis ranges from how Johnny Depp built his iconic character to the elements of constructing a plot-propulsive action sequence. This video will help you appreciate all good film, not just Pirates, in a ways you had not previously considered.