Only fairly recently I discovered music reaction channels on YouTube; they are basically places where people share videos of themselves reacting to music that they are hearing for the first time. They usually have a split screen type of visual where you can see and hear the music the person is watching and listening to and that person’s reactions at the same time.
Eventually, I discovered Alex Hefner’s YouTube channel and his reaction videos; he’s a young guy who calls himself a hip-hop head and he now reacts to mostly metal music. What drew me in to his videos is his crazy newfound enthusiasm for metal music, much of which I grew up as a fan of. It is fun for me to see Alex react to Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” for the first time, for example, and see his facial expressions and excitement which remind me of how I and my friends reacted back in 1986 when we heard it for the first time.
Looking at his videos one night I saw that Hefner had listed a Houston P.O. Box address where viewers can send him mail; I decided to reach out to him and talk to him about the phenomenon of reaction videos and the popularity of his own channel. The “Master of Puppets” reaction video he uploaded has 879,894 views as I am writing this and his channel has 31,673,141 views since he joined YouTube in March of 2017 which is impressive.
Hefner, who is a 24-year-old law school student at South Texas College of Law Houston, confirmed that growing up in The Woodlands he was indeed a hip-hop fan; he cites Eminem, J. Cole, and Mac Miller among his favorites.
“Pretty much since I can remember, I can’t really remember anything about my mom or my dad playing a consistent genre of music in the house whenever I was younger, I was just always a fan of doing stuff that I wasn’t really supposed to be doing, so like rap and hip-hop had the most cussing, so I was like the more cussing in music the cooler it is,” explains Hefner. “So that’s kind of what I gravitated to and just throughout elementary school, middle school, high school it’s what my friends listened to as well so it was a way for me to kind of get that rebellious nature out and also connect with people. It was like a mutual thing and way for me to meet people you could say.”
So how did this longtime hip-hop head make a name for himself on YouTube reacting to metal videos?
Hefner explains that he started watching YouTube every day and became a big fan of vlogs, particularly people like Roman Atwood, so he wanted to have a vlog channel of his own. Hefner decided to use reaction videos as a way of getting people interested in his life as he was a fan of reaction channels as well.
“I didn’t find exactly kind of what I would want to watch so then I was like, ‘you know I could do this myself’,” Hefner explains. “So I kind of just made the reaction channel and made videos that I would want to watch and that’s how it got started and I started off with hip-hop and rap reactions because that’s what I knew and then started listening to some of the comments. Like ‘you should try K-Pop, Korean music’ and then a couple of comments were ‘you should try some metal’ and then I found that little niche that was hip-hop head reacts to metal and after the first Slipknot reaction I gained a ton of traction and I was just like let’s roll with this and I found my own little YouTube niche territory and ended up really, really liking it and nowadays I’ll probably listen to more metal than rap and hip-hop which is strange because I never anticipated that would ever happen for me.”
So how did Hefner react to some of his videos getting almost a million views?
“It’s surreal man. I feel like a lot of times whenever you watch interviews on YouTube, because YouTube is the social media I use most, I’m spending a ton of time on YouTube and a lot of times you’ll hear people you watch get asked about that and they’re like ‘it’s so crazy I never anticipated it’,” Hefner says. “And as a viewer and consumer you’re like you had to have somewhat of an idea but its crazy whenever you’re dealing with something that actually got the ball accelerated you really don’t anticipate it so it was wild man. But it wasn’t an overnight thing I remember the Slipknot video a couple of days after I uploaded it, it only had a 1000, 2000 views and then it just kept growing and growing gradually it wasn’t overnight 800,000 or something so it was cool.”
Because of his videos Hefner says he has gotten recognized in public at a Fiesta supermarket that he frequents and also at a Trivium show, the only metal concert he has attended so far. He posted a video mentioning he would be heading out to see Trivium in Houston with his girlfriend and invited people to come up and say hello; about 30 people came up and wanted to take pictures with him and talk which Hefner appreciated. In addition a few people at his school mentioned his videos to him as well.
So why do many people find his reaction videos interesting?
“I thought about that a lot. I think that first and foremost it’s a way for people to re-experience or relive their early life through me vicariously,” says Hefner. “It’s a way for everybody else to experience those songs again for the first time.”
“It’s also got a fun little flavor of everyone likes showing their friends music so it’s like the people who come watch my channel everyday it’s pretty much like I am their friend I feel like they’re used to me they know what I like what I don’t like so it’s a way for them to show me music and I think the personality to,” says Hefner. “There are a ton of reaction channels out there so for mine to be growing like it is not only can you make reaction videos but the personality has got to be there to. They show some kind of satisfaction by the way I interact with them.”
Being social media there is always going to be some negativity to go along with the positive feedback; some people have commented that reaction videos are not real but fake.
“I think that it’s really all about the way that people want to go into it so more so than reacting to music I want to provide a little outlet for people to escape their life a form of escapism and I want to preach positivity and happiness and optimism. So whenever I’m trying to portray that already before the song I’m looking for the good and I’m looking for what I like in it,” explains Hefner.” I feel like in almost every song I react to I could tell you what I don’t like about it but rather than that I just focus on what I do like because it produces a happier end product. So if me just focusing on the happy makes people think that it’s just like ‘you’re just trying to make metalheads happy so we give you views’ I can get that but at the end of the day a bigger thing is what I’m trying to do is make everybody positive and happy and just focusing on the positive.”
“Music is so subjective how can you say that this music sucks and this music is good? Because to someone else it would be the flip,” Hefner continues. “For me to go in and be like ‘this music sucks’ the artist put so much energy and passion and love into that where’s my right to be like that sucks. That’s why I don’t want to necessarily label something. If I’m gonna label something it’s going to be positive. And if want to label it negative it will be like ‘I just wouldn’t want to listen to that again’.”
When he is not making YouTube videos or studying for law school Hefner says he is a bit of a homebody and does not go out much; he doesn’t drink or party and prefers to chill at home with his girlfriend and dog and watch a cool show on Netflix or spend time with his family.
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Hefner’s advice for aspiring YouTube stars?
“Make videos that you yourself want to watch, produce the highest quality that you can as consistent as you can,” Hefner says. “Let go of your ego because more times than not people are so afraid to make content and upload it and they get 2 views. So if you can let go of your ego and make videos that you want to watch yourself then that’s the key. Caveat is if you suck ass and you’re like non-entertaining or have super, super out there weird pessimistic things it might not work. There’s got to be some quality to it.”
Recently Hefner has posted a few videos where he is trying to convert his friend Austin into a metalhead; you should check them out. And as Hefner frequently says in his videos, "have a dope ass day!"