The Fine Brothers are an American media channel on YouTube, so in the discussion of Asian American popular culture there doesn’t seem to have a lot of discussion. Yet on their channel, a platform for reactions and discussions of popular videos, there seems to be a large conversation around Asian media and their virality. Also, even with the inclusion of a segment called YouTubers React, the Fine Brothers knowingly select a group of YouTubers, in which there is a larger population of Asian Americans, to come on this show to watch and talk about videos.
The Fine Brothers have control over their content in its editing and its selection of which particular YouTube personalities to come on the show, so we can imagine that there is agency in what is being uploaded.
In this discussion, I wanted to highlight a specific video: YouTubers React to BABYMETAL.
For some context, BABYMETAL is a Japanese metal pop fusion band.
In the BABYMETAL video, the Fine Bros start with two Asian guys, Phil Wang and Chris Dinh from Wong Fu Productions, an Asian American YouTube channel, and they say “anytime it’s an Asian video…”. There is an assumption that anything from Asia that goes viral enough to warrant a reaction from, tends to be weird and foreign. Granted, the genre of metal has negative perceptions and is seen to be unconventional, but there is an implication that there is something more to be said about metal that comes from Japan.
Steve Zaragoza and Trisha Hershberger from SourceFed have a conversation when they finish watching the video which prompted this essay:
“But is it weird because we’re like ‘Oh! They’re from a different part of the world! That’s weird! And they do different things!’ Or is it weird because we’re just not–“
“No, it’s weird”
After the first video is shown, Phil says “We’re not Japanese, by the way. That was still weird to us.” The Fine Brothers, as well as a large portion of the internet, has a weird fascination with Japan and its “weird” media exports. Japanese content can be funny and strange, yet there seems to be a undertone of “othering” where there is a lot of comparison to Western media and western practices. For example, in discussions, one of the YouTubers, Blair Fowler (JuicyStar07), asks if “the girls came up with the idea themselves or was it a big record label that came up with the idea?” This question often comes up when Americans react to Korean pop music as well. And there is a weird discounting as inauthentic because a big corporation came up with the idea and that the band is inorganic because of this fact. There is often surprise at the success of these bands, as if there is surprise that the whole world does not act the way Americans act. However, Tyler Oakley sums it up well when he says “I feel like if that’s the way that music is created in Japan, and the general public is okay with that, then good for them!”
The other Asian American in the video is a gamer who goes by the name of Markiplier. Mark seems to make no reference to his race in most online discussions so there is a very small discourse about hiding one’s identity to be more approachable by any audience. (An interesting but purely coincidental note: Mark mentions BABYMETAL’s combination of genres as a way to gain more audience 🤔).
The Fine Brothers have made many videos asking YouTubers to react to other forms of Asian media such as anime, other j-music, and kpop music videos. In the context of this BABYMETAL video from 2014, there has a been a slow “exclusion” of Asian YouTubers (the more recent the video, the less Asians or even lack of Asian representation in the video). This is all in conjunction to a slow growing conversation on twitter about non-Asian YouTubers who use popular Asian media to expand their audience with videos like “non-kpop fan reacts to kpop”. There is a question hanging in the air about whether these people are doing this for the attention or genuinely interested in something. It becomes obvious to fans when low effort statements like “I wish I knew what they were saying” or “they all look the same” are being made about the videos. The Fine Brothers made a Teens React video talking about this phenomenon yet the question was phrased weirdly and no significant conversation was had about the topic.