The Incomplete Nostalgia of Youtube Rewind

I follow a lot of Youtubers; have for years. It can be a shock to some that I am quite well-versed in pop culture and celebrity news. Being a social media manager means keeping up with what’s going on in the world and that means being able to speak on and know a lot about what’s happening in the world at all times from memes to who is dating who. The Youtubers part may be less of a shock. From Jenna Marbles (please, come back to us); I’ve followed the journeys of many of these online celebrities and enjoyed their content and their personalities. John Green helped me come to terms with having OCD, Crash Course taught me new things, Mike Rugnetta helped me see the world in different ways, Hannah Hart taught me to check my cheese for poison. 

That’s to say, when Youtube Rewinds are released at the end of the year as a bit of a jaunt through the year’s events I look forward to them. I love seeing all the trends, the dancing, the mix of pop music and all the celebrities I’ve spent so much time with and I get a kick out of recognizing names and faces. 

I started really taking notice of the Youtube Rewinds in 2016 when we had one of the best rewinds ever made since they began nearly two decades ago. It was the perfect blend of the memes, humor and tone of 2016 as we mostly ignored the election and thought on all the neat things that happened before the election and our lives and country would be changed forever. In 2016 while canceling and #MeToo was a thing, most were firmly in the camp of either denial when celebrities you cared about or to just chalk it up to a messy he said/she said. Which is why people like PewdiePie who is a literal racist being in the video isn’t so strange: he was still the biggest name on the platform and even though we had heard him be awful and racist before 2016, we accepted me; I accepted it. 

Since then, there’s only been two more rewinds including 2017 which has a montage of all the bad things that happened that year but the world coming together (and it does make me cry) and 2018 which is where things had fallen off the rails.We now knew and could not ignore the problematic elements in the Youtube community from racist stars to ignoring and suppressing LGBT voices and yet the 2018 Rewind displayed not only queer creators and many of the problematic creators that we by the time the rewind aired knew were problematic. It was almost like the rewind was meant to have us ignore all of this for a candy-colored view of the world. 2018 also had its fair share of issues mostly relating to a racist president that was bent on ruining the world but Youtube Rewind was determined to be upbeat to the point of being tone deaf. There’s something to be said about trying to choose positivity in the light of what was an objectively bad year but seeing a bunch of millionaire celebrities wax philosophic about equality and things being better and that Logan Paul wasn’t a terrible person. Even in 2017 it was starting to feel a little tired when we had people who were objectively better off than the millions watching the Youtube Rewind were continuing to insist that we just keep our heads up and dance because things are okay even when they aren’t. 

But now as I find myself sequestered inside, I found the older Rewinds so comforting or at least I want to. The 2015 Rewind that focuses on back then what was a decade of Youtube and meme culture nearly brought tears to my eyes as I saw viral videos and memes that were so much part of my teenage zeitgeist that they have imprinted on my heart. The 2016 Rewind may still be one of my favorites even if it does start to feel incomplete in comparison to what else was happening that year: 2016 was not just Pokemon Go and Justin Bieber music but it is nice to think of it that way. Even more so, it’s strange going back and looking at a year like 2015 or even 2013 which feels like it was approximately 1000 years ago. It’s almost strange now to see the tone of the world be so positive or different in comparison to how I feel now in 2021; a strange mix of desperate optimism atop of intense ennui, malaise and fatigue. At the same time, some of the earlier rewinds are nearly impossible to watch as they feature memes or songs that have been played to death or have been banished from the current social and digital lexicon. No one does the Harlem Shake anymore and if one more damn person asks “What does the Fox say?” I will fling myself into traffic. But to go back and think about a time where the world cared slime

Nostalgia is a strange thing: it does in fact distort the past into a comfortable and often linear narrative. It’s much easier to think of the past as a series of one-off events rather than think of the building tension and hostility that had been brewing under the surface or the terrible acts that happened during those years while others got the luxury to just play games and listen to popular music and revel in meme culture. It’s easier to ignore the complexities of men and the horrible things they do while the camera is running or when the camera isn’t running. It’s much easier to ignore the systemic issues that have plagued creators of color both online and in the real world to make them cheapened tokens of diversity amongst a sea of white creators. It’s much easier not to think about the racist demagogue whose reign of terror during those years would change the lives of millions while simply indulging in the hedonistic ambrosia of slick remixes and references to a thing you may or may not have liked. But for a piece of corporate-driven capitalistic nostalgia, it has been a strange sort of balm in these trying times to cast my mind back to a time that at least on the surface felt simpler. 

Dear Kanye West

It seems we living the american dreamBut the people highest up got the lowest self esteemThe prettiest people do the ugliest thingsFor the road to riches and diamond rings.png

Let’s get a little mood music going, shall we?

Hello, Mr. West.
I’m sure you won’t read this (though I’d be certainly flattered if you did) but it felt appropriate to address you formally regardless. I’m a longtime fan. No, really. I still have the censored copy of your first album College Dropout that my aunts purchased for me under the condition that I accept the censored version that Walmart so graciously offered to us back in the mid-2000s.

I wanted to talk to you today about how important your album was to me and why it’s been so difficult to watch you go a little bit insane.

So when I was younger, back in high school, I loved your album. I loved Jesus Walks. I loved your message. And there’s a reason for that and it’s sort of personal. But I’m in the spirit to share, so I’ll do it. I’m culturally abandoned. I’m not very tied to my blackness. I was raised in a mostly white neighborhood and had very little of the struggles that the average African-American youth faced. I didn’t traditionally struggle with money. I faced very little racism. We lived in nice areas and I was smart, in a good school and was surrounded by mostly white people and had mostly white friends. I just simply did not have the experience of the “average” African-American youth in America.  And while my father’s taste in music was diverse, my aunts had less diverse tastes in music. And while I was being raised with my aunts, it was easy for me to get lost in a sea of J-Pop and heavy emo music.

And then College Dropout arrived.

Mr. West, your album was fantastic. It still is, I can’t and won’t take away the greatness of your album. By focusing on more universal struggles like inferiority and boosting those feelings that are inexorably tied to race, you helped me tap into my blackness: even if it was only for a moment. Songs like School Spirit and All Falls Down were emotional, raw, intense but still clever, humorous and authentic. Your rhymes addressed so many of my concerns and feelings with hip-hop and rap and while sure, they still were misogynistic and homophobic: I ate College Dropout up. And you even managed to tug at my Catholic heartstrings. Not too many African-Americans I knew back then were Catholic, hell, most of my friends weren’t Catholic. You, Mr. West, became like the Catholic friend I never knew I needed.  And when your next album: Graduation dropped, I was even more sold. Heartless seamlessly blended style and genre while Good Morning was literally my moodboard song for months.

And then it all seemed to go to hell. I’m empathetic to the loss of a parent. I understand that one can even go a little mad after someone you love dies. But, you Mr. West, Mr. Fresh… you went more than a little mad. You proclaimed to be a god over and over again. Which, by the way, one Catholic to another: isn’t in any of the catechisms. You hooked up with some strange hellbeast (though most know her as a Kim Kardashian). Procreated and continued to spout out racially divisive, culturally insensitive and outright outlandish nonsense from then onto now.

Your music has seemed to suffer as well. While there was always a healthy level of egotism in all your music, it was in the past, almost self-deprecating. Now, you think you’re a god-king. Now, you’ve alienated your friends and fanbase. I worry about you. I know facing mortality is difficult. I know being surrounded by people who either don’t get you or only valid you can be trying. I get that being creative, being a creator and being an icon must be exhausting. But I want you to know; I need you to know, that you were an important part of my teen years and that I’m grateful for that.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Amanda