Emma Chang never expected to become internet famous.
Chang, a junior at Eastman, began her YouTube channel, Reacttothek, to convert her new friends to K-pop by having them react to music videos. Much to her surprise, her pet project eventually received half a million subscribers and over 140 million total views.
A French horn performance and digital media studies major who also goes by Umu, Chang started the channel in October 2016. Within a year of the release of the main series — “Classical Musicians React” — the channel had over 100,000 subscribers.
The channel’s appeal stems from its premise. It lies at the intersection of K-pop reactions and musical analysis. For Chang, the videos on Reacttothek go past simply reacting to K-pop. They delve into “what creates specific emotions, or why a beat makes you feel a certain way,” Chang said, adding “I like saying that our channel is both educational and entertaining.”
Reacttothek has put out a staggering number of videos, 730 in two and a half years, with uploads almost daily. It now has multiple ongoing series besides “Classical Musicians React,” such as K-pop cover performances, beginner music theory lessons, and a professional musician guest series.
Such a volume of content poses demands on the channel contributors. Chang, who bears the brunt of the work, edits videos 3–10 hours a day. “I tend to not have a social life,” she said, laughing.
During those hours spent working, she has to consider attention spans and cut content while contending with viewers’ opinions. Sometimes when the reactors are negative about a song, Chang struggles to balance censorship of her reactors with angering fans.
Additionally, she sometimes receives comments about bias toward artists. She admitted that she would include all groups if she could, but “we are human, we’re in school, we have a limited amount of time.”
Elizabeth Easley, a junior French horn performance and Musical Arts major in film studies, wants people to understand Chang’s demanding role before criticizing her. “She is the main driving force behind everything: all the editing, all the filming, everything,” Easley said. “I see all the love she puts into this channel.”
Much of her passion for the channel comes from its impact: “I hear a lot that [viewers] begin to love a song more when we get excited about the musical composition,” she said. “We’re opening up the ears of our viewers who want to start studying and listening to music on a deeper level.”
Chang, who prides herself as an “ambassador” for music, loves how Reacttothek can inspire viewers to pursue music and give smaller artists a spotlight.
Her channel has also changed perceptions about K-pop, for both reactors and viewers.
Reactor Seiji Yamashita, a junior international relations and jazz piano major, has experienced this. “Doing the channel forces you to actively listen to [K-pop] and think about what’s inside of these songs,” he said.
Reactor Davis Herndon, a junior tuba performance major, thinks the channel is bringing K-pop to unlikely fans.
“It’s pop music, y’know?” Herndon said. “It tends to get a bad rep. […] I think [Reacttothek is] allowing a lot of people who wouldn’t have considered K-pop a high art form to reconsider that.”
This ability to impact their viewers is what motivates Herndon.
“We’re all performers, so I think at least a part of our goal is to have an impact on people,” Herndon explained. “You have this instant gratification that you’ve made a difference […] that we’re creating new thought or changing thought or causing discussion.”
Fiona Stout, a junior French horn performance major and reactor, described how she has benefitted from working on the channel. “Reacttothek has taught me how to perform and how important it is to present yourself in a way that engages an audience, because that’s what we do in music and on YouTube: performing,” she said.
Now almost three years since the first video, the members of Reacttothek ponder its future.
Chang detailed potential changes, like starting a publishing company for sheet music of arrangements, allowing her to make a sustainable profit from the channel.
For some of the reactors, graduating from Eastman will mean graduating from Reacttothek.
But Chang, who admits that the future is uncertain, says that she will stick with it. “There’s no way that I’m going to stop the channel.”