With social media such a big part of our lives, it’s never been easier to get your opinion out there, and that can be both a good thing and a bad thing. With so much content being produced and so many people expressing opinions, it can be really difficult to figure out where to turn for entertainment, or political commentary, or whatever it is you’re seeking out on the internet.
Over the last few years, I’ve developed a keen appreciation for YouTube video essays. When I don’t quite have the attention span or the mental energy to read a longform piece of writing, but still want to learn things and don’t feel like watching a TV show, it can be nice to turn on a long, well-structured video about a topic that interests me, whether that’s social justice or media analysis or just fun internet history. If you know where to look, there are tons of incredibly talented and intelligent people sharing their knowledge with the world literally for free, and doing it in a way that’s really entertaining.
Whether you’re already a big fan of the genre or completely new to it, I’d highly recommend checking out these 8 video essayists.
If you’re looking for nuanced, well-researched discussion of topics related to media and internet culture, look no further than Khadija. The algorithm put them on my radar earlier this year, and since then I’ve binged every single one of their videos, and eagerly anticipated each new one. Their video on digital blackface is what finally made the topic click for me. I’ve also really appreciated their perspective on topics like colourblind casting and online slacktivism.
It’s hard to describe how excited I get every time I get a notification that Sarah Z uploaded. Every video is a wild ride through some part of fandom history, always presented with nuance and respect for the people involved. If you were on tumblr in the early 2010s, you’ll find yourself saying “wait, I didn’t realize people took things that far” or “now that I think about it, that was really weird, wasn’t it?” If you weren’t on tumblr during that era, this is your chance to finally understand the memes. Her video on TJLC is one of my favourite video essays on the internet, but if you’re looking for something a bit shorter, I’d recommend “I’m Not Like Other Girls” or her video on the Onceler fandom. Her video on fake stories also has an interesting twist that will make you rethink a lot of the posts you see on the internet.
Princess Weekes covers pop culture and fandom with a level of nuance that is badly needed on the internet. Like so many of us, she grew up in fandom and is able to cast a critical eye on some of its more toxic elements. I can’t recommend her video “Purity Culture & Fandom” highly enough. Just… watch it. If you only watch one of the videos on this list, make it that one. Other good ones are “Bridgerton and the Problem of Pastel Progressivism” and her retrospective on Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.”
I hardly need to add Lindsay here, because at this point, if you don’t know who she is, what are you doing? Aside from being a bestselling author, she’s also been doing media analysis on YouTube for longer than just about anyone else on this list, and she’s still at the top of her game. Her Beauty and the Beast video is a great introduction to the type of analysis she usually does, as is her video on CATS. Her video on RENT is another great one, but tread carefully if you’re a big fan of the musical because she isn’t very nice to it.
ContraPoints is the channel that really got me into the commentary side of YouTube, for better or worse, and I still think it’s one of the best channels out there. Every one of Natalie’s videos is an event. She is unmatched in terms of pure production value, with each video featuring elaborate sets and costumes. She’s incredibly funny, too, but the real draw is the depth of analysis she brings to the table. What I really love about ContraPoints is her ability to explain really complex topics in a way that is easy to understand. There’s a reason she’s been credited with de-radicalizing so many people who have fallen down the alt-right rabbit hole. Don’t think that means there’s nothing in it for you if you’re already a leftist, though; I’ve found that Natalie’s videos have helped me a lot to better understand the values and policies I fight for. She’s also helped me a lot with how to explain leftist topics to people who just don’t understand. The subject matter is heavy, but her videos are well worth watching.
Yhara is one of those youtubers who could put out a video about a piece of media I have never heard of and know nothing about, and I would instantly click on it. She always has interesting and well-thought-out takes on fiction, and I always get something out of her videos – whether that’s a new perspective on a piece of media, or awareness of trends I didn’t know about. My personal favourite video of hers is “The Day Rue ‘Became’ Black,” which examines the adultification of Black girls by looking back at fan reactions to Amandla Stenberg being cast as Rue in The Hunger Games.
Abigail is frequently lumped in with Natalie when people are talking about leftist video essayists, and with good reason: they’re both trans women with an extensive background in philosophy, incredibly high production value on their channels, and a knack for making complex leftist ideas accessible to non-Academics. Philosophy Tube is a lot more oriented toward theory, though, and Abi’s training as an actress really gives her videos an original style.