The Last Comment Section

Mark Slutsky’s Sad YouTube project, which preserves moving comments found under song videos, is consistently powerful. It’s one of the rare internet media experiments that transcends gimmick to become art, which is why the continued attention it’s getting is gratifying but not necessarily surprising — you don’t feel like you’re done with it after seeing it once.

It has a subtle effect on how you read the internet, not so much rehabilitating YouTube comments as adding texture to your ideas about what people want from their internets. Unlike performing emotion on social media, mindful of potential feedback and optics and all that, leaving your story in an anonymous YouTube comment section seems to suppose no exterior result at all. It is sharing for sharing’s sake.

Many of the comments Slutsky collects are about memories evoked by a certain song: I was listening to this when; this reminds me of the time. Popular music, with personal and historical associations, is a great vector for memory. It gives the project the quality of an hidden oral history.

But there’s something more utilitarian and need-based about the comment confessional process, too, which brings me to one of the strangest comment sections on the internet: the one under this video.

The video is titled “Emotional Sad Music.” Its description reads as follows:

Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music
 Emotional Sad Music

Very sad music you’ll never forget
 comment rate subscribe if you thought it was sad
 comment what you think

The account that posted it mostly hosts ripped music videos; this, with over four million views, is by far its most popular upload. It has over six thousand comments.

The video is part of an odd area of YouTube that I wouldn’t quite call a subculture — videos that are intended to evoke emotion explicitly. From the listener’s perspective, it offers emotion as a service, to be called upon when you’re too bummed or tired to think of another sad song; from the uploader’s perspective, it usually just seems like easy views — it’s like SEO for moods.

“Emotional Sad Music” is a particularly blunt example: It comprises a slideshow of photos and a playlist of songs either ripped from elsewhere on YouTube or taken from YouTube’s free catalog of stock music — I recognized the first track instantly, because I used it in a tossed-off joke video last year. They’re the songs you find when you search YouTube for sad, depressing and lonely, repackaged with better metadata. The Sad YouTube project suggests that authenticity, channeled through song, draws out deep memories. These videos suggest that, at least in some cases, the memories are just looking for a soundtrack.

My best friend just left me after we have been together for three years. I’m physically and mentally abused by my parents and my siblings hate me. I have friends at school but I barely see them anymore because I have no classes with them. I’m currently failing high school with a extremely low GPI and I have severe symptoms of Bipolar Depression. My mind is always filled with horrendous thoughts and in some cases suicide. I have wanted to talk to someone and get help but I’m afraid of the outcomes. I just want to live alone with my computer and my music that soothes my soul. This story could take up about fifteen more sentences but that’s the basics of my story. I doubt anyone will read this and care. Knowing the internet today, I can tell most people will call this fake. I don’t care though. No one cares about me.
My gramps was sick last year and died of cancer. Same damn year my 15 year old cousin died. It sucks having people die. I know ya guys feel me. Btw this music is too sad!!! Bleh!!!!
my uncle and my friend died too this year , when dead get so close , you feel like , it’s coming to take all the others left around you , i started to live in fear of loosing others , i feel like i gonna cry all the time , i lost trust in this life , one minute you are here , the next you’r not,… leaving every thing , how rediciluous is this !!! , life to me is no longer trustful , this is disgusting , i feel like i gonna die and my heart want to stop , and my job send me to a city where i know no one , i have no friends , i live a shit life , i literally started to hate life
my mom died a couple of months ago I miss her so much
I am realy empty… when listening to this music i dont remeber like realy sad scenes in my life because i never realy cared about anything, i just took life as it came people die and we have funerals, people i know and maybe care about cried but i didn’t realy care “that’s life” is what i said to me. I dont realy thing im a part of this world, there’s another world im escaping to the virtuality “This may be a virtual world, but I feel more alive here than in the real world.” — Kirito. — This sentence is true for me atleast right now maybe i will have other feelings in the future… and maybe care about someone.
okaaaaaaaaaaaaaay honestly, don´t know how to make it through the night
It’s scary how accustomed to pain I am that I almost welcome it in with open arms. The familiarity of it is both gut wrenching and comforting. It’s just gods test to see how many times my heart can break before it becomes irreparable. I’ll just add this to my bag of hurt, I’ve been given a large one so it should fit right in there.
If anyone needs to talk to someone you can message me at anytime as I will always be here :) I know what it feels like to go though bad times
Anyone wants to build a time machine with me? to fix our mistakes that we made, im sure everybody made some…
Why do we torture ourselves with sad music when we’re sad?

A year ago, comments left under “Emotional Sad Music” largely didn’t address one another. Some were earnest and heartbreaking, others were crude and insensitive. But in the last few months, the section has been overtaken by people making jokes. The top comment:

Here is my story…
I once stepped on lego.
The end.

And so on and so on, with hundreds of variations on the same idea: that expressing emotion in a YouTube comment is something only an idiot would do.

It’s not clear if the video was discovered by a large YouTube channel (some of the comments mention their allegiances) or if it just got sucked into some sort of new YouTube garbage vortex, but these are now by far the dominant posts under the video, to the point that very few people bother to write in a confessional tone at all.

In January, Slutsky wrote about changes to the YouTube commenting system, which tied comments to Google-wide accounts. In addition to enforcing identity rules, Google reformatted its comment pages in such a way to encourage threaded interactions — discussions — over drop-and-run comments:

I don’t think Google realizes what it’s sacrificing when it strong-arms its users into declaring their real names. The YouTube comment box is a space of nearly infinite potential, a place for people to express their deepest desires, most tender emotions, and haunting memories. But without a way for commenters to protect their identities, something will be lost.

At the time, Slutsky suggested that the changes had left newer comment sections more civil and sanitary. “The comment section is in the process of being tamed,” he wrote, “and it already seems like a vastly less interesting place.”

Since then, it’s been hard to articulate exactly what’s changed about YouTube comments in general — something, certainly, or a lot of somethings. They’re still a mess, rotten with abuse. But this abuse seems to have been internalized and refined by some sort of new, broader YouTube comment culture — something that had a hard time breaking through when YouTube comments were just primitive walls of text. You see the same jokes over and over in different contexts, and notice the same omnipresent arch teen voice you read in all of the internet’s most influential communities, as if YouTube’s biggest fandoms — the ones clustered around gaming personalities, for example — have begun to take over.

Here’s the best way I can describe it: It can feel, at times, like a bigger and dumber Reddit, or a meaner and more masculine Tumblr. It’s neither an obvious improvement nor a clear decline; one sort of bad has been traded for another. Here’s one thing you can say about it: It’s a lot less surprising.