Even though the centre frame of this video is trying to get your attention in not too subtle a way, take your eyes off it for a second and focus on the number on the lower right hand side of the screen: 17 million views. Wow. This bedroom cover of Highway to Hell by Jess Greenberg is still quite far from the 40 millions of clicks of AC/DC‘s original version. But it seems to be viewed much more than any of the other versions of this hard rock classic track, despite of them being quite popular in YouTube, like the one by Maroon 5 (with around 300.000 views), by Marilyn Manson (with 90.000 views only, a misery) or even the one with Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder (with nearly 400.000 views). The explanation as to why Jess Greenberg’s video has received such an amazing amount of visits is so obvious that it goes without saying: it’s the two buttons she’s decided to unbutton and which turn her from a 15-year old singing an innocent version of Over the Rainbow by Eva Cassidy to the deliberately sluty teenager of 18 that basks her acoustic guitar to the sound of AC/DC.
So, it really doesn’t matter how good, average or plain bad her version is (in fact, this Londoner doesn’t even play guitar particularly well or sing beyond what’s merely acceptable). The video could have no audio and for the majority of its audience it would still be OK. Even a more thorough analysis of the mise-en-scène of all her music videos (with vulgar and slightly impersonal room backgrounds, medium close-ups that always cut part of her head and of her guitar, a white chair, a well-made bed we see a glimpse of…) seems rather unnatural. It’s not the type of gaze these videos ultimately look for, unless their audiovisual exegesis relies on the idea of having the central vanishing point permanently fixed on Jess’ breasts, of course (99% of the comments are always about her cleavage).
Jess Greenberg is one of those YouTube stars (with her own web site) whose main assets are that she’s sexy, she’s pretty and she’s an exhibitionist. She consciously decided to enter adulthood by using the sudden hyper sexualisation shortcut, like many other singers who started their careers very young and transformed their image from little girl to woman quite abruptly from one day to the next (a kind of Miley Cyrus transformation, but home style, let’s say). Up to there, it can even be a respectable option: it’s her choice and she can do with her coming to age whatever she decides. What happens, though, is that voluntarily treating her body as an object, in this case, says a lot about what the music industry has inoculated in any candidate to become a star: apart from a woman-singer you need to be a woman-object. And it also makes clear that YouTube, in many cases, is like a window display of baits for wankers and, sadly, there’s no better clickbait than a good pair of tits.
OK, now have a look at this other video:
Again, look at the numbers. A not too bad six million, almost seven, views. Compared to Jess Greenberg is less than half, all right. But that’s still a lot of people. Why a band of robots (Compressorhead they’re called, and have their own web site and tour dates as well) attracts so many clicks thanks to a cover (without lyrics!) of Motörhead’s Ace of Spades is symptomatic. Somehow, there is a link between Jess Greenberg and Compressorhead. And it isn’t only the fact that both videos re-contextualize songs written for bad guys (and we could talk a lot about how heavy metal is the genre that better accepts parody or reinvention), it isn’t either the role reversal between humans that present themselves as objects and objects (machines) behaving as humans. It’s the message inherent in them: our attention, as YouTube watchers, always tends towards voyeurism. Above all, we give credit to the ones selling us a piece of meat and to the ones opening a door to a kind of freak show attraction. Still, there is no doubt that between a video with sexual content and another with bizarre content there are substantial differences: 10 million views more, to be precise.