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Exploring Time-Coded Comments on YouTube Music Videos of ‘Top 40’ Pop 2000–20

Bell, Eamonn (2023) 'Exploring Time-Coded Comments on YouTube Music Videos of ‘Top 40’ Pop 2000–20.', in YouTube and Music: Online Culture and Everyday Life. , pp. 255-276.


As part of a larger project to understand the way that structural features of the design and implementation of radio technology influences its audiences – calling this the medium’s ‘physiognomy’ – Theodor Adorno opened the mailbags of the radio stations he was studying and a torrent of ‘fan mail’ flooded out.[1] Adorno argued that listeners’ ‘feedback’, their obsequious suggestions for change to the station’s music programmers (whom he accused of the standardization of sound culture as he knew it), masked a desire to assume the position of radio management, despite their apparent antagonism towards it.[2] Their letters reveal the contradictions that inhere in audience feedback and, usefully, often take music as their starting point. If, as Martin Scherzinger suggests, Adorno’s model of technological critique is robust enough to support a new ‘software physiognomy’, readers interested in the relationship between online audiences, digital media technology, music and mass culture would do well to turn to YouTube: both a top-flight distributor of music in the twenty-first century and a lively forum for user-generated discussion about music and musical culture, hosted in its notorious comment section.[3] Here, I explore the intersection of these two functions of this platform. This is possible because YouTube has, since 2008, allowed users to easily create links that navigate directly to a given fragment of an online video: the website detects text comments that resemble valid time codes and renders each time code as a clickable hyperlink. The link skips the user directly to the moment in the video cited and (optionally) starts 256playback at that point. These time-coded hyperlinks (e.g. ‘0:45 is my favorite part!!’) are also sometimes called ‘deep links’, because they use the structure of URLs to refer to ‘deep’ within the resource referenced by the hyperlink. Here are some examples of time-coded comments on music videos, all released in 2017: On a lyric video for The Chainsmokers and Coldplay, ‘Something Just Like This’ (2017): ‘The melody at 3:34 Shouldn’t be underestimated because thats my favourite part and i repeat many times’ On a video for ZAYN ft. Sia, ‘Dusk to Dawn’ (2018): ‘If you wanna repeat the best high note of this masterpiece: 5:15’ On a video for Taylor Swift, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ (2017): ‘If u play the song at x2 speed, listen to the background music in the chorus it sounds like a snake rattling 2:06 – 2:19 3:06 – 3:19 3:22 - 3:35’ In this chapter, I examine comments like this; following Raynor Vliegendhart et al., I call them time-coded comments (TCCs).[4] I first describe the historical background to TCCs on the Web and their use to date as a source for musicology. Then, I summarize their use in a large (over 1 million) set of TCCs responding to about 200 popular music videos on YouTube, with the help of a computational text analysis technique called topic modelling. This shows the variety of uses of TCCs by listeners on YouTube and paints a portrait of listening practices during this period which make use of the technological affordances of the platform, what might be called the platform’s software physiognomy. I also examine some non-normative uses of these comments, which push against the prevailing interaction types afforded by YouTube. Finally, I sketch the problems with and potential futures for the use of this kind of information by digital musicologists and other students of online musical culture.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
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Publisher statement:Copyright © Holly Rogers, Joana Freitas, and João Francisco Porfírio 2023. Released under a CC BY-NC-ND licence ( You may share this work for non-commercial purposes only, provided you give attribution to the copyright holder and the publisher, and provide a link to the Creative Commons licence.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:01 March 2023
Date of first online publication:27 February 2023
Date first made open access:01 March 2023

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