“Dont mind me, I’m totally not listening to this at 3am silently crying into my pillow to avoid waking up my family”
“it’s crazy to think it’s been almost a year and i still think about you every day, every single day your name pops up in my head.”
“hey you, you’re not alone i’m here. i’m not going anywhere and i love you.”
These are all comments on Rayen Hemden’s YouTube video Heather – Conan Gray (Slowed & Reverb). Out of the nearly 700 comments, the vast majority tell stories of heartbreak and loss.
“When I found out that [my video] blew up, I was just shocked and overwhelmed with all the comments,” Hemden said. “People felt like the comment section was a safe place.”
Not many people would describe a YouTube comment section as a “safe place.” The platform has notoriously toxic comments, often filled with trolls or mindless remarks. This is in part because of how little accountability there is — unlike Twitter or Reddit, the user’s profile does not aggregate all their past comments or likes.
YouTube has made several attempts to clean up its comment sections; in 2016 it introduced tools to ban people from commenting certain words, and in 2017 it started turning off comments on videos from minors if the people became “predatory.” This was, for the most part, ineffective and the comment sections can sometimes become nasty.
But the comments on “slowed and reverb” remixes are the exceptions — a sensitive reprieve from the toxicity often found on the platform.
There are hundreds of songs uploaded with this label, altered as advertised — tempo slowed, voice pitched several octaves lower, a faint echo added. The comments are filled with detailed personal confessions. The replies are kind and endlessly supportive.
Hemden theorized that the emotional response has something to do with the slowness of the songs.
“If you take a song and slow it down, the listener will pay attention to every single word,” Hemden said.
Twelve-year-old Ramona began making “slowed and reverb” videos a few months ago and agreed that the slowed effect makes the words more impactful.
“The meaning of the lyrics can resonate with them depending on what they are experiencing,” she said. As someone commented on one of her videos, “the whole song hit me like a concrete wall with 100 needles.”
But for some, it’s more than just the lyrics. Isaac Sigala, a “slowed and reverb” creator with almost 35,000 followers, makes videos out of nostalgia for the “chopped and screwed” music he grew up listening to. The “slowed and reverb” sound is most indebted to “chopped and screwed” music, a style of slowed down hip-hop songs popularized by Houston-based DJ Screw in the 1990s.
When Sigala started making his own remixes, he was unsurprised at the emotional response.
“I knew it was gonna happen,” he said. “ I see the kind of emotions that were brought out in me when I first started getting into [slowed music]. I could see how others would express their emotions too.”
Creator and therapist
But nothing can quite prepare someone for when the deeply intimate comments come flooding in on their videos. As the creators wake up daily to people sharing their innermost thoughts — Hemden said he gets about seven new ones a day — they develop an intimate bond with their subscribers.
“I didn’t feel like they were strangers, you know? I felt like I connected with them,” Hemden said.
The creators sometimes end up playing the role of makeshift therapist.
“I try to help as many people I can,” Sigala said. “I’ll tell them to text me personally. That way it’s just me and them, and not for the world to see.”
Sigala’s made friends this way; sometimes people will message him months later to tell them they’ve gotten better. “It makes me feel better about myself and them,” he said.
“Slowed and reverb” video creator Brayden Moore said that he related to many of his commenters’ mental health struggles and that he responds in an attempt to make them feel less alone.
“If I see something that’s similar to something I’ve gone through, then I’ll definitely comment and try to give them some uplifting words,” he said.
Ramona, on the other hand, connects to her subscribers by commiserating alongside them. She commented on her Heather video, “here’s a random pov: you’ve grown older yet still can’t forget about them and it’s aching in your mind.”
It has 7,300 likes and more than 100 replies. One person responded by saying, “Haven’t seen him in almost three years but can’t forget him.”
Ramona wrote back, “it’ll be okay <3”
Hemden said he feels protective of his commenters and will act as a moderator to keep discussion compassionate.
“I make sure there are no hate comments towards the people who share their stories because it takes bravery,” Hemden said. “Someone has to be courageous to actually share their story.”
The “slowed and reverb” videos can take as little as 10 minutes to make, but the emotional labor required by creators after can consume endless hours. Financially, they earn nothing for their work. Despite some videos having millions of views, many creators say they are unable to monetize their remixes for copyright reasons. It also often doesn’t matter to them.
“As long as I can help the people that are in the comment sections,” Sigala said. “It’s all good.”