Edited by: Arnav Diwan
Have you ever ventured into the realm of your YouTube recommends and found yourself vexed by dramatic headlines screaming, “Exposed! WITH RECEIPTS” and promises of “Spilling some tea”? If you have, then you probably have discovered quite a recent internet phenomenon called the “Drama channel”. Drama channels, as the name suggests, are special channels dedicated to chronicling the ongoing “scandals” that most internet stars find themselves in, presented in real time. They are also often called “gossip channels” or “tea channels”. With some of them amassing over 1.6 million views per video, there appears to be a meteoric rise in their popularity. However, why and how did this rise in popularity come about?
As we look towards the evolution of YouTube culture, it seems to have reached a point where influencers are attributed “celebrity status”. However, mainstream gossip media still refuses to acknowledge YouTube influencers as celebrities. This creates a gap between a demand for fans wanting to tune into YouTube feuds and drama, and the lack of its coverage within mainstream media. So, where do viewers turn to? Drama channels fill this gap by taking up and reporting on these “feuds”, and create engaging content to fulfil this demand. In a lot of cases, they can also act as news sources for Millennials and Gen-Zers, covering and filling in what they can’t find on mainstream media.
What is also interesting to note is what contributes to the appeal of popular drama channels isn’t just that they provide a substitute to mainstream media, or that they simply rehash the information that one finds online. Drama videos can often be broadly categorized into two types. The first type of videos are the ones that create a summary of the events that went down, often in a slideshow-eque format, presenting all the evidence for the viewer to make up their opinion. One example of a channel like this is Sebastian Williams. This type of content proves to be convenient for the viewer as it gives them all the information they may need in one or two videos. The second type of videos are often closer to commentary, wherein the person providing the information also adds their own opinion cohesively to the information being presented. This makes the information more accessible as it seems more personalized and can be placed into a larger narrative. Sanders Kennedy, Angelika Oles, etc. fall in this category of videos. Thus, the growing popularity of drama channels can also be attributed to the way in which these channels give the information to the viewers.
While one might associate drama channels with an inherently superficial reporting, some of them are also important when holding YouTubers accountable for certain actions. In particular, their reporting of irresponsible influencers holding large parties without any precautions during the pandemic, helped viewers critically engage with the actions of their “faves”. In the process of accountability, drama channels have also been forerunners in calling out various forms of prejudice. This engagement with important issues of social justice also adds to their influence in the YouTube sphere.
Therefore, drama channels have embedded themselves as an integral part of YouTube culture, and are especially important sources of information within the larger sphere of Gen-Z culture. However, this comes with the caveat that they can, just as importantly, also sometimes be sources of misinformation (as is the case with any outlet and person reporting news). Thus, while it does get engaging to listen to them “spilling the tea”, it is important for us to also take in this information critically. So, the next time you see an exciting video spilling tea, take it with a grain of salt.