As a self-identified “young person,” and as someone whose age is often the subject of some obligatory ridicule, I’ve often found myself totally ignorant to a history that others value deeply. It’s embarrassing. Mostly, this has to do with music. My birth year has the misfortune of straddling the annoying and blurry line that divides Millennials from Generation Z, and so whenever people ask what I think of whichever soft-rock singer from long before 1997, I’m forced to reply with a sheepish, “Sorry — who?”
This is both a symptom of age and a childhood not soundtracked to rock music. Still, I’m always into a belated intro. And apparently so is everyone else. Because while the number one song in the world right now is, obviously, “WAP” — by rap prophets Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion — the second is an unlikelier one, a song that wriggled its way out of 1981 and onto the iTunes charts because of the on-camera discovery of a set of Gen Z twins: it’s Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” 40 years after its release.
Back in July, as the month rolled to a close, a YouTube channel called TwinsthenewTrend, which posts “REACTIONS, VLOGS, PRANKS, AND MUCH MORE IN STORE!!,” published a new video. “FIRST TIME HEARING Phil Collins - In the Air Tonight REACTION” was its title.
In it, the 21-year-old Tim and Fred Williams are gearing up to hear a song that means so much to another generation, but which they’ve never heard of. “What’s this about?” one asks at the beginning. “Let’s see.” And what happens after is so joyful it makes you excited to watch. As the song progresses, their expressions change, they pause to offer insights, and the audience waits for a moment they know is coming, but which the twins don’t have a clue about.
Watch: Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” has taken over the world. Story continues below.
“You guys are digging the build up, meanwhile everyone over the age of 40 is like, wait for it, WAIT FOR IT!” reads one comment. And another: “The world trembled under the collective anticipation of a billion old people (no hate, myself included) waiting to see your faces when the drums kick in.”
The song’s drums do, inevitably, kick in. And when they do, the twins go wild. They’re clapping. They’re laughing. They’re genuinely surprised. “I’ve never seen somebody drop a beat three minutes into a song,” one says, delighted. They groove together, overjoyed by the treasure they’ve uncovered. “That’s unique!”
In the weeks since it was published, the video racked up more than five million views, and the comments section was filled up with a bunch of people sharing their memories of the song, each coloured by the sweetness of nostalgia. “I remember when this song actually came out in 1981, my first year in college,” wrote one man. “Our reaction then was the same as yours now.”
And one from a 60-something woman, sharing a story about her brother who recently passed away: “You have no idea what this video meant to me today … Years ago, we were driving around the streets of Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio university where Steve was a student. This song came on the radio, and he cranked it up. We opened the windows — it was the dead of winter, too. When that drum solo kicked in, I pounded it on the dashboard and he thumped it on the steering wheel. I’ll never forget how fun those few minutes were.”
On Twitter, too, there were plenty of lovely reactions:
The video was resonant enough that the song leapt back onto the iTunes charts and, per Rolling Stone, saw a 1,100 per cent rise in sales on the weekend of August 7. As reported by Variety, “In the Air Tonight” suddenly became the fourth biggest selling song of the week ending in August 8, though it was at number 185 just one week before. The song also saw 6,000 downloads between August 7 and 9, placing it firmly in the running for the top 10 of Billboard’s Digital Song Sales chart for Aug. 22, which will come out on the 18th.
The song was an instant hit way back when it was first released, when it secured the number two spot on the UK Singles chart and the video was dispatched all over MTV.
But to those of us who were raised on the music of Drake and Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, it doesn’t connect in the same way. Some songs are inexorably tied to a moment: they conjure the scene of the first time you heard it, or the third, or whenever the moment was so right that it’s impossible to forget. In the video, what we see is a song bridging generations, facilitating an exchange of memories that were filed away on the back shelf.
The twins have been making reaction videos like this for at least a year now, and the songs they respond to usually come by recommendation, from subscribers with a taste for history. The clips are delightful. They make you feel like you’re rediscovering the song, too. Dolly Parton even tweeted out a link to them responding to her song, “Jolene.”
There’s something about the innocence, about watching someone discover something in real time, that’s so pleasant to watch. And it’s fascinating to see a pair of Gen Z kids breathe life into a track that was conceived long before they were even born. Shortly after the video came out, “Phil Collins” was trending on Twitter. The whole thing is priceless.
So if you’re feeling kinda bummed about the nightmarish state of the world, and you’re in need of a little internet pick me up, try watching the twins share their fleeting moments of joy and discovery. Maybe, by osmosis, you’ll feel it too. And if, like me, you’re decidedly not privy to much of the music that was made before you even became the germ of an idea, then maybe you’ll make some wonderful discoveries of your own along the way.