music

The night when straight white males tried to kill disco

DJ Steve Dahl during Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 12 July 1979. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

‘This wouldn’t have happened if they had country and western night.’
Richard Wortham, White Sox pitcher

It was a muggy summer night in South Side, Chicago in 1979. In and around Comiskey Park, home to the long-struggling White Sox baseball team, the scene was one of total chaos. Thousands of working- and middle-class young men, predominately white, predominately angry, went riot. Seats were ripped out of the stadium, urinals were kicked from the walls, and the opposing baseball teams were shut in the locker rooms for their own protection. Through it all, the rioters shouted a mantra. It wasn’t about inequality, lingering recession woes or the high-paying industrial jobs slowly seeping out of the Midwest. The slogan they chanted over and over, until their voices were raw, was: ‘Disco sucks!’

That summer, disco music was everywhere, saturating pop culture at the expense of almost all other genres of music. With its pulsing ‘four-on-the-floor’ beat, big vocals and affirming lyrics, disco was a shiny, upbeat escape for Americans living through the smoggy, cynical late-1970s. By the end of the decade, it had become as common as good old American apple pie – there were discotheques in most decently sized towns. Midwestern teenagers skated to Stayin’ Alive in roller discos, and many mainstream radio stations changed their programing to all-disco, all the time.

Disco hadn’t always been so mainstream. It evolved in the clubs and bars of communities that were historically marginalised by the straight, white majority. ‘Disco music was black music, basically,’ John-Manuel Andriote, author of Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco/Dance Music (2001), told me. ‘It was mostly recorded by black artists until the mid- to late-1970s, when white artists realised how popular the music had become. Back then, people heard new dance music in the clubs – not on the radio (at first) – so club DJs played a big role in introducing these black and Latino sounds to a bigger public.’

The gay community, its nightlife flourishing after the liberating Stonewall riots in 1969, embraced disco music and its pioneering DJs. ‘The group most responsible for keeping discos alive was the homosexual community,’ the sound engineer Alex Rosner told Newsweek in 1976. ‘The pioneering done in the disco field has been done by gays, with blacks and Puerto Ricans following … The common denominator there is oppression.’

By the mid-1970s, disco was catching on, and creating its own mainstream stars, such as Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer. But it was Saturday Night Fever (1977), the movie featuring a glamorous, dancing, ladies’ man played by John Travolta – and its accompanying disco soundtrack by the high-pitched Bee Gees – that made disco a nationwide phenomenon. ‘The Bee Gees put a white face on what was basically black and Latin music, and it exploded in popularity,’ Andriote says.

One of the victims of the disco explosion was Steve Dahl, then a 24-year-old Chicago radio DJ who pioneered the ‘shock-jock’ persona most identified with Howard Stern. In December 1978, he was fired from WDAI, ‘Chicago’s best rock’ station, when it switched to an all-disco format. Dahl soon found a home at the rock station the Loop 97.9, but he carried a grudge.

Built like the proverbial Pillsbury doughboy, Dahl brought with him a legion of young, alienated male listeners he named ‘The Insane Coho Lips’. Dahl and his posse greeted each other on-air with the salutation: ‘Disco sucks!’

‘If anything, the pushback from disco saturation was an act of self-preservation,’ Dahl would later write in Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died (2016). ‘No kid, just figuring out who he was and where he was going, would be prepared to have his assimilated rock-and-roll identity stripped from him. If the resistance was furious, it was because they were not prepared to shuck the rock and roll, which had sheltered them in their transition from kid to adult.’

Dahl saw disco as slick and inauthentic, and he took to playing popular disco tunes, only to ‘blow ’em up real good’ with sound-effects live on-air. These targeted antics were not isolated to the radio booth. At promotions, Dahl took to performing in a helmet and military jacket, destroying albums on stage. For this complicated, insecure performer, the adulation he received made him feel that he was building a movement – and advancing his career. ‘[My fans] were passionate about their music and their lifestyles,’ Dahl wrote in Disco Demolition. ‘I tapped into it, both as a response to being canned to make room for the disco format, and to build a community so I could keep my job.’

Dahl’s wife Janet took a more nuanced view of her husband’s motivations. ‘He looked goofy and chubby, his hair was bad, and he was breaking records on his head,’ she remembered. ‘But to be embraced was validating for someone like him.’ His fans, often from struggling, working-class Chicago families, lost in a new culture of women’s liberation, black rights, sexual liberation and Studio 54-inspired androgyny and materialism, felt validated right back. ‘I was a chubby kid,’ Kevin Hickey, a fan, recalled. ‘I remember Steve saying the reason he hated disco so much was because he couldn’t buy a three-piece white suit off the rack. That stuck with me because I couldn’t either.’

On 12 July 1979, Dahl would come face-to-face with the community he had created, on a night that became known as ‘Disco Demolition Night’.

That night, the White Sox were scheduled to play a doubleheader against the equally middling Detroit Tigers. As part of a ‘teen night’ promotion with the Loop radio station, fans were told that if they donated one of their disco records, they would be admitted into Comiskey Park for only 98 cents. Between games, Dahl and his cohorts promised to put the records in a giant dumpster at centre field and blow it up, the physical realisation of the audio stunts that Dahl had been pulling for weeks.

Fans flooded the stadium, as ushers struggled to keep up with the number of disco albums being shoved in their faces. One young African-American usher, Vincent Lawrence (who later became a pioneer of house music, disco’s direct descendant), noticed a disturbing trend as he took the albums. ‘A lot of the records were not disco records but BLACK records – Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.’

The first game passed relatively uneventfully, the Tigers winning 4-1. Comiskey Park, often half-empty on game days, was filled past capacity. More than 47,000 people packed into a stadium whose capacity was 44,492. So far, the promotion had been a startling success.

But as soon as Dahl, clad in military fatigues, emerged in a convertible Jeep, the night took a sinister turn. Fans began throwing beers at the Jeep. Even Dahl was momentarily stunned. ‘When the door opened and I saw all those people,’ he remembered, ‘it was: “What the fuck? They are throwing beers and cherry bombs at us. And they’re the people who like us!”’

To chants of ‘Disco sucks!’, Dahl stepped out of the Jeep into centre field and led the crowd in a countdown to the demolition of the albums. But too much dynamite caused album fragments to shoot into the sky, and a crater was formed from the explosion’s impact. The crowd roared, as players continued warming up on the field.

‘The place went bonkers … People started jumping out of the stands,’ D J Michaels, a witness, remembered. ‘It was like the rats leaving a ship. A few, then more, then total chaos.’

Dahl and his team were whisked to safety. Bonfires were started. The White Sox player Steve Trout remembered the scene:

I walked out to look at centre field, and I heard something go by me. It was an album from the upper deck and landed next to my right foot. It was stuck in the ground. I said: ‘Holy shit, I could have been killed by the Village People.’

The White Sox player Ed Farmer got in a fist fight in the parking lot. The Chicago Police Department, including mounted policemen, appeared at the scene. A little more than an hour after it was scheduled to begin, the second game was postponed due to unsafe conditions.

By the time the riot had dissipated, 39 people had been arrested, and the field was smouldering and gutted. For many of the participants, it was an exhilarating experience. ‘We didn’t take over the dean’s office but we took over our ballpark,’ Bob Chicoine, a vendor, remembered.

Almost immediately, the local media latched on to the story and ran with it. Joe Shanahan, a bar owner and native Chicagoan, recalled watching reports of the scene:

I could see the South Side kids I grew up with on the television running over their field. Those were the douchebags I ran away from in high school. And they were burning records. I thought: ‘Didn’t you all read Bradbury? Burning books? Burning records? This has the feeling of a really bad cloud. And why is it coming out of Chicago? And why is music of any kind, whether I like it or not, being destroyed for some radio promotion or some baseball promotion? It gave licence for people to not be in the modern world.

The story soon became nationwide news. Disco was again labelled ‘other’ – foreign and not tough enough for real, heartland American males. Dahl and his cohorts strongly denied (and continue to deny) that the ‘Disco Sucks!’ movement had anything to do with racism or homophobia. ‘I’m worn out from defending myself as a racist homophobe for fronting Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park,’ he wrote in his book. ‘This event was just a moment in time. Not racist, not anti-gay … It is important to me to have this viewed in the 1979 lens … That evening was a declaration of independence from the tyranny of sophistication.’

Disco did not worship at the altar of the rock god. It was the Village People versus Pink Floyd. Andriote agrees: ‘My take on what happened [at Comiskey Park] was that it was a boiling-over of testosterone from white straight men who saw disco – and the whole club scene – as threatening to their masculinity.’

By the early 1980s, disco was beyond passé, and so were all the fanciful accoutrements that went with it – glitter balls, dance lessons and belting divas. Some people point to the events at Comiskey Park as ‘the night disco died’, although over-saturation and mediocre products also helped lead to its rapid downfall. Yet, despite the best efforts of men such as Dahl, disco’s influence lives on. The marginalised groups who loved the music – blacks, women, Hispanics, Latinos and gays – have increasingly claimed their rightful place in society. Disco informs the work of many of today’s superstars, from Bruno Mars to Lady Gaga, and popular music from house to EDM. As the Village People sang: ‘You can’t stop the music, nobody can stop the music.’Aeon counter – do not remove

Hadley Meares

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Bruno Mars and Donald Glover bring back the oldies for 2017

bruno-mars-24k-magic-childish-gambino-awaken-my-love

If there’s one good thing that might come out of 2017 is that this just might be the best year for pop culture ever, particularly music. That is, if Bruno Mars and Donald Glover’s latest offerings are anything to predict by.

First, let’s talk about Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic. The album is short, but it’s jam-packed with late ’80s and early ’90s production value. One of my favorites is “Calling All My Lovelies,” which sounds one part ridiculous ’80s funky slow-jam and one part ridiculous skewering of the sensitive male ego. (Mars’ character’s dismay at once again being on the receiving end of Halle Berry’s voicemail is hilarious.)

The other fave, “Finesse,” is pure ’90s New Jack Swing. I’d been wishing songs could go back to this sound for years, and someone finally did it! Thank goodness it was Mars, who has shown a deft understanding what made party jams of the recent past so cool.

Rolling Stone Magazine called 24K Magic “a lush Nineties throwback,” with Christopher R. Weingarten writing:

“Mars wanted Magic to recreate the nostalgic wonder of the school dances he attended in he Ninetines–and his croweded productions, infectious attitude and soaring voice go well beyond ‘tribute’ into the realm of ‘IMAX reboot.'”

Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, is now taking listeners on a ride through the ’70s with his first offerings from his latest album, Awaken, My Love!, available Dec. 2. “Me and Your Mama” is great if you’re looking for some blaxploitation-esque funk, but “Redbone” really gets to the Bootsy Collins feel that I grew up listening to, thanks to my dad.

Glover also referenced memories of his childhood when talking about his new album to XXL Magazine:

“I remember listening to songs my dad would play–albums by the Isleys or Funkadelic–and not understanding the feeling I was feeling. I remember hearing a Funkadelic scream and being like, ‘Wow, that’s sexual and it’s scary.’ Not having a name for that, though; just having a feeling. That’s what made it great.”

Even Glover’s cover art evokes the same scariness and enigmatic mystery that surrounds the best of Funkadelic and Bootsy Collins’ cover art. Even though you’re repelled by the cover of Awaken, My Love!, you still want to know what’s inside the album. You want to know what has made this woman poke her head above the muck to grace us with her eerie smile.

(There’s also a reaffirming, apologetic blackness to the cover art as well, but you didn’t come here for an art treatise.)

To me, it makes sense that music would start harking back to another time and place, simply because music, as an escape, can take us back to times of our youth. With everything ranging from politics to the very state of the earth up in the air, it makes sense that millennials and Gen Xers want to go back to a time when everything seemed more stable and, frankly, a lot more fun. Right now, we all need an escape, and Mars and Glover are giving us the escape we need.

Now, if only Kid Sister would come out with another retro-’80s album, if Sharaya J would actually release her full-length album (WHEN WILL IT GET MADE?!), and if Monica, Missy Elliot, Remy Ma, and Lil Kim come out with stuff that evokes the ’90s and early ’00s, then we could really kick off 2017 on the musical good foot. For now, though, I’ll just keep Mars and Glover on and endless loop.

Who do you hope comes out of the woodwork and gives us the album we need to get through 2017? How are you liking Mars and Glover’s retro sounds? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Princess Nokia’s “BRUJAS” celebrates black women’s feminine power

YouTube
YouTube

While we’re still collecting ourselves from the Yoruba imagery in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”, let’s not sleep on another artist using the religion as a basis for self-expression and family homage.

Princess Nokia paid respect to her Afro-Latinx roots by honoring her family’s Santería and Yoruba religions in “BRUJAS”, which gives a message of black sisterhood and unity. It’s a message we certainly need in these new days of Trump.

The video will certainly hit you in the feels, especially if you’re a black woman feeling downtrodden because your mind, your body, and your soul have been hit in an even greater round of political and social warfare. The overriding message of black feminine power will have you feeling uplifted and ready to take on whatever BS is coming our way because we have higher energy holding us down.

To quote Nylon Magazine:

Its so refreshing to see brown women embraced for their pure divinity. Prepare to be completely mesmerized by all the melanin on your screen. Throughout the visual, [co-director Destiny Frasqueri] and her sisters come together to pray, read, play games, and bond over their connection to a higher power.

Overall, the message is a beautiful conglomerate of feminism, sisterhood, and self-love.”

I agree. We’ve all got to be brujas to deal with the trickery that’s already been in our lives and the new trickery that’s coming. Check out “BRUJAS” below and write about how it empowered you in the comments section below.

Alessia Cara and Jordan Fisher featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda perform end-credit songs on the forthcoming Disney’s “Moana” animated film and soundtrack

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Facebook

BURBANK, Calif., Oct. 24, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Set for release on November 18, the Moana original motion picture soundtrack features seven original songs and a full original score, plus two reprises as well as two end-credit versions of songs from the film.  Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.

The diverse and dynamic team behind the film’s inspired music includes Tony®- and Grammy®-winning songwriter/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who counts among his credits Broadway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and multiple Tony-winning “Hamilton” and the Tony-winning “In the Heights.”  The creative team also includes three-time Grammy®-winning composer Mark Mancina (“Speed,” “Tarzan” and the Oscar®-winning “Training Day”) and Opetaia Foa’i, the founder and lead singer of Te Vaka, a winner of numerous world music awards.

“How Far I’ll Go” is Moana’s song written by Miranda and is performed in the film by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho.  The end-credit version of the song is performed by Canadian singer/songwriter and Def Jam recording artist Alessia Cara.  Her gold-certified album Know-It-All includes the multi-platinum singles “Here” and “Wild Things,” plus the critically-acclaimed single “Scars to Your Beautiful.”  Cara is a Juno Award winner for Breakthrough Artist of the Year and is a 2016 American Music Award nominee for New Artist of the Year.  She recently completed a tour with Coldplay.

Written by Miranda and performed by Dwayne Johnson in the film, “You’re Welcome” showcases the colorful personality of Maui.  Hollywood Records artist Jordan Fisher teams up with Miranda for the end-credit version of “You’re Welcome.”    After a breakout performance in the Emmy® Award-winning production of Grease: Live, Jordan Fisher released his debut single, “All About Us,” which soared to the top of the Billboard Pop charts.  Fisher, who recently opened for Alicia Keys at this year’s Apple Music Festival, has joined the Broadway cast of “Hamilton,” and is set to release his full-length album in 2017.

For centuries, the greatest sailors in the world masterfully navigated the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, 3,000 years ago, their voyages stopped for a millennium – and no one knows exactly why. From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who is inspired to leave the safety and security of her island on a daring journey to save her people. Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana (voice of Auliʻi Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors who sailed before her. Together, they voyage across the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.

The Moana soundtrack can be pre-ordered today HERE and a digital pre-order will be available Friday, Oct. 28th.  The Moana original motion picture soundtrack features 14 tracks and will be available wherever music is sold and streamed on Nov. 18, 2016.  The Moana two-disc deluxe edition and the digital deluxe edition soundtrack, which are also available Nov. 18, feature additional tracks including demos, outtakes and instrumental karaoke tracks.  For more information on Walt Disney Records’ releases, like us on Facebook.com/disneymusic or follow us at Twitter.com/disneymusic and Instagram.com/disneymusic/.

Gospel singers take Neon Genesis Evangelion to holy heights

YouTube/screengrab
YouTube/screengrab

As a long time anime fan, I’ve heard and watched Neon Genesis Evangelion. But a confession that must be made is that while I appreciate the show, I never really got into Evangelion. But, I love the theme song almost as much as Oprah loves bread. It’s easily one of the most iconic theme songs in anime history. Now, the song has become even more iconic after a gospel group takes it to yet another awesome level.

The group, Glory Gospel Singers, appeared on an episode of Japanese singing show NHK Nodo Jiman (NHK Amateur Singing Contest), and they blew the audience away by combining their traditional gospel roots with classic anime. Check it out for yourself.

I love when I see videos featuring beautiful cross-cultural moments, and this video is certainly no exception. What did you think about this video? And if you’re a Neon Genesis Evangelion fan, what do you love about the show? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

The VMAs: We came from Beyoncé, but stayed for Drake and Rihanna

MTV/YouTube Screengrab
MTV/YouTube Screengrab

If I can be honest, I didn’t understand much of the MTV VMAs. I’ve never seen most of the people in attendance ever in life, so count me among the “I’m officially old” club. But I’ll tell you what the two highlights of the night were. No, it wasn’t Kanye’s rambling speech; I read it, and while I’m always here for a clapback directed at Taylor Swift, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what Kanye was talking about, which is typical Kanye. The two highlights were, clearly, Beyoncé’s epic set and Drake giving Rihanna the introduction only a loving, attentive boyfriend could give.

First, Beyoncé.

I don’t even need words to describe what you just saw, but I’ll still put in my two cents. I admit that I’ve had my own issues with Beyoncé in the past. No, I’m not a BeyHiver now; I’d break out in hives if I ever found myself even considering such a thing. No; I simply like Beyoncé now. I am here for what she is finally doing, which is making music that has a message and is music that is firmly entrenched in black womanhood and power. I found myself calling her performance on “Michael Jackson level,” and that is not a title to throw around lightly. Not everyone can perform basically five music videos live and sing at full-throat and dance and destroy cameras and have a gazillion costume changes and make it all look easy. That ish is hard! And she just did the impossible.

(Yes, I know I just gushed over Beyoncé; NO, I’M NOT IN NO DOGGONE BEYHIVE.)

Second, Drake’s speech about Rihanna and how much he’s loved her even before they were together. (Also: Rihanna’s speech upon accepting the Vanguard Award)

Okay, in order to make this not all about the guy, let me state that Rihanna had the daunting task of performing four times that night. FOUR TIMES. She basically had her own Beyoncé performance, but at least hers was scattered throughout. Still that’s a wild feat to undertake, and she definitely showed why she was getting the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award. She’s put out more hits than I even knew; I’d even forgotten about some of her hits. She’s been the soundtrack to these years of the aughts, and she’s changed and grown in such a positive way that you can’t help but root for her. As Drake said, she did it all while staying true to herself, and not everyone in the industry can say that. To quote Drake, “no one” can say that. I wonder who he was throwing shots at, since everyone who was anyone was performing or presenting that night.

Now, to get back to that speech: nearly everyone online expressed sentiment that they wished they had someone in their lives who were so in love with them as Drake is with Rihanna. People were so bowled over by his love and admiration for her that they thought he was going to propose to her. My sister thought so. I thought so. It would have only been too much to handle at one time. Unfortunately (or thankfully) he didn’t, but let’s not be so surprised that Drake could be so sensitive with or without a proposal; did we forget that Aubrey Drake Graham was once a regular cast member of the ultra-feely show Degrassi: The Next Generation? When that show said, “It goes there,” they weren’t kidding, and Drake’s character Jimmy went through it. Plus, the music video for Hotline Bling is delightful in its corniness. Corny people are usually sensitive souls.

Anyways, I hope a proposal is somewhere in the future for Drake and Rihanna.  I’d love to see the photos from that wedding.

What did you think of the MTV VMAs? Are you officially old like me? Who did you just not understand? (There was that one performance with that guy and that girl with the booby half-shirt and that dude on that…instrument? It was a terrible performance.) Sound off below!

“Star Trek Beyond”: 4 Things to Know about Rihanna’s “Sledgehammer”

Rihanna has slayed the song/movie tie-in game with her new single “Sledgehammer.” I rarely use the term “slayed,” so trust me that I don’t mean this lightly. Frankly, it’s the best I’ve seen of Rihanna since “BBHMM.”

Here’s what you need to know about the song:

1. The song has the Sia stamp: We’ve all rocked out to Sia’s “Chandelier” and her other powerful ballads, and the same unmistakable Sia mark is on “Sledgehammer.” Sia wrote the song, and Sia’s dramatic scope fits the space operatic tones of the Star Trek movie universe.

2. Rihanna’s voice has never sounded stronger: Is it just me, or has Rihanna’s voice never sounded better? I’ve become a small-time Rihanna fan as of late, and I have to say that I’m proud of her growth. But even still, it seems like her vocal ability has become even deeper and broader than I realized, and I’m really excited by it. Hearing Rihanna’s voice soar through this song was so good that when I heard it blind on one of the Star Trek Beyond commercials, I actually thought it was Sia, no joke. Great job on this, Rihanna!

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

3. It’s the first music video to debut in IMAX, and it makes full use of the technology:

Floria Sigismondi, the director of the music video, wanted to make sure the viewers really felt like they were in space. “Because the beginning of the video takes place in space, you really get the sense of floating through and also the sound,” said Sigismondi to Billboard. IMAX remixed the music, so that when it plays in the theatre it really has such a three-dimensional quality. That low-end is really pushed so it really feels booming.”

4. The music video’s director wanted to tell a story about humanity

Sigismondi told Billboard that the story told in the music video is something she’s always wanted to tell. “…I’ve always wanted to do a person breaking apart into the universe. I just think that’s so beautiful in terms of what you can say about humanity,” she said. “I’ve created this mystical being in this otherworldy planet being that harnesses the power to manipulate the elements and the elements around her being the sand, the rocks and the earth, and that she actually has a power as well to conjure up the energy and create light and stars. So she transforms into the universe itself.”

Check out the video and Rihanna discussing how much of a Star Trek fan she is. Star Trek Beyond will be in theaters July 22.

“Star Trek Beyond,” the highly anticipated next installment in the globally popular Star Trek franchise, created by Gene Roddenberry and reintroduced by J.J. Abrams in 2009, returns with director Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious” franchise) at the helm of this epic voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her intrepid crew.  In “Beyond,” the Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

Website: http://www.startrekmovie.com
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Exclusive Interview: Judith Hill

You might know Judith Hill from The Voice and 20 Feet From Stardom, but now the talented singer/songwriter has her new album, Back in Time and for longtime fans and Hill herself, this album has been a long time coming. Hill worked in the music industry as a background singer for some of pop culture’s most talented artists, and all of that hard work is shown in the versatility and artistry shown on Back in Time‘s songs.

I was very excited to be able to speak with Hill about her album, which is now available for purchase today from NPG Records, her career, and what it’s like to work in Prince’s Paisley Park Studios. You can follow Hill on JudithHill.com and on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube