The rise of the video essay as art: D’Angelo Wallace

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D’Angelo Wallace is the current golden boy of the Internet. His YouTube career began as an art channel, but he’s pivoted his content and delivery into commentary-based video essays and films. His charisma, clarity and nuance have made his educational explorations into societal phenomena and social issues massively popular. What makes Wallace unique, besides his contagious confidence, is that while he often discusses current events that might typically be covered by “gossip channels” or celebrity news, his approach is radically different. Rather than using these events as entertaining fodder, he takes them as opportunities to examine underlying social structures and implications, providing a much more socially important, nuanced analysis than TMZ might. Oh, and he’s mad funny. 

With his intense surge of fame, Wallace has expanded his content. He now has two YouTube channels — “D’Angelo Wallace” and “dangelowallace” — as well as a popular Twitch stream. Between his three platforms, he releases content nearly every day. 

The first of these channels, “D’Angelo Wallace,” is the more casual of the two YouTube channels. Wallace picks a fairly specific current event, and then he spends exactly 10 minutes describing and analyzing the issue, all while maintaining a tone of humor. He dons casual but exceptionally stylish outfits and cute cat ears on his headphones. It’s cultural criticism in delicious, bite-sized form, a unique balance of brevity and quality that reveals his great editorial skill and keen intelligence.

His other channel, “dangelowallace,” is where he releases long-form, high production value, extensively researched video essays. Most of these recent films, all beautifully edited, are a full hour long. They contain thorough description, supported by research and evidence, of a current social issue, as well as a critique and analysis of said issue. He goes as far as to break these videos into chapters that organize the subpoints of his greater argument, such as “The KarJenners and the deglamorization of the wealth gap” and “Doctor Mike and the hypocrisy of interclass sermonizing.” Additionally, Wallace gets dressed up for these more elegant films; Wallace’s impeccable personal style is a critical facet of his content’s eloquence. It presents him as trustworthy, authoritative and downright cool. Recent films on this channel include “INFLUENCER-19,” a discussion and critique of the failure of popular influencers to follow public health guidelines, as well as films about the Paul Brothers and Shane Dawson.

On his Twitch stream, which currently goes live three times per week, with an abridged cut being posted to YouTube the same day, he performs a stylistically similar analysis to the short form videos of his “D’Angelo Wallace” channel. On Twitch, a streaming platform popularized by gamers, his style is equally or more casual, and he interacts with the viewers, who participate in the live chat, as he streams. Impressively, the abridged, 10-minute versions of his Twitch streams, which he uploads to YouTube, are always as cohesive and smooth as if they were filmed and scripted to be 10-minutes long at their inception. His ability to hold longform discussions and then summarize the complex discussion into easily consumable videos is unparalleled.

(Photo: D’Angelo Wallace)

While he isn’t hesitant to call out public figures for inappropriate, bigoted or dangerous behavior (looking at you, Lana Del Rey), his videos dive much deeper than that. He doesn’t just gossip, “call someone out” or “cancel” them; rather, he explores a much more thorough analysis of the cultural issues that are framed and revealed by the situations he discusses. For example, in INFLUENCER-19, Wallace discusses the online influencers who have been caught breaking public health guidelines. The video doesn’t call for a “cancelation” of any individuals in particular. Rather, it offers a strongly composed analysis of the intersection of class privilege and COVID. Brilliantly, Wallace takes a current, gossipy situation running its course on social media and utilizes the topic’s popularity to actually inform people about something more important than celebrity gossip. He never partakes in performative “drama.” His talent lies in the fact that he’s able to maintain the entertainment value that gets viewers “in the door” while guiding them to more mature conclusions. 

Wallace also doesn’t fear nuance. In one of his recent streams, excerpted onto YouTube, Wallace covers news about a woman whose college acceptance was rescinded after a Snapchat video of her using a racial slur when she was 15 was circulated by a classmate. Wallace covers the facts of the story, but instead of doing what “gossip channels” or other mainstream content makers might do, he goes beyond simply deeming the girl or her classmate “right” or “wrong.” While he isn’t afraid to call someone out, Wallace doesn’t use his channel to harass or judge individuals. Rather, he uses the stories of those individuals to illustrate the greater social issues at hand. 

By choosing to examine the latent social issues at play, Wallace takes an unconventional approach to the coverage of this news event. Mainstream sources reported that one of the girl’s classmates had posted the video to Twitter after she had chosen a college, with the express intent of getting her admission revoked. Rather than attempting to be an arbiter of justice against two teenagers, Wallace analyzes the profoundly sad failure that has occurred for both of these children. He notes that the girl was a child, and that it is sad that she was raised to be a racist. He also notes, most important, how sad it is that the classmate who turned her in felt like this was the only way he could achieve justice. It’s sad that the school system had failed him so deeply that he felt responsible for the education of another (he claims he “taught someone a lesson”). He diverts the focus of this story away from the individuals, instead pointing out how the university the girl decided to attended, the University of Tennessee, punished the girl, effectively presenting her as a scapegoat for the racial issues that are still present at the university without solving them.

As he pivots the story away from gossiping about teenagers, Wallace brings up the recent article of a Stanford professor beloved to many, Ruth Starkman. He engages with and appreciates the piece, which discusses the use of the n-word in academia. Here he takes a “dramatic” news story and contextualizes it with the Black Lives Matter movement and the pursuit of racial justice in academia — issues that are both significantly more important than teenagers’ Snapchats. In using his own arguments and those of legitimate outside sources like Professor Starkman, he guides his own audience to improve themselves.

(Photo: D’Angelo Wallace)

Wallace isn’t just smart and beautifully spoken — he’s charming as hell. He’s hot, and he knows it — and he loves to say so. His style is slick but tasteful, sumptuous but not gaudy. He’s never self-deprecating. He doesn’t talk down to others. He isn’t arrogant or unempathetic, only unapologetically confident in himself. The result of this is that his self-confidence influences his viewers to be more confident themselves, rather than making them feel small, as an arrogant man might. 

One YouTuber commenter writes on this video, “Self-aggrandizing humor is so refreshing compared to the self-deprecating humor common among commentators. Everyone follow D’Angelo’s lead and be your own biggest fan!” On the same video, another commenter responds, simply, “I love this type of humour. It encourages self love :).” Wallace’s charisma is invigorating. It makes his audience want to be more like him, love themselves more, and be the best versions of themselves. In an internet landscape that ranges from total self-deprecation to toxic positivity, Wallace, an actual role model, represents a healthy light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m happy that Wallace has blown up in this way. Wallace demonstrates the popularization of cultural critique and class analysis with modern youth. Kids and young adults want to be genuinely “woke,” so to speak, and the entertainment they consume reflects that desire. Wallace’s cultural critique represents the crème de la crème of this “edu-tainment” wave. Today’s youth also want to love themselves, and they seek out healthy role models like Wallace who inspire self-confidence and personal pride. Finally, Wallace represents a unique independence that we must protect fiercely. He provides news and analysis outside of the influences of a university or media outlet, and the individuality and honesty afforded by such a position is one that is lacking in many other media sources today.

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Rachel D'Agui is a member of the editorial board and a contributing writer in the Arts & Life section. Contact her at rdagui 'at' stanforddaily.com.