A good Vine compilation on YouTube is a thing of beauty, but it’s easy to miss how much work goes into the great ones.
It was easy to snap myself out of a funk last night just by watching a well-edited Vine compilation and, more importantly, this particular compilation included one or two Vines that I had yet to see. This is the art of the Vine compilation: They’re not made by people who created the Vines themselves; they’re made by people who want to put those Vines into a new context for our benefit.
(And also to rack up huge views on YouTube using content that isn’t theirs, but that’s a whole ’nother conversation.)
This feels more like a new corner of remix culture than theft. The best compilations put each Vine into some new light, or flavors how we experience each six-second clip, through the added context of the Vine that came before and the Vine that came after.
A good Vine compilation is like a good mixtape. If you put two Vines from the same person next to each other, you better know what the hell you’re doing, or it’s just going to seem lazy. Take the following compilation, which has over 4 million views on YouTube:
You start with a strange, slightly surreal name, which is par for the course in this art form. You come out strong with something loud that has an easy hook, and then you start leaning into the more popular Vines. You have to keep the people happy, and that means you can’t just play songs off the new album in concert. You have to deliver at least some of the hits.
But these compilations are more like mixtapes than live shows because it’s not the artist who made the content trying to say something with the originals. It’s someone else coming later, trying to capture a mood by how they’re put together after the fact.
Consider the run that begins at 3:25 in the compilation’s runtime. You begin with a love song between a kid and his snake. Fair enough; it’s a nice, uplifting Vine. But then the chicken falls off the roof, which hints that something very bad has happened to the relationship alluded to in the first Vine. How do we get over a bad relationship? The next Vine describes that process, with a young man taking “shots” and losing his mind in revelry that may seem fun to the outsider, but feels desperate and dark within the context of the story being told. The character then has to admit in the next Vine that they soiled themselves.
The meta-narrative is complete, and the more random Vines can begin again.
“The compilations include the same Vines for the most part, pulling from other collections, sharing the same six-second video of a potato on a string flying around a room,” our own Julia Alexander wrote about these modern mixtapes. “Vine compilations gather the weird, the best, the forgotten, the treasured and, most importantly, capture the memory of why we loved Vine in the first place.”
I’m sure many people skip over these videos when they’re presented by YouTube, thinking they’re just going to see the same 60 or so Vines reheated and rehashed, over and over. The cheaper compilations certainly fall into this trap, but the good ones create something new and original, something with rhythm and humor. Good Vines get funnier with repetition — these short clips are designed to be watched over and over. A compilation can’t rely on repetition for its humor; each clip comes and goes too quickly. It has to find that thread that keeps them all together. That makes some kind of dark sense when you watch these particular Vines in this particular order.
While you’ll see the same Vines over and over as you try to find your favorite compilations, the process feels like watching skateboarders tackle a halfpipe. The basic structure of the run will always be the same, but there is expression and joy in how each skater puts their run together.
We know the names of the tricks, but we still watch to see how they can be made fresh and exciting. The Vine compilation is a skill that looks effortless, but if it’s done well, the result is anything but random.