RGB tour - Nicolas Bailleul

The backgrounds of Youtubers’ videos strongly resemble the bedrooms of teenagers. We can see, almost always, figurines on shelves, posters that cover the walls and even in some, a bed in the corner of the room. These content creator’s rooms, that bear strong similarities to one another, are now becoming sets for video productions. Can we thus assume that the initial purpose of bedrooms has lost its primary role? However, whether the space itself is fake or practical, the bedroom has never been limited to just a place to sleep in. It is instead a space of intimacy, of writing, of making a mark, and most of all a space for thinking. This space of ultimate freedom has allowed an entire generation of content creators to build their careers and themselves in part from a domestic space, and for some from their teenage bedrooms.

When people’s personal computers started occupying homes, the bedroom by default became the space of production for content generated by users, especially on Youtube, for the creation of vlogs, live streams and tutorials. The bedroom became a career driven environment, a space for work, a stage, a playing field. Whether the room is located in an apartment or in a studio facility, it has defined itself as the quintessential decor for content creators. Even though some of these creators have long outgrown their teenage years, have become entrepreneurs and CEOs, or have built a family, their bedrooms are frozen in time and in space through their content.

As viewers, we only have access to the visible space that the creators choose to show us in their videos. We typically only see a limited frame of the room, shot from a fixed point with a camera placed on a tripod and angled towards the creators who speak to their viewers facing directly into the lens.

From time to time, we get to further explore these spaces. Some content creators decide to do a “room tour”, a very popular format which consists of a filmed guided tour of an individual’s entire bedroom. Over the course of a single video, the camera leaves its tripod momentarily and navigates in the somewhat limited space, as an act of trust and openness to the viewers, creating an even more intimate relationship between the creators and their fans. The “room tour” is an invitation to discover the backstage of the set. It allows the creators to reveal to their communities what goes on behind the scenes, and therefore to temporarily remove the mask of their persona, to expose a more vulnerable and authentic version of themselves. We find ourselves taken back to teenagehood, when we were invited for the first time into the bedroom of a friend who showed us their furniture, clothes, collections, toys, makeup. Everything that makes up that person’s universe.

Underneath this intimate gesture of showing one's room, lies also a sign of social achievement. For content creators who decide to do a “room tour”, it is a way to give credibility to their activity, by proving that the domestic space is dedicated in part for the creation of videos. For successful channels, the “room tour” is a ritual (usually an annual one) for self-promotion, a way to show the success of the channel in the midst of high popularity. Thus, each new “room tour” on the same channel shows the evolution of what used to be an amateur space (or the authentic teenager bedroom), into a creator studio perfected through a more polished design. We not only discover the creator’s personal universe, but also the investment in physical objects of what makes up the central location of their professional activity. The objects that form the bedroom, whether they serve in function or are just a decor, are proof of financial investment. The content creators never miss an opportunity to inform us of the price of these objects, especially if they are expensive.

In her article “A parlour of one’s own? The Youtube room tour genre”[1], the researcher Gala Rebane parallels the phenomenon of the “room tour” as the new parlour in the Victorian era. The parlour, that was curated by housewives, served as a room to welcome guests in the public space of the household. It was an occasion to proudly show off the home’s identity and thus to display the social status of its inhabitants. Gala Rebane draws a connection between the phenomenon of the room tour to the composition of the parlour and to the show MTV Cribs, where celebrities give the audience a glimpse into their absurdly luxurious villas as a display of social triumph.

In this practice of the “room tour”, we find this same form of exuberance, both in the overly enthusiastic description, which renders itself to be a promotional narrative for each element in the room, and in the set up of the decor which sometimes seems as though it does not belong to any lived-in environment, private or public, but to a make-believe bedroom that one might find in a design magazine. In her article, Gala Rebane insists on the opportunity that the parlour gave women a way to express and assert their individuality but that this came with limitations. Decorums of the time controlled individual expression, eventually making all parlours quite uniform from one household to the next. Thus, despite people’s desire to appear unique in their taste, the bedrooms of Youtubers consist of the same objects, the same furniture, even the same lighting. We might begin to wonder if the typical Youtuber bedroom wasn’t just bound to fully deindividualize, to become an autonomous space, homogenous and communal. The result of generic pop culture.

It was those reflections that brought me to produce the video installation RGB tour, an evolving html page in which a growing number of video footage of “room tours” pile up. The videos are categorized and downloaded through a program which transforms precise sequences from Youtube videos into animated gifs, each 5 to 10 seconds long. Every clip is downloaded and categorized in the grid on the page depending on the objects that appear in the images and on the lighting moods.

While the successive presentation of furniture and objects in the room allow to organize the evolution of a “room tour”, it is the omnipresence of RGB LED lights that caught my attention the most. RGB LED stands for the three primary colors (red, green, blue) which can enable multiple color combinations. Through led or neon, RGB lights dress these rooms in a futuristic manner. This type of mood lighting originated from the aesthetics of the gaming community, which proudly claims saturated color all around gaming and electronic hardware. This detail is not trivial, because, after several hours of watching “room tours” videos, we can see that the central element of the typical creator’s bedroom isn’t the bed nor the desk, but what we call the computer setup.

The computer case, the hardware, the monitors, the keyboard, the mouse, the cameras and microphone are shown, commented and described as if the setup reveal is the most important part of a “room tour”. The computer setup is thus at the epicenter of the Youtuber's activity. The propagation of the RGB colors on the desk, the gaming chair, the bed, the walls and ceiling suggests that the computer is no longer a random object in the bedroom. On the contrary, it seems that the whole room would actually be an extension of the computer hardware, a livable computer system unit.

Similarly to Gala Rebane writing about the show MTV Cribs in her article, the room tour phenomenon reminds me of another show produced on the channel MTV: Pimp My Ride, where cars in bad conditions are revamped and customized in the utmost extravagant colors and shapes, and whose features of comfort and entertainment are multiplied through the integration of screens, powerful speakers, game consoles and even DJ sets, pool tables and punching-bags. Pimp My Ride essentially transformed these cars into a teenager’s bedroom. Perhaps what we are seeing happen on Youtube is the transformation of teenage bedrooms into ultra powerful race cars, customized with RGB lights, open for the entire world to admire this immobile spaceship.

[1]        Rebane G. (2019) A ‘parlour of one’s own’? The YouTube room tour genre, Continuum, 33:1, 51-64