[Note: A previous version of this story relied on sourcing from an article that has now been pulled from publication by its authors.]
In October of 2017, popular music blogger Anthony Fantano, whose influential review channel TheNeedleDrop boasts more than 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube, was accused of “alt-right” sympathies in a now-pulled Fader piece in relation to his shuttered “meme channel,” thatistheplan. A few days later, Fantano released a video response to the piece, offering a point-by-point denial of its claims, and featuring the description, “I defend myself against a recent hitjob in The Fader claiming I knowingly pandered to the alt-right with my now defunct meme channel, thatistheplan.” According to Fantano’s descriptions in the video—which now has more than 900,000 views—the Fader piece accused him of trafficking in racist memes in an attempt to curry favor with white supremacists and other proponents of the meme culture prevalent on places like 4chan and 8chan.
Fantano, though, asserts that the videos, which have been unlisted from YouTube’s search function, were meant only to mock rap fans for their unthinking devotion to their favorite artists. “In the video about XXXTentacion fans,” Fantano says, “My joke, referencing domestic violence, was clearly at the expense of fans who refuse to believe the claims [of abuse against the rapper]. My stance on these issues has been painfully clear.” Or, in the case of a video reported to feature multiple images featuring racial slurs, he asserts that he was only examining memes originating from the social media sphere known as Black Twitter. “The writer is acting like I’m not referencing meme culture on my meme channel,” Fantano says, saying that he equally referenced feminist memes on a video discussing those aspects of meme culture. Fantano also questions the article’s claim that he only mocks black artists, pointing to several Needle Drop videos in which he insults white artists like Miley Cyrus and Corey Feldman.
Fantano’s video—which includes unlisted links to the thatistheplan videos in its description, so that viewers can judge them for themselves, as well as archived versions of the Fader piece—also focuses on questions raised about his association with controversial figures like Carl Benjamin, a.k.a. anti-feminist online celebrity “Sargon of Akkad,” and Million Dollar Extreme co-founder Sam Hyde. Fantano notes that his podcast conversations with the two men—in 2015 and early 2016, respectively—pre-dated either man’s public associations with the “alt-right” movement, which was still largely underground at the time. He also questions a characterization of a moment during his conversation with Hyde in which the “provocateur” describes the ways he would enjoy brutally beating Lena Dunham in extremely graphic terms. Fantano says that he attempted to dissuade Hyde from moving forward with the bit, and that any laughter that can be heard on his part in the moment was only due to nervousness.
“My reaction to what Sam is saying and doing is not at all how the writer characterizes it. So, as Sam is ramping up this bit, that he thinks is funny, I’m sitting here, telling him that a lot of people are going to be listening to this podcast. Are you sure you want to say this? He hears me, he responds, I’m trying to insert some logic into the situation, and he just keeps going. I was obviously questioning where he was going with this. What laughter that did slip out was clearly nervous. And, bonus context, the writer fails to mention how painfully awkward so much of this interview is.”
Fantano publicly closed thisistheplan in 2017, stating that YouTube’s monetization policies had made it too hard to run it profitably. A planned speaking tour, scheduled for late 2017, was canceled in the wake of the Fader piece. According to an article in Spin, the Fader piece was pulled in March of 2018; that same article reports that Fantano and Fader both stated that “The claims have been settled” in regards to the decision. We got the same comment from Fantano when we reached out to him; we’ve also contacted Fader, but have yet to hear back.