For an article on Cody Ko's "button" series, a man with short brown hair grins while staring at a bright blue button against a blue and pink swirly background.
Illustration by Emily Daugherty, Ohio State University

Which Came First, Content or Creator?—Cody Ko and The ‘Button’ Phenomenon

The success of Cody Ko’s ‘Button’ videos indicates commentary culture's huge draw on YouTube, igniting further conversation in the community.
November 16, 2023
9 mins read

If you’ve laughed while watching a YouTube video recently, there’s a big chance you have Cody Ko to thank. As one of the original YouTubers to build their brand off of humorous media criticism, Ko pioneered a unique commentary strategy and made the platform a breeding ground for content creators looking to make their mark. His ongoing Button video series has taken on a life of its own, and won an eternal fanbase for Ko in the process.

The Button’s Origins

The Cody Ko Button phenomenon can best be described as a public and often morbid fascination with the lives of strangers. More particularly, the awkwardness and social peculiarities of people who are trying to navigate romantic relationships. Ko’s first video, titled “Awkward Dating Show” was released in a period that primed it for success: April 2020. During the pandemic, one of the largest profitters was YouTube. Viewers at home had little to do, and so became fascinated with living vicariously through other people.

In Cody Ko’s first Button video, he watches a dating show created by fellow content creator Cut, where contestants must sit across from each other and engage in typical first-date conversations. Only, a button sits in between them. When it lights up, either of the people can hit the button and eject their date. It’s essentially the live version of Tinder, and practically invites critique. 

For Ko, already well-known for his “That’s Cringe” video series where he makes fun of cringey online content, this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Since its release, “Awkward Dating Show” has amassed 6.67 million views. For a solo content creator whose primary form of content relies on directly talking to viewers solo, that’s pretty good. In subsequent videos, every one of them labeled with the term “Button” has received at least a million views. The fan support also enables him to continue making these videos. 

In his videos, Ko watches the contestants bumble through flirting and the most awkward situations possible while the Cut creators have their fun with contestants. Participants must often push the button in the middle of the other person speaking, and the show becomes more of a competition than a chance to find true love.

Building a Brand

But people don’t seem to care too much about the true love part. In fact, the primary draw these days for Button videos seems to be Cody Ko himself. By developing his brand around commentary and critique videos, he has effectively won the hearts of a select fanbase who has grown entirely dependent on him when viewing videos that could be labeled as cringy content. 

Ko is the filter through which viewers can consume this media. Perhaps it helps make the otherwise uncomfortable videos bearable to watch with him there to provide levity and fourth wall-breaking commentary. “I stop myself for days on watching the original videos so Cody can hold my hand through the anguish,” said YouTube user @Cmrnnn on one of Ko’s most recent videos.

The Button, functioning much like a single-minded version of Amazon’s Alexa, often asks contestants questions designed to elicit exciting information or answers tinged with crude/sexual connotations. Ko’s now trademark sense of humor finds its origins in his early Button videos, where he mimicked the Button’s unique interview style to poke fun at the way the idiosyncrasies of each contestant is exploited for shock value. 

In one video, as the contestants engage in normal conversation on relatively tame topics, Ko mocks the Button by interjecting with “Nick jerked off this morning” and visual aids that scroll bright green binary code across the scenes. His comedic timing often hinges on these abrupt interjections, which add to the shock value while also creating a commentary through humor.

It’s subtle, but Ko uses this device frequently to introduce viewers to a healthy style for consuming these types of videos: critically. Online platforms can often be a center for hate, and the YouTube comment section has been known as a breeding ground for cyberbullying. However, with Ko there to take the brunt of the viewing experience, viewers can offer their takes on the Cut videos in a lighthearted manner, and view the videos through a lens that implies they should not be taken seriously. 

Because Ko has a fanbase, his words do hold power. So what he chooses to focus on and edit in the videos is also what influences fan perception of these attempted romantic relationships. Watching the Button videos regularly has helped Ko develop his own form of lore, where he repeatedly references people from previous videos and quotes memorable lines from contestants. He has effectively formed his own sub-genre of commentary content.

Content vs. Creator

A mutually interdependent relationship between Ko, his fans, and the Cut channel is thus born.

The success of Ko’s video series has been profitable for Cut. The former’s fanbase has tangentially increased viewership for Cut’s content, with each viewer knowing that Cody Ko will inevitably release his own video commenting on it later. 

The relationship between content and creator has never been more blurred. Every video that Ko generates is related to some other video that already exists. But putting his own unique spin on existing content has helped Ko remain an important voice in the YouTube space.

After years of viewers demanding that Ko host the Button himself, the Cut channel posted a video titled “Cody Ko Takes Over the Button.” The cry from fans had been answered. 

In the video, Ko is no longer merely an observer of these events as they unfold. He now directly influences the cringy content being created and redefines what it means to be a YouTube commentary critic. Longtime viewers had finally been satisfied in their thirst to see the two content creators collaborate to form a new intersection of commentary criticism. “Having a comedian as The Button Coordinator instead of what I assume was a producer was a genius move and I’d love to see more,” said viewer @heyitsdevin4983.

Fans acknowledged how significant this video was when considering Ko’s upward trajectory as a content creator. “Cody’s entire career has been leading up to this moment,” said user @22dingoboy.

The video also proved a cathartic experience for fans, who had been demanding this unique intersection of content and creator for years. “…these worlds colliding is so iconic! I watch every one of his Button react videos and watch all of Cuts videos this is such a moment in history it hasss to happen again lmao you did amazing as the button Cody…” said viewer @madisnst7902.

Starting Conversations

While it may not have been his intention, Ko’s Button video series has made him one of the premiere voices in the YouTube space and initiated conversations on the nature of media criticism and hot topics related to romantic relationships.

In one video, viewers in the comment section stood up for the perceived sexism that they felt one of the contestants received from another on the show, and it became a safe space for people to share their thoughts on gender roles and female objectification. 

Inadvertently, Ko’s YouTube series has incited community debates concerning double standards and the importance of respect. And at times, viewers have even been willing to correct Ko’s commentary when he misunderstands power dynamics. After one contestant referred to the Middle East as “another planet,” female contestant Jen called out his phrasing as a form of othering. Ko failed to understand the issue. However, his comment section defended her and rebutted the rhetoric that framed her as a villain: “justice for queen jen, she experienced so many microaggressions in the span of like 2 minutes,” said @raquelfredette6800. 

The more videos that Ko consumes, the more emboldened his fanbase becomes when communicating with him and voicing their own opinions on the Button series. 

With no clear end in sight, viewers of both Cut and Cody Ko can look forward to a steady stream of content. Ko’s unique blend of comedy and criticism actually adds something new to the overpopulated YouTube space. He has effectively carved out a niche for himself through his commodification of cringey content, and fans get to laugh harder and think smarter in the process. 

Havilah Sciabbarrasi, Florida State University

Writer Profile

Havilah Sciabbarrasi

Florida State University
English (Editing, Writing, and Media)

"Havilah is a senior at FSU and lifelong bookworm. She is Editor-in-Chief of her school's undergraduate literary magazine and hopes to move to NYC after graduation to pursue a book publishing career."

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