Mannequin challenge, Rae Sremmurd and the meme-powered viral hit

Black Beatles, the song that soundtracks the mannequin challenge, has gone to No 1 in the US, and sees it join the pantheon of fad-backed hit singles

A recurring joke expressing political exasperation in British satirical magazine Private Eye runs: Time to end the disastrous democratic experiment. Many in these post-Brexit and post-Trump times may find the gag increasingly barbed; but if you want to see it at its absolute worst, the meme-powered viral hit single shows just what terrible things can happen when the public moves as one.

Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd has overtaken Chainsmokers Closer to top the Billboard Hot 100, having become the soundtrack to the mannequin challenge thats been clogging up your Facebook and Twitter feeds in recent days, wherein people push themselves to the limits of human endurance by standing still for a minute or so. Its reached a frightening level of ubiquity now that Garth Brooks and the Broadway cast of Aladdin, among others, have given it a spin.

Theres something fitting about this passing of the baton, as Chainsmokers rose to prominence with the flatpack meme of #Selfie in 2014, while Closer was a huge hit off the back of an anemic retread of user-uploaded videos of awful dancing that powered The Harlem Shake to the top of the US charts. Meme begets meme, refracting forever into the distance.

The idea of a viral hit long ago stopped being something that just happened to a song and became, through contrivance and orchestration, a core part of the marketing plot. We can see this today, the air thick with the tang of desperation, as tracks are propelled by endless videos and vloggers shamelessly bankrolling themselves with promoted content. Songs are announced as viral hits on launch, semantically bulldozing through what viral actually means, perhaps reaching its nadir with the ghastly contrivance of Rockie Golds Dicks Out For Harambe.

The grim antecedents of todays structured viral hits are videos something that could only have happened in the past 11 years due to the reach of YouTube that were deemed meta-ironically as being so bad theyre good. Psy became the worlds first South Korean pop megastar in 2012 with Gangnam Style, which is still the most-viewed video on YouTube and a No 1 single in over 30 countries. He managed to avoid one-hit wonder status with Gentleman the following year, but that was less proof of concept and more about it being accidentally sucked through in the slipstream.

Rebecca Black became a figure of hive mind malice in 2011 with Friday a track that was immediately hailed as the worst song ever made by people keen to roar with laughter at a 14-year-old girl whose only crime was to have parents rich enough to pay for a pop video for their daughter.

Both Gangnam Style and Friday have an endearing naivety to them, but the turning point in all of this is arguably The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?) by Ylvis, that was precision engineered as an anti-hit to go viral by a Norwegian TV talkshow, combining low-level surrealism and heavily signposted catchphrases and dance moves.

As far as the record industry was concerned, the perfect storm here was Harlem Shake which was something everyone could join in on (and frequently did), which managed to go to No 1 in 2013 because of a change in the rules that allowed YouTube streams to count towards the US chart for the first time.

Pre-dating this was a weird transitional melding of old media (TV) catching a wave on new media (online video), first tested by the unspeakable Cheeky Girls with their equally unspeakable Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) spinoff from their 2002 Popstars: The Rivals audition in the UK. This was subsequently perfected in 2009 by Susan Boyle with her Britains Got Talent audition that turned her, for a short time, into the biggest-selling female artist in the world despite coming second on the show.

Before that, adverts were the fast-track to tentative viral success, with both Babylon Zoo and Stiltskin having UK No 1 singles from appearances in ads for Levis. The bridging song of the internet age was Crazy Frog that became a hit single in 2005 after finding its way online in 1997 and eventually being used in TV ads six years later for ringtone company Jamba.

Really, however, all of this can be traced back to British DJ Kenny Everett, a friend of Queen, accidentally playing a pre-release Bohemian Rhapsody on his Capital FM show in October 1975. Legend has it that EMI felt it wasnt a single and initially suggested a radio edit that the band would not agree to; but the clamorous audience reaction to Everett playing it was such that the label had its hand forced and the band got their first No 1.

This all goes to prove that, as far as the record business is concerned, there is nothing new under the sun and is the trick all labels want to pull off today; fabricating a viral hit that keeps making money four decades later.

Read more:

Comments are closed.

Copyright © EP4 Blog