December 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm

2013: When Virality Became a Music Format

As of 2013, it’s official: The wacky, amateurish, off-kilter sensibilities that characterized much of the early web have been reverse engineered, and now constitute part of mainstream culture.

Examples of this are everywhere, and they started appearing before 2013. But this is the year that Psy made millions on YouTube with “Gangnam Style,” and Miley Cyrus made everybody lose their mind with an intentional twerk scandal. More importantly, 2013 gave us arguably the most engineered-to-be-viral song ever created.

We are referring, of course, to “What Does The Fox Say.” Music fans have spoken with our clicks — and what we’ve said is that we want precisely this:

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“What Does The Fox Say” represents a new pinnacle of virality as music format. There’s no tour, there’s no record, there’s no band rehearsing in a garage — there’s just a Norwegian comedy duo called Ylvis with a perfect understanding of what makes a music hit these days, and their slick, “omigod I have to share this even before I’ve seen the whole thing” music video.

If you still think “What Does The Fox Say” is fringe-y, outsider-y, and quirky, consider that the song’s PR agency (yes, it has one) emailed to let us know the following:

  • The video now has over a quarter of a billion views. That’s almost as many views as there are Americans.
  • Ylvis performed it live on Dancing With The Stars.
  • The cast of Glee sang it during last week’s episode.
  • The video was an instant hit, breaking 20 million views in the first week, and around 100 million views in the first month.
  • Ylvis performed the song at the MNet Asian Music Awards in Hong Kong, receiving the International Favorite Artist award.
  • They appeared on MTV Music Awards Europe and and the BBC.
  • The video was made not by a pair of demented amateurs with mysterious access to a decent budget, as one might assume, but to promote an already-popular Norwegian television show, Tonight with Ylvis, whose creators have been performing together for 13 years.

And then came the book deal.

Just in time for the holidays, Simon & Shuster will publish a “beautifully illustrated children’s book” on December 10 called “What Does The Fox Say?” to be accompanied by a US television promotional tour. That should be easy to set up, because Ylvis has already appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show, Late Night with Jimmy FallonThe Today Show, and Saturday Night Live.

The lesson here, for musicians and those around them: Viral videos, especially if they feel somewhat unintentional, are the new road to fame and riches. Unlike the earlier, more innocent days that saw true outsiders like Tay Zonday of “Chocolate Rain” fame hit the big time, the new viral videos are decidedly part of the mainstream. Just ask Kim, Kanye, James, and Seth.

  • Ali Baba Shakeri

    It seems as if listeners today haven’t clued in on the fact that well connected musicians/celebrities such as Kanye, Miley, Paris Hilton (lumped her in here anyways) will pull off intentional and disruptive stuns in order to stay relevant.

    It’s not about making a morally correct decision (i.e. Miley twerking at the VMA’s), it’s about doing things that make sure people do not forget about you. I think the number of engineered moves made by well-funded media icons is going to increase as people haven’t begun to question what is real and what isn’t.

    Thanks for the insightful post Eliot