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Mollywood Blvd: The Viral Song Phenomenon

August 14, 2019

Throughout the years, many songs have become cultural phenomena.

One novelty song that is near and dear to us here In Minnesota is the 1958 hit “Purple People Eaters,” the name given to our Vikings defensive line in the late 60s and 70s. I wasn’t even around for it but I know the song. The 70s also brought us the Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture show and The Village People’s  YMCA.  People of all ages know the YMCA dance even though half of us spell the C backwards with our arms. The 90s brought us radio hits destined to be played at every wedding dance to come from The Macarena, Cotton Eye Joe and Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping. “The Macarena” dance is somewhat like riding a bicycle. No matter how long it has been since you have heard it, you never forget the dance.

The advent of YouTube, the video sharing website, in 2005, brought on a new avenue for artists to propel the selves into instant stardom.  We saw this with artists like Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen.  Not all became high selling acts, but many of these novelty songs cracked the Billboard charts. In the sludge, we got a new kind of “one-hit wonder” musical sensation, many of them being introduced to us middle aged folks by our children, and many of which, like the Macarena, inspired viral dance trends

If you have gotten through the summer without hearing the song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, I applaud you. You have successfully resided under a rock and evaded the latest internet and pop culture musical phenomenon. Lil Nas X originally released it on Twitter but also inserted his song into memes and got it onto the Tik Tok video app. It ended up hitting the Billboard Hot Country charts in March of this year where there was some uproar over it not “technically” being a country song. Billboard tried to remove it. That’s when Billy Rae Cyrus reached out to team up with the rapper and make a music video. It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The rest is history … but let’s reminisce on a few of the other songs that had us whipping, nae-nae-ing and juju-ing on that beat.

Who remembers how to do “The Dougie”? “The Dougie” was a hip hop dance where you moved your body in a shimmy style while passing your hands through your hair. It actually was inspired by 1980’s rapper Doug E. Fresh who had a similar dance.  In late 2007, a rapper named Lil’ Will released a song called “My Dougie” which became a local hit in Dallas, Texas, but it was the group Cali Swag who took it a step further by performing the dance in a video for their song “Teach Me How to Dougie” in the Summer of 2009. In the years to come athletes and celebrities ran with it; Chris Brown, Reggie Smith and former First Lady Michelle Obama to name a few as well as many team mascots from professional and college sports teams.  Even gymnast Gabby Douglas did the “Dougie” upon winning the U.S Olympic trials in 2012. It was even referenced in a Blake Shelton song.

The Harlem Shake was another video that took off shortly afterwards and this one originated on YouTube. It was created by a YouTube personality known as Filthy Frank and featured an electronica version of the song by Baauer. Basically in the videos, one person is dancing and acting a fool in a room full of others who are just going about their day to day business. But once the “drop” of the song hit, everyone would start to dance and act strange. Many attempts to recreate the dance led to it going viral. The most memorable video for me was one where airline passengers starting doing the “Harlem Shake” on a plane.  My husband has severe flying anxiety. I am pretty sure if the entire plane started doing that he would deploy an emergency floatation device and jump out.  The awkward part about this one is in reality, people recording these videos were most likely playing it off of a phone and it was relatively quiet while everyone went wild. The louder version of the music was added later.  Ah, the magic of editing.

In 2010 a YouTube singer by the name of Rebecca Black, who, at the time was only about 14 years old, went viral wither her single “Friday.” Black’s mother paid Ark Music Factory $4,000 to have the video for the teen anthem made and it was released on YouTube and iTunes. It garnered mainly negative media coverage but was enough press to propel it to #58 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a flash in the pan for Black who did not become much of a star outside of her 15 minutes of fame from this video and a series of other videos she did in collaboration with comedy video website Funny Or Die. She did however get to perform it on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. My dad actually showed me the video, which now has over  130 million views on YouTube, for the first time in 2011.

“Gangnam Style” by Korean artist PSY was the first ever video to surpass a billion views on YouTube and it did so rather quickly within a year of its release in 2012 knocking Carley Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” out of #1 on YouTube’s  Top 100 Videos. The song itself refers to the lifestyle associated with the Gangnam District of Seoul South Korea. It was not just a hit in America and Korea.  “Gangnam Style” and its related dance became a worldwide sensation. It was recognized by Guiness World Records as the most “liked” video on YouTube and won Best Video at the MTV Europe Music Awards. I don’t even know how to describe the dance, but my son could show you how it’s done.  Since the “Gangnam Style” craze we have also seen a huge uptick in K-pop. Not sure I would accredit it to PSY since most of these new stars are much younger and better looking, but I do think he elevated Korean pop music to a more global scale.

Other songs that had mass appeal after being injected in videos on YouTube and other social media include “TZ Anthem,” or “Ju u On That Beat” and Silentó’s  “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” which inspired people of all walks of life to dance along. One song we will likely be seeing more of and perhaps inspired by the cowboy rapper Lil Nas X is a new challenge called “The Git Up Challenge.”  Blanco Brown first published the song “The Git Up”  to YouTube in May of this year and it is starting to take off. The best part about these pop culture phenomena is that in an increasingly tense and complex world they give us a sense of unity and joy. Or annoy the hell out of us. Either way, it’s a break from controversy. Two-step it up. Yee haw!


By Molly Penny

SouthernMinn Scene | |
115 5th Street West Northfield, MN 55057