Category Archives: media theory

Can viral success damage the audience for your music?

I am just looking at the new OK Go video for Skyscrapers.

You can watch it below.

In roughly a week, it has over 734,000 hits on Youtube.

Yet some commentators on viral phenomena have already criticized the piece, asking ‘have they lost some viral charge’?

Ignoring the fact that these critics are like eunuchs in a harem (they see it being done every day, they know exactly how it should be done, yet they can’t do it themselves! [sic]) there is a wider implication to this misguided review, as it negates the fact that maybe OK Go want to occasionally just make some decent music, and good promo videos were traditionally sympathetic to that aspiration.

Music videos have long been a sort of necessary folly for artists wishing to promote themselves, for the label to sell more units of the record, and for aspiring young directors to prove their salt.  There have been so many over-the-top music videos since the dawn of the medium that it could be the sole focus of a blog to just review them all. Obviously the goal of these videos is to cut through, and create some buzz for the artist.

I’m going to get back on track here and examine how sometimes exposure to anything other than the music can damage the appreciation for same.

In the case of OK Go they are a landmark case study for bands or indeed brands who want to leverage the power of Youtube to further their marketing goals.  With little evident cost, something can really capture the imagination of the masses, and a whole industry seems to emerge trying to recreate these successes. In many cases this is indeed a good thing if it works, but in some cases it can damage the audience for a musical act.  To explain, I’ll have to give an example from the bad old days.

The year must have been 2002. The Dandy Warhols were the flavour of the month, and we went to seem them in the Olympia in Dublin, at a time when there were enjoying a lot of exposure in Europe for the use of their song ‘Bohemian Like You’ in the Vodafone TV ads.  The Olympia venue had taken out the seats, there was a capacity crowd of maybe 3,000 people, and when the band hit the stage they got the same lukewarm reception as a warm-up act.

Nobody really realised what kind of band they were, or knew anything about their music, and just wanted to hear the song off the ad.

It quickly emerged that they played a particular blend of navel-gazing shoepop that was somewhat morose in tone, and had nothing in common with the uplifting feel-goodness of the ‘Bohemian Like You’ track.  Soon, the bars and toilets at the venue were crammed, and the crowd in front of the band thinned out, while they went through over 2 hours of this material.  Finally, with some mutterings of ‘this is what you all came for I suppose…’ they launched into the tune everybody had indeed come for. They didn’t really seem to enjoy playing it anymore, and this spoke volumes to everyone at the gig.

How the above story applies to the OK Go viral success is that there is now a backlash against something that has merits on its own as a primarily musical work.  They are demonstrating a real modern bluesy feel and some great production chops on this track, and showing how they may have a truly original and fresh sound. The problem stems from the fact that most people are probably LOOKING at their work instead of listening to it, probably while in work, with the sound off, when the boss isn’t around. Hardly ideal listening conditions.

Coincidentally, OK Go released a much more ‘viral friendly’ song a few months ago, in partnership with Chevrolet in the form of the video/track “Needing Getting”. You can see that here, in case you missed it. Chevrolet did OK, over 18 million of you have already seen it.

The problem with these sorts of tie-ins for musical acts is that half of the crowd who see this band live will possibly shout “PLAY THE RUNNING MACHINE SONG!!” at them. With Skyscrapers, I hear something of a troubled artist shouting back about their success, who admits, over and over at the end of the song, that they were blind.

I may be reaching, but it is a subtle tune, which I’m guessing alienates at least 70% of their audience.

This is combined with the fact that it is a subtle, elegant video, which brings its own rewards.

See this comment:

OH MY GOD. Take the scrolling thingy, and run it along the bottom.


mint3465 1 day ago 14


That’s pretty clever. Understated, elegant, quietly assured, and rewarding for those clever enough to find it for themselves.

Thing is, this song and its accompanying video are clearly not targeting the audience who’ll see OK Go on the summer festival circuit.

It hints at a change of direction, a more introspective and personal musicality, and a desire to be taken seriously as musical artists.


It will be interesting to see how the band gets received with this move, and whether their fans will follow them.

God knows, if there’s one team who have a chance of figuring the delicate balance out, its these guys.


We hope they enjoy the same success with their music and visual art, based on its own merits, and continue to grow as musical artists.




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