When Sean Parker was asked by David Kirkpatrick at a roundtable web summit how and why videos go viral, the Silicon Valley visionary shifted in his seat, nervously adjusting his tortoise shell-framed glasses and skinny tie. The Napster co-founder posited, "Videos go viral because people share them. They don't just share any video. They share videos that make them appear that much cooler to their friends for sharing." While Parker's answer was deceptively simple on the surface, his point was steeped in nuance, identifying a universal human thirst for attention that is rarely quenched.
It's that fundamental need for acknowledgement that drives artists to make viral videos, and consumers like you and I devour them. We don't just devour them on any plate, as YouTube seems to be the platter of choice. According to site statistics, "More video is uploaded to YouTube in one month than the three major US networks created in 60 years." How, then, do artists like Kitty Pryde, Riff Raff, and Krispy Kreme rise above the fray of millions of videos uploaded on a daily basis?
Subject 1: Kitty Pryde is a teenage rapper who released her debut EP, The Lizzie McGuire Experience, just months ago on her self-aware Tumblr. Following the EP, she released a video on YouTube entitled, "Okay Cupid," went viral, and was picked up by the likes of Vice and Huffington Post. Pryde was immediately dubbed "Kreayshawn 2.0," after the notoriously ill-equipped "Gucci Gucci" rapper. More spoken word over a hypnotic beat than actual rapping, Pryde's "Okay Cupid" was an apparent nod to everything viral, and left consumers wondering whether it was genius or just plain awful.
Subject 2: Riff Raff SODMG, real name Horace Simco, used to paint cars and cut hair to make ends meet in Houston. That is, until he was picked to appear on MTV's From G's To Gents, which left many wondering whether he was playing a character. Although he was eliminated in the second episode, Riff Raff was able to parlay his brief stint on the show into a record deal with Soulja Boy, where his music was perceived as nothing more than a gimmick.
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That was over a year ago, and Riff Raff has become one of the most talked about artists in the blogosphere, collaborating with notable acts such as Action Bronson and Chief Keef, and even being portrayed in an upcoming spring break-themed film by actor James Franco. Influential producer Diplo recently signed him to his Mad Decent label for a reported 2.7 million dollars.
Subject 3: "All the haters want to be me / The only problem is they can't even see me / Life is a race and everybody is behind me," raps viral sensation Krispy Kreme, whose YouTube account seemed to materialize out of thin air. Touting a combined five million views, Krispy Kreme's country rap videos, in which he's surrounded by workout equipment and personal trophies, seem to be an elaborate joke although many YouTube commenters seemed to have missed the memo. While the videos are largely made for comedic purposes, they also serve as a subtle critique of the larger hip-hop community in general.
The rise of viral video artists like Riff Raff, Kitty Pryde, and Krispy Kreme might signal a deeper growing discontent with the quality of music major label machines promote to the general public. Consumers of music are tired of the regurgitated dance-inspired themes that dominate the radio every hour on the hour. They're so beaten down, they've chosen a sort of personal performance art over the latest cliché, Dr. Luke-produced single.
While technology will continue to evolve around us, our need for admiration and attention, rooted in our biology, remains constant, inspiring individuals to create videos and consumers to share them. It's just that the wall between audience and performer has become almost nonexistent.