Are Memes The New Music Promotion Tool?
By Samuel Wallace
Are memes the new music promotion tool?
No one can deny the depth and breadth of memes on the internet; from politics to trebuchets everything has its own meme following. Possibly one of the most detailed meme cultures is music, spanning over all aspects of social media, videos, tastes and jokes are shared with increasing speed and variety. Streaming dominates contemporary music consumption and having online promotion is essential, memes seem to supersede all other forms of promotion by disguising themselves within the endless consciousness of social media. Users are much more likely to share a funny meme than a promotional poster, increasing its spread free of charge. However, when it comes to whether a meme will be successful, there’s no logic behind it which can render an advertising campaign utterly useless. Given all this, could memes be the new form of music promotion and advertising?
One of the main issues with memes is longevity, their time in the sun can be very short, the main outlier to this rule, just happens to be a music meme. Born out of the bizarre imagery of the Hotline Bling video Drake pointing has been an active meme for three years now, an epoch in meme years. It has consistent placed Drake at the forefront of social media in many contexts, being the most popular Hip-Hop artist though, it’s not as much a testament to the meme. In addition, the meme is a still image which only utilises the iconography of the video which means that the song is not being directly advertised to the user.
On the other side of the coin, Eminem’s iconic verse from 2014’s Rap God has been a successful meme albeit to a lesser extent than Drake. In this case, the actual music is being used within the meme. In these two examples, the image of the artist is being projected onto the meme as they have been created by the audience themselves. Eminem is known for his sharp lyricism and so this is extended into the meme that follows while Drake is much more about his image. While Hip-Hop is the most popular genre right now, its not a rite of passage to a successful meme. Denzel Curry’s Ultimate found exposure when it was tied to the bottle flip meme - remember that simpler time? – but didn’t really send Curry to stardom.
Rock has found some success in the meme world too; I couldn’t write an article about music memes without mentioning Smash Mouth’s All Star. Another meme that is defying the test of time, All Star has survived on ironic turned endearing charm. Originally an extension of the abundance of Shrek memes, the song has entered a sort of cult status. The simplicity and clear style of the song may be factors to its bizarre success, but it only adds intrigue to the already muddied waters of what makes a successful music meme. Another anomaly in the picture is Fleetwood Mac, who re-entered last year after a meme featured their song Dreams. Unlike the previous examples, this was only one meme that reached moderate fame. In this example, it was a focussed on how you can dance to Fleetwood Mac but to gain such exposure from just one meme is an incredible feat.
The one binding factor of all these examples is intention, not one of these songs had the desire to become a meme in any sense which is perhaps their strongest point. Audience’s enjoy creating a meme as it feels like their joke, an organic product with that spreads through a community. Any intention to become a meme is rejected by the community. Take Silento’s Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) a desperate attempt at a dance meme song that enjoyed a very short stay in the public eye. The song tried to hard to break into the meme culture and ended up removing itself of anything interesting in the process and therefore faded out of view. Seriously, have you heard anyone talk about this song since it came out in 2015? Dance routine songs already struggle with longevity, The Cha Cha slide and The Macarena and their dated feel are testaments to this. However, Soulja Boi’s Crank That has seen a resurrection of irony similar to Smash Mouth.
Upon exploring memes as a device, it seems that the secret to a successful meme campaign is to be a hip hop / rock song with weird iconography and a space for ironic laughter. Even if it fills the specific criteria, there’s still a possibility that it might flop.