Obviously Viral: Say "Hello" to social media's effect on music

Last week was a big week for the music industry. You’ve definitely heard Adele’s new single “Hello,” because hello, it’s Adele and she’s BACK. You've also probably experienced firsthand the Internet-takeover of Drake’s new “Hotline Bling” music video and all the Vines, memes, and GIFs that have since spawned from its existence.

In an interesting analysis of the video, New York Times writer Jon Caramanica discusses this phenomenon, the inevitable virality of Drake’s Internet persona, and how his art is created with the intention of being manipulated and contorted by the Internet. With its minimalistic visual effects, solid color backdrops, and Drake’s somewhat spazzy and basic dance moves, the “Hotline Bling” video functions as a foundation for the Internet to run amok. Caramanica writes, “It’s important at its full length, but even more so in the screenshots and few-seconds-long GIFs that it’s designed to be broken down into. It’s less a video than an open source code that easily allows Drake’s image and gestures to be rewritten, drawn over, repurposed.”

In all of these clips, it’s often the same portion of the original video being edited, from the 4:00 minute mark to about 4:40. It’s a musical interlude point in the song, so Drake is only dancing, no lip syncing to spoil the mood. The videos are often accompanied by the hashtag #DrakeAlwaysOnBeat, because well, it seems he really is always on beat, whether he’s grooving to Aventura’s “Obsesion,” Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” or the Cosby Show theme song.


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Then we have Adele, who resurfaced from a 3-year hiatus with the release of her newest single “Hello,” and in the process knocked Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video out of first place for most-viewed video in 24 hours. Along with this reemergence came her first print interview in that same amount of time, where she spoke with i-D magazine's Hattie Collins about her upcoming album and the difficulties of fame.

When asked why she doesn’t like being famous, Adele said it’s not about having a distaste for fame, it’s about being frightened of losing herself to the toxicity of it. While Drake is all the more ready to let his fame and the Internet essentially control the style of his art, Adele uses the opposite approach. She says, “I just want to have a real life so I can write records. No one wants to listen to a record from someone that’s lost touch with reality. So I live a low-key life for my fans.” For the sake of her music, Adele chooses to stay out of the limelight, and as Collins puts it, it's how she can continue to “sing about life in a way that deeply moves and affects us. She does this in spite of ‘engagement’ and ‘coverage’ and ‘reach.’”

Adele is rarely photographed by paparazzi, occasionally tweets, and has only just joined Instagram. In our social-obsessed world, where information about anything and anyone is so easily and instantaneously accessible, Adele’s anonymity seems to work to her advantage rather than alienate her, as her video has already reached 82 million views on YouTube in under a week. It would be unfair to say that her infrequent use of social media is the reason for her success, because, my God, the woman can SING. But it’s certainly interesting that a musician with her caliber of talent and fame has been able to maintain that level of fame without the daily input of content on today’s most widely used form of technology and communication.

But perhaps it’s that Adele’s talent exceeds her need for a social presence. Adele broke a record that Taylor Swift previously held with her “Bad Blood” video, which had weeks of social media build up and a lot of celebrity cameos. Adele managed to accomplish the same feat with a sepia-toned video that featured only herself and co-star, Tristan Mack Wilds, and with no previous advertising or campaigning of any kind.

Of course, that’s not to say that Drake and Taylor Swift, or any other artist for that matter, need to rely on social media in order for their music to be successful or to maintain longevity in their careers. It’s only to say that, in a way, Adele’s absence on social media is how she uses it. It has served the same purposes that Taylor’s Instagram teases and Drake’s highly “GIF-able” video have served, in that its element of surprise worked just as well as playing into the tropes of the Internet. As Adele said, “You’ve got to give people a chance to miss you,” and that’s just what she did.

Watch full versions of the music videos below.