Chainsmokers’ ‘#Selfie’ track: A study in desperation to go viral

“#Selfie” by the Chainsmokers isn’t just the earworm song you keep seeing on Twitter. The dance track, created by DJ duo Alex Pall and Drew Taggart, is also putting one more nail in the coffin of the viral music video. Thanks to enlisting the help of a social media company, this exercise in forced viral media is destroying any lingering illusion that these wildly popular songs are something that people of the world just happen to delightedly stumble upon together.

It might sound naive, but the viral YouTube song used to seem like a somewhat magical thing. Like the time an aspiring Canadian pop star co-wrote an irresistible, earnest anthem about exchanging numbers that spawned hundreds of parody videos. Or when a South Korean singer did a truly hypnotic dance combined with a ridiculously catchy tune. For some reason, they struck a nerve, and everyone joined together in a Cultural Moment to gawk. The singers became adored and raked in money. Everybody won.

But after Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” hit it big, then came things like Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” which wound up being not just a wobbly electro-beat that inspired Al Roker to put on cupid wings and dance. Instead, it was revealed that Los Angeles-based Maker Studios — a media company that earns a profit from making videos blow up on YouTube — was behind starting the craze.

How disappointing, right? “You didn’t make the Harlem Shake go viral—corporations did,” sighed Quartz. “The ‘Harlem Shake’ Viral Craze Was Created By Corporations,” raged Gawker.

“It had nothing to do with community,” wrote Quartz’s Kevin Ashton. “And everything to do with commerce.”

Well, looks like the creators of “#Selfie” chose a similar path, and in turn, you can feel the unappealing desperation to go viral. The popularity of the song (a pulsing dance beat that plays over a vocal by a woman at a nightclub whose catch phrase is “But first, let me take a selfie”) is due in large part to social media company theAudience.

Founded by Ari Emanuel and Sean Parker, the firm sent the song to well-known EDM producer Steve Aoki and also “used its network of cool-kid influencers — namely celebrities and social media mavens with large followings — to get the word out,” according to Billboard. As a result, the video started making the rounds — because a company came up with a strategy to make sure that it did.

Well, that’s a lot less fun. Isn’t it better to imagine two guys coming with an idea to skewer the modern obsession with self-photography, and just hit a chord with people?

Not these days. This time, theAudience used teen Vine sensation Nash Grier to promote the song (Grier also appeared in the music video). “I kid you not, when he tweeted the video to his fans, no one got a bigger reaction, not even David Hasselhoff,” Pall told USA Today, which reported the song has had about 180,000 downloads since it debuted at the end of January.

That’s right — David Hasselhoff appeared in the video, as well. It used to be that an appearance by the Hoff was enough to satisfy people into checking out a weird new video. Now, what you really need to go viral is an official social media marketing company and a teen with a Vine account. That feels like the saddest way to shoot for stardom.

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Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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Emily Yahr · March 18