According to an August report from Nielsen, nearly two-thirds of American teenagers get their music from YouTube. That makes the Google-owned video site the most popular music medium for an eternally prized demographic — and its dominance marks a continuing shift in the ways pop music is experienced, shared and marketed.
“Video now is way more important than it ever was,” says Jonathan Simkin, manager of Canadian pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen. “By a mile. It just opens up a whole new avenue to promote a band.”
Like the rest of us, Simkin watched Jepsen’s career explode on YouTube this summer with “Call Me Maybe,” the inescapable caffeine kick of a song that has earned the 26-year-old singer two VMA nominations. The telecast is MTV’s biggest annual ratings-grabber and this year’s program promises performances from Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj and One Direction.
And while these might be the YouTube generation’s stars, it’s still the MTV generation’s party.
“Today’s music fan has access to millions of artists and millions of songs right in their pocket,” says MTV spokesman Kurt Patat. “So in a world full of video search engines, we feel like our role is to do what we do best and connect artists to fans.”
MTV has loaded up on reality programming over the years but still airs oodles of music videos on its sister stations — MTV2, MTV Tr3s, mtvU, etc. The network now positions itself as a “multi-screen brand” that extends to the Web and social media. There, fans have cast more than 50 million votes for “most share-worthy video,” a new VMA category celebrating videos that have been passed around incessantly, inspiring viral tributes and parodies the way soap makes bubbles.
Jepsen’s nomination here is a no-brainer. The official video for “Call Me Maybe” — the one that features Jepsen fronting her band in a two-car garage — only tells half of her fairy tale. Justin Bieber gave “Call Me Maybe” its first viral spark by posting a video of him and his friends lip-synching to it. Then came a video of the Harvard baseball team trying to dance to it. Then, a parody sung by Cookie Monster. There were countless others, but those three clips alone have amassed more than 70 million views.
“There’s the song, and there’s the phenomena that built up around the song,” says Simkin, who sees these viral spinoffs as an invaluable promotional tool. “It helps the record, it helps her, it helps everything.”
Videos are equally important to the already famous. But when a video for Swift’s new single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” appeared on YouTube last month, it didn’t include a close-up of Swift strumming her guitar. It featured the song’s lyrics zipping and tumbling across the screen.