I’ll be the first to admit it. I hope many of you will follow suit. I don’t like to hide aspects of myself, and I want to be open about this now, before we delve into friendships past the classroom. My favorite song right now – as it has been since the end of the last school year (I’m still holding strongly to my sense of Summer) – is Call Me Maybe. Make fun of Carly Rae all you want (she is a Canadian friend of Justin Bieber, after all), and groan whenever you hear that tell-tale cheery first bar of music, but don’t pretend you’re not secretly singing along. Face it, this is the song of Summer 2012. Not Gotye. Not Payphone. Don’t deny it.
Ms. Jepsen phrases it best herself: I didn’t know I would feel it, but it’s in my way. So, how did it happen? Ben Sisario’s August 21 article in the New York Times ventures to blame (or credit!) social media on this particular cultural phenomenon. While the song is certainly catchy, the particularly long staying power it has thus far had can be attributed to the huge number of lip-dub, remake, remix, response, and other such videos that it has sparked online. This ties into Michael Wesch‘s explanation of empowerment in the social media realm (specifically in regard to ostensibly the first viral video, numa numa). Wesch speaks about a “burgeoning community of YouTube stars” — users who compete (sometimes viciously) to get their videos to the “top rated” section of YouTube’s home page. This creates a necessity for young aspiring YouTube stars to be ever more creative in their videos – and Call Me Maybe parodies, in this case – in order to succeed.
Call Me Maybe‘s boom also goes back to Baym’s analysis of social discourses. Sisario’s article seems to be following a social shaping point of view. He opens his article with a brief temporal outline of the progression of “the Summer hit” – how songs have historically become popular in Summers of the past. He uses this as a support for how the trend came to exist in American culture today. This background set the stage for our Canadian pop star’s inevitable take-over of the American summer soundtrack.
However, it is clear to Sisario (and to myself) that there is more at play here than just a catchy Summer tune. The affordances of social media websites such as YouTube definitely have an affect on the way that Call Me Maybe was proliferated and became a meme. As explained by Wesch, the ability to create videos and connect to others’ videos allows the YouTube community to share and experience cultural sensations together. In the case of many trends, especially Call Me Maybe, this has grown the cultural experience to exponential sizes. Sisario explains that “YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are now record labels’ textbook tools for starting a marketing campaign, and if the numbers there are big enough, they can be used in pitches to radio and television programmers.”
What started off as a song by a small, unknown singer, facilitated by a short tweet by teen pop star Justin Bieber, blasted off to a tune heard around the world. Call Me Maybe is everywhere, and this is because of social media.
Interestingly enough, Sisario does not use this surge in social media music business to advance a would-be theory that social media is making so-called “old media” obsolete. Rather, he makes a point that “the song’s trajectory also demonstrates the continuing power of radio” citing record executives who hold it as essential “no matter how much online buzz” a song may have. I thought this was interesting because, while social media sharing may make television obsolete eventually, and is definitely giving news print a run for its money, radio fills an interesting niche that we have not yet grown out of. Though I can’t find official research/statistics on it at the moment (I did look), it seems that many Americans – though iPods and smartphones with programs such as Pandora or Spotify are in abundance – still turn on the radio when in the car. The radio still exists as the primary means by which to hear new music, and I find it so interesting that that has not changed.
Either way, social media has changed the music industry in this way – for the better or for the worse? You can decide.
Baym, Nancy. Personal Connections in the Digital Age. 2010