10. Straight No Chaser
YouTube channel: SNCMusic
Official website: SNCMusic.com
Back in 1996, a bunch of college-aged guys from Indiana University decided to start an a cappella group set to perform at professional level. Among the many videos they recorded stood the 12 Days of Christmas carol, shot in 1998. It would take this video 8 years to reach mainstream popularity – but the boom it saw and perks it brought to the group made the wait well worth it. The ten guys that formed the group in 1996 took their name from the album by the same name, recorded in 1967 by jazz legend Thelonious Monk. The phrase “straight, no chaser” is slang for the way in which many Americans choose to ask for drinks in bars. The group made its first public appearance at a 35-hour-long dance marathon, which they followed up with popular performances on Wrigley Field and a nationwide tour. The initial lineup disbanded upon graduation, in 1999.
Straight No Chaser’s version of The 12 Days of Christmas is not entirely original, in the sense that it is based on a 1967 re-arrangement of the traditional song, by composer Richard C. Gregory, but the band added their personal touches, such as bits of “I Have a Little Dreidel” (a popular Hanukkah song) and of “Africa”, sung by pop band Toto. As of the writing of this article, the original 1998 video boasts no fewer than 16 million views. The video was watched by the CEO of Atlantic Records himself, Craig Kallman – who was so impressed that he personally called SNC’s front-man, Randy Stine, and asked him if the group would be interested in recording an album in the original formula. They were and so they ended up signing a five record deal with the famous label. For the first album, which is Christmas-themed, 8 of the band’s initial 10 members got back together; in the meantime, two of them decided to step down, in order to spend more time with their families. Nowadays, the group does amazing cover versions of pop hits, such as Madonna’s Like a Prayer or Adele’s Rolling in the Deep. After the reformation of the initial group, the Straight No Chaser college a cappella group, which went on to exist, changed its name into Another Round.
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9. Eduard Khil
Official website and/or YouTube channel: N/A
Consider the following story: a Soviet singer records his own, non-lexical version of an American country song in the ‘7os, only to become an Internet superstar and a symbol of trolling, more three decades later. That’s exactly what happened to Eduard Khil, whose vocable version of I Am Glad, ‘Cause I’m Finally Returning Back Home became famous all over the Internet – best known as Trololo or The Russian Rickroll (more on rick rolling below). Khil had quite the life story: he came from a broken home, had his kindergarten bombed during World War II, was separated from his mother, and grew up in a foster home. Yet since he was ever the natural born performer, he would perform even then, as a child, in front of the military patients in the nearby hospital. He was eventually reunited with this mother at the age of 19 and went on to study printing, and then operatic singing, at the Leningrad Conservatory.
The Trololo video was recorded in 1976 and uploaded onto YouTube in 2009. The song performed by Trololo Man, as Khil came to be known to online audiences around the globe, actually did have lyrics at some point – they were about a cowboy returning to his home farm on horseback. The song’s legend has it that Khil had to vocalize the lyrics, as cowboys were not an acceptable topic in the Soviet Union. Khil’s son, however, has explained that his father simply decided to vocalize the lyrics as the result of an argument with a lyricist. Khil wanted to prove that he can get on just fine without one. The video’s rise to fame can be ascribed to dedicated website trololololololololololo.com, where it was watched over 3 million times within the first month of being uploaded. Then came the mainstream media attention: a feature on The Colbert Report, a parody performed by Christoph Waltz on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and, of course, a mention in the 10th season premiere of Family Guy. Khil, who died some two years after the song found fame, partly enjoyed this new-found popularity, but also questioned whether or not someone was trying to make fun of him. An online petition to have him come out of retirement and tour the world was generated by this Internet meme, but its goal never materialized.
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8. Rick Astley
Official website: RickAstley.co.uk
Rick Astley was relatively famous in the 80s, especially in the United Kingdom. He released Never Gonna Give You Up in 1987 and scored a chart-topping hit with the single in 25 countries. He is also the only artist in UK recording history whose first 8 singles made it into the country’s Top 10. Later in life, he resumed himself to making radio programs, after having sold some 40 million records in the entire world throughout his career. He retired at 27, but changed his mind ten years later and came back with a new album and a “Greatest Hits” compilation. He produced songs for other artists… but had no idea how his life would change in 2007, when Rick Rolling became the Internet’s most famous meme ever.
Rick rolling is no longer only about Rick Astley. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 6 years, rick rolling means providing a link that seems relevant to what is being discussed in a thread, only for the viewer to discover a video that is about something else entirely – and it all started with links leading to Astley’s video. It doesn’t just happen online anymore: in 2008, Astley made a public appearance during the traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and rick rolled the crowds live. There’s been a Barack roll since, as well as a worm for jailbroken iPhones that replaces the user’s wallpaper with a picture of Astley. Due to the meme’s incredible popularity, Astley was nominated for 2007’s ‘Best Act Ever’ at the MTV Europe Awards. The crowds went wild: an online campaign was started, to make sure that Astley wins the award and comes to collect it in person. He did win the prize, but, although MTV Europe had invited him to the ceremony, Astley was not there to collect the award – celebrity blogger Perez Hilton picked it up for him. There was even a Facebook campaign aiming to make Astley number 1 in the British charts, in order to prevent the supremacy of TV show competition The Ex Factor. It didn’t make it to the very top, but Never Gonna Give You Up did manage to reach number 73 in the UK charts around the Christmas of 2008.
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7. The Numa Numa Guy
Official website: GaryBrolsma.com
It all started with a cheesy Euro-dance pop song, released by Moldovan band O-Zone, originally called Dragostea din Tei, but now known the world over as Ma Ya Hee or Numa Numa. Numa Numa is one of the Internet’s most famous recent memes and it can be largely credited to Gary Brolsma, who launched a video of himself dancing to the song in December 2004. Within three months, it had amassed over 2 million views on NewGrounds.com, the website where it was first posted. Brolsma later stated in an interview that he found the song while watching a Japanese animation with cartoon cats. The video in question, which you can watch at the previous link, was actually based on the O-Zone song and featured wordplay on the Japanese rendition of the Romanian words in the song. As of the writing of this article, the video of Brolsma dancing has been watched over 18 million times and, according to the BBC, is the 3rd most watched viral video of all times, after PSY’s Gangnam Style, of course.
Since the launch of the video, Gary Brolsma has received a lot of media attention, including appearances on Good Morning America, on Jay Leno’s show, and on VH1 – who listed the video at number 1 in their Top 40 Internet Superstars chart. Initially, Brolsma, who is a professional singer, was embarrassed by the media attention he was getting. In 2006, however, he came out with the New Numa video, which had been professionally produced and featured a song written especially for him. Since then, he launched a dance competition for the New Numa song, wrote and released his first album (Weird Tempo) and started several collaborations with other Internet stars, such as the team behind the famous series lonelygirl15.
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6. OK Go
YouTube channel: OK Go
Official website: OKGo.net
OK Go has been around as a band for some 15 years now: the original line-up first came together in 1998, in Chicago. Nowadays, however, they’re living in Los Angeles and have shifted their line-up to welcome new members. Since then, they have also become genuine YouTube stars and Internet music stars in their own right, noted for their distinctive and often innovative videos. The videos are elaborate, they are low- or no-budget, and they’re highly creative. In fact, they are creative enough to have brought the band a Grammy Award for the best short music video in 2007.
OK Go have so many viral videos to their name that it’s difficult to only select a few to discuss. In 2006, for instance, they launched the video for Here It Goes Again, in which the entire band is seen performing a complex choreography on treadmills – as of the writing of this article, the video has over 50 million views. The video for Needing/Getting, which they produced together with Chevrolet, has been watched 25 million times, after being launched during the 2012 SuperBowl. Most of their videos are single-shots, which are all the more complex to design, direct, and produce successfully. The band also knows how to choose their directors: they’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the field, such as Francis Lawrence, Olivier Gondry, and Scott Keiner. Many of their videos were deemed festival material and even screened in prestigious museums such as The Guggenheim and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
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5. William Hung
Official website: WilliamHung.net
You know him from that atrocious American Idol audition during which he performed – or, more accurately put, tried to perform – his own version of Ricky Martin’s She Bangs. Although the jury of the show’s third season tore him limb from limb, the then Civil Engineering student did manage to find fame, but many have wondered if the price he was paying for it wasn’t all too high. Hung first saw online popularity thanks to the DonChin YouTube channel, as well as the donchin.net website, ran by a Swedish realtor and his wife, which received more than 4 million hits within a single day. As the video became viral and more and more people were responding to his performance with feedback, Hung decided to drop out of college and to try and follow his dream of becoming a pop star.
What happened next is a controversial episode in recent American pop culture. Hung managed to get a record contract in 2004. He released three musical albums produced by Koch Entertainment and seemed to be happy to be living his dream. At the same time, however, most of the feedback he was receiving was negative. Music critics and bloggers were accusing Hung of not having any musical skills whatsoever and simply using racial stereotypes in his favor, in order to promote his own career. Of course, the stereotype of Asians having no musical talent to speak of lives on and Hung was much like a living embodiment of said cliche. In 2011, Hung eventually put an end to his career in music and decided to become a technical crime analyst. However, he still has no regrets for having pursued his singing dreams.
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4. Techno Viking
Official website and/or YouTube channel: N/A
The story of Techno Viking is as controversial as it is funny and fascinating. It all started in 2000, when an experimental videographer, Matthias Fritsch, shot a video titled Kneecam No. 1 during a lewd street parade in Berlin. That’s the first glimpse the world ever got of Techno Viking: a man with his chest bare and yielding Thor’s hammer. In the original video, Techno Viking then goes on to dance to techno (as his name suggests) down the streets of Berlin. The video went online in 2001 and reached YouTube in 2006. By 2007, it had already gone viral, thanks to various sites sharing it. In September that year, it reached 1 million views per day and within 6 months it had been watched by more than 10 million people. It had also received 700 video responses and alternative band Weezer wanted to feature Techno Viking in their video compilation of Internet memes, Pork and Beans (see below). They were, however, unable to.
Techno Viking is featured on Know Your Meme and Encyclopedia Dramatica. There are oil paintings of the character. Fritsch has turned it into the subject of intellectual exploration and research and has even lectured on the topic. However, no one knows who the man is. Some have speculated that it’s the same man that appears in a bodybuilding segment on a German TV show, while others say it’s Keith Jardine. In the meantime, the video had garnered 20 million hits by the middle of 2010 and more than 16 million views by early 2013. However, it was also around that time that a man whose identity remains undisclosed sued Fritsch for violating personality rights. The videographer had to take down the video and pay EUR13,000 in damages – which was just about all the money he had managed to make from YouTube ads, as well as from the sale of Techno Viking merch.
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3. Obama Girl
YouTube channel: barelypolitical
Official website: ObamaGirl.com
Amber Lee Ettinger, a.k.a. ObamaGirl, is an actress. She’s the winner of the Miss NYC and Miss Alpine New Jersey contests, a swimsuit and lingerie model, a Hooters brand ambassador, a performer in videos for The Onion, the recipient of Howard Stern’s Miss Howard TV title, and has featured in Pepsi and Ralph Lauren ads, as well as in Wired, FHM, Elle, and tons of other magazines. Why? Because she’s wildly attractive, yes, but also because she found fame with the now iconic I Got a Crush… on Obama video. Now, it’s important to note that Ettinger doesn’t actually sing in the video – the vocals belong to Leah Kauffman. Kauffman, too, is well-known as a performer in her own right. She is the voice behind no fewer than four viral videos: this one, “My Box in a Box”, “Obama Girl vs. Giuliani Girl”, and “I Like a Boy”. Interestingly, Kauffman does not appear in any of those videos, but instead is represented by a lip-synching stand-in. However, she has recently released “The Ann Coulter Song”, in which she makes her first ever video appearance.
The video, released in mid 2007, is obviously dedicated to then Senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama. It was thought up by Ben Relles, who runs the Barely Political comedy network. Perhaps not surprisingly, Relles is also the Head of Programming Strategy at YouTube. After the video became immensely popular, the producers sold two shirts and the shorts worn by Ettinger in the video through an eBay action, with one shirt managing to score $1,000. The director of the video was found through a classified on Craiglist, the video was shot and edited in 6 hours, and 5 hours after being posted, it had amassed 1,000 views. The official staff of the Obama campaign said they were no way involved in the making of the video, while the director and star confirmed they only did it for fun, and not to support the campaign. Unfortunately, the Obama Girl video managed to upset the country’s First Daughters, as Obama himself has told the Associated Press. As for his own views on the video, the President said: “It’s just one more example of the fertile imagination of the Internet. More stuff like this will be popping up all the time.”
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Official website: Baauer.com
Everybody’s danced The Harlem Shake, or, at the very least, has watched a video of it. But not many think about the man behind the meme: 24 year-old trap and bass producer Harry Bauer Rodrigues, a.k.a. Baauer. If you think the Harlem Shake came out of nowhere, think again – Baauer has been making dance, house, and electro music since the tender age of 13 and has remixed some of the biggest names in the business, from The Prodigy to No Doubt. Baauer grew up all over the world, from Germany to London, as his father’s job involved a lot of traveling. At the moment, he lives in one of New York’s most up and coming ‘hipsterhoods’, Bushwick, which some have heralded as the city’s next Williamsburg.
The viral Harlem Shake song, which was first made popular by YouTube channel TheSunnyCoastSkate, has actually received plenty of acclaim, from established music publication Pitchfork, as well as from the industry, which awarded him two Billboard awards in 2013. Although it was released in mid 2012, the song was just about to go unnoticed until February 2013, when the video was uploaded to YouTube. Then came media attention and the video turned into a meme, reproduced by numerous fans and featuring their own versions of the dance. According to official data, there are some 3,000 user-submitted versions of the 30-second video on YouTube. Both Baauer and his label, Mad Decent, receive money from YouTube for views – and this also applies to the user-submitted versions. MSN Money says they make $6 for every thousand views. However, the song has seen its share of controversy, especially regarding copyright claims. On the one hand, the two samples included in the song were not cleared for rights and negotiations regarding compensation are still underway with the sampled artists (Jayson Musson and Diplo). On the other, Baauer managed to rouse the anger of popular female rapper Azealia Banks, whom he asked to remove her own mix of the song off her SoundCloud page.
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1. Justin Bieber
Official YouTube channel: JustinBieberVEVO
Official website: JustinBieberMusic.com
By and large, the world knows just about everything about Justin Bieber by now, since he is, after all, the world’s most Googled name. For instance, media outlets recently fawned over ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez’s public bout of crying on stage, after she had performed a song that was allegedly about Bieber. Bieber is now 19 and has so much success under his belt it’s incredible to think that it all started on YouTube, when talent manager Scooter Braun came across his home-made videos and decided he wanted to become the kid’s manager. He’s the one who introduced him to Usher in Atlanta and who eventually got him the opportunity to sign a recording contract with legendary producer L.A. Reid. Nowadays, Bieber is the first ever artist with seven songs from a debut album on the Billboard Hot 100. He’s got 40 million followers on Twitter, an army of fans around the world, who call themselves “Beliebers”, made $55 million in 2012 alone, and was named the world’s 3rd most powerful celebrity by Forbes.
As Justin was growing up, he never really revealed his passion for music until the age of 12. He learned to play the drums, guitar, piano, and trumpet all by himself, and his folks only discovered how talented he was when he performed a Ne-Yo cover in a local talent show. His mom then uploaded the performance onto YouTube and continued to do so, helping Justin become a superstar on the site. Interestingly enough, Bieber was brought up by his single mother, who had to take on various menial jobs, in order to keep their low-income housing and raise the kid. His rise to fame has obviously exerted significant pressure on his personal life, yet Bieber remains a practicing Christian, who has repeatedly spoken in public about his personal connection with Jesus. He is an advocate against suicide among LGBT kids and is pro-life. He is also a huge fan of his homeland and has stated he is not at all interested in becoming a U.S. citizen. On the more controversial side of things, he has been criticized for comments made about Holocaust victim Anne Frank (“hopefully she would have been a belieber”) and has had repeated run-ins with the paparazzi, in which violence escalated quickly.
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BONUS: Weezeer’s Pork and Beans
If you’ve ever wanted to see all your favorite Internet music and comedy stars in one video, then the one below is definitely the answer to your prayers to the WWW god. Have fun with it and don’t forget to let us know in the comment section if we’ve left out any Internet music phenomenons that you’re particularly fond of. Or, alternatively, tell us if there are any on our current list that particularly grate your nerves ☺
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