Thursday, February 28, 2013

Can Macklemore Go Gangnam?

My previous post introduced the story of Macklemore, an independent/unsigned rapper from Seattle who went to the top of the Billboard charts.

I remember seeing the video when it came out in the fall of 2012 and thinking it was cute/cool but not thinking much more about it. Until I started seeing Macklemore's name pop up everywhere and the next thing I knew he was up to 50 million YouTube views by the end of the year. Seeing that this was beyond my wildest expectations and the song had already been out for a few months I figured that was going to be his level of success, and very impressive it was.  Until I checked again...and it was 70 million views a month later, and then 125 million views a month after that.  Further research was called for.

As we saw in the earlier post Macklemore was a young guy from Seattle who rapped. He toured locally, then regionally, and recorded independently.  He started his musical career around 2000, more or less the same time as Korean K-Pop sensation Psy, himself having been a rookie rapper, around 2000/2001 (before he went on to complete his mandatory military service).  By 2010 Psy had released 5 albums. While people like thinking of those that turn up on YouTube as overnight sensations, a look around often proves otherwise.  Now that we have two more or less parallel stories I thought it would be constructive to compare their paths to popularity and the related numbers.

I just checked the YouTube counter and the video for Macklemore's Thrift Shop is now closing in on 131 million views  (it was at just over 125 million when the previous blog post was written on 2/26/2013) it's now netting around 2-3 million views per day, up from an average of 1.8 million views per day last month.   The video and song were released 5 months ago, so this has been a slower build than what is usually seen with videos that get termed viral; they generally hit a flashpoint quickly, within the first week, swell to a large number, and then plateau.

Compare Macklemore's rate of growth with Thrift Shop to Psy's with Gangnam Style, which started getting 5 million views per day in early September 2012, just six weeks after its release. By the third week of December 2012 it had become the first video to amass 1 billion views on YouTube.  So that's the yardstick for the volume and velocity it takes to get to one billion.  The time to get from release to one billion was 5 months.

As another point of comparison between the two examples: Gangnam was at the top of the iTunes charts in 31 countries in September 2012; the same time the video started getting 5 million plus views per day. Macklemore's Thrift Shop, released the first week of October 2012,  has been #1 on Billboard's digital charts for 7 straight weeks, and currently is or has been #1 on the charts in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Norway,and Finland.

48 hours from now Macklemore will appear on Saturday Night Live, which usually averages about 8 million views for the live broadcast and then draws additional (official) views on Hulu as well as from the various clips that are uploaded by, to use prison parlance, general population.  I will continue to track the numbers on the video after Macklemore's appearance on Saturday, in an attempt to gauge what we'll call 'the SNL effect'. He has appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' popular daytime TV show twice (which, coincidentally, draws an audience of approximately 8 million per show, but Ellen's show is daily, not weekly) and each time there was not only a considerable jump in the number of Thrift Shop YouTube views but also in the incremental daily rate of views.

This chart shows the increase of Google searches on Macklemore. Note that points A and B on the chart correlate to his appearances on Ellen in October 2012 and again in January 2013.

Here's a similar chart for searches related to the word Gangnam.  The ascent from mid 2012 to late fall 2012 is clear; then a bit of an ebbing, then another bump up, likely due to end of year lists and Psy's New Year's Eve performance on CNN, and then we see the expected downward tick in interest.

 In future posts I will look at how Macklemore seeded and cultivated his fan base so that when he broke out beyond the Pacific Northwest and later the U.S. he had a solid system in place for acquiring and keeping fans that would do almost anything for him.  (Note: this is not another of those blogs that suggests that doing the same thing Macklemore did will net you the same results; things are more multi-factorial and complex than that, for better or worse).

My hunch -- and we'll see if things unfold this way soon enough -- is that there will be another surge in both searches on Macklemore and Thrift Shop and YouTube views after the SNL appearance on Sat. March 2nd.  In the meantime I'll continue to pull together more stats and thoughts on the Macklemore phenomenon.  (Oh, also waiting for Suze Orman's endorsement of his relevant message in fiscally challenging times. Poppin' tags with twenty dollars in your pocket is something I can see her being strongly in favour of.)

To help us all bide the time here's interviewer extraordinaire Nardwuar and his encounter with Macklemore from SXSW 2011.

So what happened? See follow up post here.