Taher Shah and the hooks that facilitate music video virality
Public stupidity (both genuine and feigned) can be oddly seductive. The uncontrollable lure or temptation for us to repeatedly revisit something that we find utterly ridiculous is quite staggering. In the early 2000s, when British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen brought his unconventional breed of humor to America on HBO’s “Da Ali G Show“, I could not help think that he was not really doing anything groundbreaking. Asking stupid and nonsensical questions to important people in various facets of life was not exactly intelligent. It is just something no one had considered implementing in the past. Yet, I found myself going back to those episodes. They became guilty pleasures. In fact, the real credit for those situations that his character Ali G creates should go to the people or organization that orchestrated the deception of his rather unsuspecting interviewees. Sacha Baron Cohen took this idea further in his movie “Bruno“. In that movie, the protagonist’s sole aim was to get famous in America – doing absolutely anything. The idea was never to create something meaningful or substantial. Creating shock value in an endeavor to become famous was also fair game – as the movie’s ending suggests. This hook of stupidity or eliciting a reaction through shock value seems to be key and the common ingredient of some of the recent music videos that have gone viral.
There are plenty of articles online that explore what makes a video go viral. Many of these articles and videos highlight the role of an influencer or tastemaker (which more often than not ends up being a celebrity with a large social media following) in facilitating that inflection point between a video’s relative obscurity to its quick ascent to global virality. The purpose of this article is to highlight the key strategies for creating cringe-worthy and nonsensical music videos that not only go viral but also become defining moments for the music industry (sad but true). This list is not meant to be exhaustive in any shape or manner but it is a reference point for those that want to create something that could potentially go viral. They are as follows:
A] Be comical in the most original way: Hilarious “never seen before” dance moves with over-the-top visuals can go a long way in grabbing the attention of people. A good example of a video that does this is Korean pop star PSY‘s “Gangnam Style“. It is comical. It entertains without offending basic human intelligence in any way. At this point, it became clear that repeating something along the lines of “Gangnam style” was not going attract much attention at all – and the potential for a similar “viral success” was limited at best. PSY’s follow-up single, rather unsurprisingly, did not capture the world’s attention in the way that “Gangnam style” did. PSY is unique in that he is probably one of the few artists with a viral hit that is not an insult to human intelligence or artistic sensitivities on any level and has no delusions about his hit’s artistic merit or lack thereof.
B] Be comical while being mildly infuriating AND doing something no one else would be stupid enough to do: Former teenage singer Rebecca Black had this down to a science with her mind-numbingly stupid lyrical train-wreck titled “Friday“. The song seems to be a celebration of some of the more mundane elements of the life of a girl in her early teens. These translate to dreadful lyrics such as “Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards“. Throughout the video, she has a smile of unwarranted pride on her face that looks almost surgically grafted and it was bound to annoy the viewer – especially in the context of the utter nonsense that this girl was singing. When more was known about the background of the song (i.e. her mother paying a songwriter $4000 to write a song for her daughter in a bid to make her famous), the “infuriation factor” went up a few notches. At this point, Rebecca Black was not only annoying but also projected a persona of being a spoiled brat. The backlash in terms of negative comments on Youtube was substantial. That being said, the song still did go viral. It got a reaction and the girl did become famous – as her mother had intended her to be. The financial upside for Rebecca Black was limited. In her case, she mastered the hook of infuriation. There is the idea that some people “love to hate” certain things. Rebecca Black unknowingly catered to this need very well with “Friday“. Once again, she did not do anything original. She just did something that most normal people would have ruled out as being a magnet for verbal abuse.
C] Be comical while being VERY infuriating, shed every speck of self-awareness, do something no one else would be stupid enough to do while eliciting dizzying levels of disbelief in the viewer, season your video product and your persona with a highly misplaced narcissism and confidence, butcher the English language like no one ever has, be delusional enough to think people “love” your work – and then do it all over again with a sequel that makes the original look relatively mild in terms of absurdity: To the best of our knowledge, only one man has managed to successfully implement this potent and multi-layered formula extremely well – and he seems to be on the verge of doing it yet again with a follow-up to his first flirtation with fame via a song called “Eye to Eye“. In this first music video, Pakistani “pop sensation” (as he refers to himself) Taher Shah unleashes a stream of incoherent gibberish with the swagger of an actual musician. One of the many lines that epitomizes this is “Keep love in the soul, make love with eye to eye“. The video features him in a room with photos of himself (extreme narcissm alert – especially for a guy that no one would consider to be photogenic). I do not consider myself competent enough to capture the multiple permutations of stupidity that Taher Shah has managed to weave into this song and video. It almost seems like Taher Shah took a page out of Rebecca Black’s rule-book and made it his own. Here is a full-length clip of the video:
Our favorite part of this video is the Youtube comments – more specifically the one below (which I think is hands down the funniest Youtube comment of all time):
The appeal for a clown like Taher Shah stems from his ability to both enrage and inspire simultaneously. He is slowly turning into the posterchild for unbridled (and in my humble opinion unwarranted) confidence in the wake of harsh (fairly so) criticism from the overarching majority of people that have listened to his “music”. He takes it one step further by basking in his own self-praise – which his facebook fanpage captures quite well. He claims to have won several awards for “Eye to Eye” (we are still not sure as to who is giving him these). His success stems from the fact that he manages to elicit an intense reaction or emotion – whether or not it is good or bad. That ability to get a reaction or to take Rebecca Black’s “love to hate” formula ten steps further is his hook for virality – or his path to being infamous. It does not matter that he is a delusional idiot that thinks of himself as a legitimate musician. He is famous and he is trending – and as many musicians will agree, any publicity is good publicity.
Most musicians today would agree that their biggest impediment to success is obscurity. This is not a reality only for new musicians. This unfortunate trend applies to veteran artists and bands whose rise to fame happened in prior decades. Any new material by them goes relatively unnoticed by the mainstream because of a longstanding ageist bias and “protective moat” (a term we have shamelessly borrowed from The Economist) that conglomerate-owned terrestrial radio (this applies to the US) has created for the select few artists and bands that they feature on excessively high rotation to the point of hammering in the “acquired like-ability by excessive repetition” syndrome for their millions of listeners. As a result of this protective moat, musicians’ only real shot at building a global fanbase is through platforms such as Youtube. This creates a lot of clutter and the critical skill to win in this arena is the ability to cut through that clutter. I am sure it can be quite frustrating for struggling musicians (that spend years honing and nurturing their craft) to watch people like Rebecca Black and Taher Shah successfully cut through the clutter and get famous. In an ideal world, we would marry the musical chops of legitimate musicians with the eccentricity of viral stars to make Youtube a premier discovery avenue of music to the point that it eclipses the age-old Goliath that terrestrial radio is.
There is a widely held notion that viral stars are unable to hold the attention of people for a long period of time. Most second attempts at fame through a repetition of a viral video formula fall flat. Taher Shah might be the exception to that rule given the intense reaction that he has evoked yet again with this new single “Angel“. The less said the better. That is just how dreadful it is. We leave you with a full-length video for this song:
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