Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chocolate Rain

You can’t help but say, “What the…” as soon this video starts to play. It starts off with Shock elements: is that the real voice of the singer? Also, there’s this text explaining why he’s occasionally moving away from the mic: “**I move away from the mic so I can breathe in”. And the way he comes into view in the beginning of the song. Its just odd. The video has its moments of Awe: its actually an enjoyable song. These two aspects combined have created 25,000,000 pageviews so far and rising as well as numerous spoofs. But, more interestingly, the Tay Zonday phenomenon underlines the disconnect between people’s expectations of viral videos (they should be forever non-commercial) and the reality (artists like to make money. Good art is often rewarded with a lot of money). First off, here's the original:

Supposedly the song is about racism but I can’t even remember any of the lyrics other than the words “Chocolate Rain”. And if I go more than a month without listening to it, I always laugh within the first few seconds of hearing it. Like “Little Superstar” below there’s this dissonance between the perception and the actual. His voice is so deep and unusual it doesn’t seem real. Tay Zonday, the creator, was a graduate student when he made it. A “singer/composer/songwriter”. Now, 25,000,000 views later he’s selling ringtones, doing commercials, appearing on TV, mentioned on shows like “30 Rock”, etc. Although his other videos featuring original music have had up to several million views, none have come close to the popularity of “Chocolate Rain”. [Interesting note: when reading an interview with Zonday he mentioned the site was where this video first became popular. I had never heard of the site before and Zonday mentions that many viral videos have their beginnings by being posted on this message board. Worth checking out.]

My favorite spoof of “Chocolate Rain” is the Chad Vader version (Chad Vader will certainly be the subject of a future post).

An interesting question rose when Tay Zonday decided to do a Dr. Pepper commercial using the Chocolate Rain song, “Cherry Chocolate Rain”:

I actually think it’s a funnier than the original version. For one thing, a rapper makes fun of the text Zonday put in the original version about why he moves away from the mic. There’s definitely some awkward moments that seem corporate scripted (a line that goes, “this is the web and its going to murder your TV” – is this 1995?) But according to Zonday a lot of people were upset that he “sold out”. Zonday’s response was that he’s still making original music and not resting on his laurels. My feeling is, why did he have to explain anything at all? Aren’t people allowed to make money?

There’s a disconnect between “viralness” and money. The people who want to make the most money seem incapable of creating a viral video (few Fortune 500 companies are creators of viral videos despite thousands of attempts and I’m sure tens of thousands of “creative” meetings). Most of the videos that have become viral have a real authenticity to them. Someone who has an extreme passion, combined with unusual skill, comes up with that one video that evokes the feeling, “Did he really just do that?” combined with a sense of beauty (or humor) that rivals/exceeds the feeling created by $100mm+ budgets.

Its fine with me if these same people are then shuttled directly into the industrial-entertainment complex to hopefully take the work being done there to a higher level. And if they never produce anything creative again then no problem, we still have the next viral videos to look forward to.

One more video:

A heavy metal cover of “Chocolate Rain” (although I wish they had a singer in it):


techfarmer said...

I am amazed how popular the Chocolate Rain Video has become and all the spoofs associated with it.

Speaking of Viral Videos, here's an interesting video by the band Weezer to the song "Pork and Beans". They were able to get many youtube stars including Tay Zonday to be part of the video.

How many of these do you recognize?

James said...

Thats fascinating! I hadn't seen that video. I recognized 9 of the people in there and it seems like there was another 3 or 4 that was intended to be recognized but I wasn't able to.

Whats interesting to me is that the song, to me, seems mediocre but the video has 9mm+ views plus its probably led to another several million peripheral views on other videos related to this video or band.

So what gets the 9mm? Being associated with Miss North Carolina, Tay, the light saber guy, etc. The Tom Cruises and Will Smiths of the YouTube world. Hence the reason Cherry Dr. Pepper needed Tay Zonday to make a popular video.

All of this is somehow adding up to a somewhat sordid recipe for commercial success in the YouTube arena but I'd be loathe to recommend it to anyone.

Cody Willard said...

We had Tay Zonday on Happy Hour a few months ago (

He was a neat kid and very aware of the use of viral strategies in blowing up.