When Music Becomes Popular, Faster
BY Matt Daniels, Polygraph
data supplied by
Here’s a fun thing: there are 17 music videos that have hit 1 billion views, EVER. And 15 of the 17 songs crossed 1 billion views in the last year.
Reaching 1 billion seemed important and rare. But not anymore. In the chart below, we've visualized the 17 songs. Notice how the number of days to 1 billion is shortening.
Number of Days until Music Video Hit 1 Billion Views on YouTube
Touch Track to View its Time to 1 Billion
1 Billion Views
Days-Elapsed to 1B Plays
Why is music getting popular, faster? What are the consequences? We asked a few wicked smart folks for their thoughts.
The story here isn’t about YouTube. Or technology. It’s about how quickly a song can saturate culture. It used to take months for a song to propagate. It was released. Slowly people heard about it. Then they shared it. A song had a clear lifecycle, and it meant something to share a track with a friend. If the song was a hit, it took months/years before we were all sick of it.
“Hello” accomplished this entire cycle in weeks: 1 billion views in 87 days. And when a song is painfully everywhere, it feels like a fad. It isn’t worth sharing and re-visiting – we’ve heard it too many times. And my instincts are that it changes a song’s legacy. The tracks that take time to build and spread: they have different connotations than an ubiquitous #1 song. Will future generations respect “Hello”? Not if this generation never wants to hear it again.
This illustrates the fact that video has an increasingly important role in our lives. We're watching more video than ever before. The extrapolation of the 12 song album into seeded, strategically timed singles alludes to more musicians paying attention to the art of video (see: Beyonce). Higher resolution mobile cameras and screens also allude to more opportunities for video to be shot and seen everywhere - something we couldn't fathom in the era of TV. Video views have also become such a performance metric that we're getting smarter about how to make music videos, when to drop them, who to leak them to first, etc.
This evokes the increased “nowness” of culture, or what Douglas Rushkoff off calls Present Shock. With the spread of always-on networks and technology (think messaging apps and push notifications over emails) it means that we too must be always-on. When your boss sends you an email, it’s not as urgent as when your boss sends you a text message. This same thing is happening in culture. We’re speeding up. Cultural moments are urgent or not important at all. "Now" is the currency. "Now" is the reference. It is now or nothing. Miss it and you’ll have fomo, be irrelevant or worse, be old.
If you google "Adele," a YouTube video is the third result, and YouTube is the first option on the "available at" section. YouTube is treated as a neutral option when Taylor Swift (another billion video star) or other artists hold their releases back from streaming / download platforms.
So on top of good search results, I think that "listening" to music on YouTube is why there are more 1 billion-view videos. The video is important, but it's those multiple "listens" that I think are starting to contribute to the shorter 1 billion window. It's the largest streaming music platform, although it's not acknowledged as such – people still think of its video features first. Young people use YouTube more than any other service to listen to music. It's free, easy, and it's all there, even Taylor swift when she wasn't on Spotify. Type in your favorite artist and a playlist of their music or the current song will come up, and voila – you are set. They don't care about the quality of the audio. And on mobile (now with the YouTube Music app and the "audio-only" feature), I am excited to see where this goes. It's bit of a segue, but I feel that once data limits are gone from phone plans, that is when we will see streaming spike. Kids will no longer have to answer to their parents being upset about overages.
It's incredible that we're reaching 1 billion views in less and less time. I think a few things contribute to the upswing in popularity. For one, there is better content. And ironicaly with low barriers to entry, there is a lot more crap too. But it means that content producers who want to shine need to go above and beyond to break through the noise.
Secondly, kids who came of age during the early stages of video apps are the ones who are leading the conversation. They're the generation who skipped desktop and went straight to mobile. And when they made that jump, video was there in the form of YouTube, Snapchat, and Vine. Video is not becoming the norm. It is the norm.
Finally, mobile itself is leading to an increase in video consumption. We have more smartphones than ever before. And that number is increasing rapidly. According to the Independent, there are now 7.2 billion mobile gadgets in the world. That's more gadgets and phones than people!
So better content, a younger generation, and the exponential growth of smartphones mean that pretty soon, 1 billion YouTube views may be the new 1 million. Nice, but not impressive.
ps. YouTube Trends hooked up the data for this article, which (crossing-fingers) will be part of a broader collaboration with YouTube Music.