The How and Why of Ylvis' The Fox

As I start to write this post, Ylvis' comedy pop single "The Fox," a promotional tool for the new series of their popular Norwegian talk show, has 9,586,917 views on YouTube. It was uploaded only five days ago (3 September). It went viral, breaking 1,000,000 hits in its first few hours online.

I've already seen five news reports claiming it's the "next dance craze" like a "Gagdum Style" or "Harlem Shuffle." That means two things.

  1. My local news stations don't actually fact check their stories.
  2. Overnight YouTube success is now news.

If I had to draw a comparison for "The Fox," I would not go with a genuine dance craze like "Gangnam Style" because it's not a dance craze. It's a funny music video drawing a lot of attention. It's also nothing like the Harlem Shake meme because it's a professionally produced work, not a random internet user-driven phenomenon.

I would actually liken it to Kyary's "PonPonPon." We're talking about two music videos that came out of nowhere to get people laughing and talking. Kyary is a faulty comparison because she's not a comedy artist, but the effect is largely the same. People latched onto an eye-catching music video with a great beat and easy to sing chorus that was originally meant for a much smaller audience.

The ability of a song like "The Fox" to actually crossover to mainstream success around the world can be attributed to a number of factors. For one thing, comedy duo Ylvis actually have vocal chops. Those two guys can sing very well and "The Fox" hits their voices just right to be on trend. It sounds good, switching from a smooth baritone to an edgier rock tenor. This follows such diverse hits as David Guetta and Usher's "Without You," The Lumineers' "Ho Hey," and Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" in structure.

It also hits on that safe dubstep style that's invaded popular music the past few years. We're not quite at the point of straight up dubstep DJs having mainstream hits (soon, Skrillex), but that tonal and rhythmic palette is being heavily used by artists like Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. It's an inescapable form and Ylvis use it, too.

Then there's another element you can never rely on that can only help, not hurt, this kind of success. "The Fox" is a strong pop song. It's really well written. The arrangement is strong. It builds really well and it has--random noises aside--a very easy chorus to sing along with.

The Fox YlvisNow, cross those pop music success elements with the formula for an internet meme--lulz + reach + online communities/social networking = success--and you get viral success. Predicting what's going to hit the meme formula is even harder than writing for that pop music success; neither can be predicted, but internet trends are far more erratic and fast moving.

The first five write-ups I saw of this video tried to connect it to the furry community because of the animal suits. That angle didn't stick, but it got clicks on blogs and message boards that then found much more relevant ways of describing the video. It's funny. It's silly. It's ridiculous. It's catchy. It has those silly subtitles. It's factually inaccurate. Look at any comment section on this video; if there are more than 10 comments, someone is an expert on what the fox actually sounds like.

All of these elements result in a strange, fun video that's generating a lot of discussion. I'm bullish on the song and hope that it can breakthrough to radio play like Psy's "Gangnam style" and Baauer's "Harlem Shake." Ylvis have a few really solid comedy songs. "The Fox" is just the one that broke through. The more eyes on "The Fox," the more chance we get more coverage of Ylvis and other foreign artists in the future.

As I go to hit publish, "The Fox" has 9,822,573 views on YouTube. That's a big jump in under an hour.

Thoughts? Share them below.

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