The popularity of Ok Go music videography on the web is often referred to as a typical example of “viral media”. A textual analysis not only demonstrates that all their music videos follow a rather strict communication formula as it does a much better job of explaining its diffusion than the stale viral metaphors.
Although widely used in both corporate and academic contexts, the viral metaphors do not describe accurately the active role of users in assessing and spreading media texts on the Internet: any conception of self-replicating culture is oxymoronic, since culture is a human product and replicates through human agency (Jenkins et al. 2013: 19). On our Ph.D. research project devoted to the convergence of music videos, a textual analysis was conducted on the 8 most viewed music videos of the North-American indie rock group Ok Go (Fig. 1 and Table 1). The referred analysis provided valuable insights on how some peculiar textual features might contribute to trigger media diffusion by users.
Firstly, the videomusical odyssey of Ok Go forms a highly spread and readable counterpower narrative. A Million Ways (2005) was not only home-made due to the refusal of their record label to produce it, as it became the first music video to ever be diffused in such a high-scale without being broadcasted by music television: 9 million downloads via an emailed link (Kot 2009: 214).
To this day, they are not only considered mavericks who predicted the decline of corporate music industry but also pioneers in exploring the sheer potential of social media. Nowadays, “Ok Go” has become a grassroots brand whose association to any audiovisual content guarantees thousands of views on the Web.
Secondly, Ok Go music videography follows a rather strict architextual (Genette 1982) formula, which can be divided by a series of hypertextual features common to all their music videos and a conceptual element singular to each one of them (Table 2). The dual nature of this formula allows Ok Go music videography to be both coherent and non-repetitive (i.e., an œuvre).
On one hand, almost every single Ok Go music video can be accurately described as self-produced one-take dance video performed by non-professional dancers (Ok Go band members). All these hypertextual features (amateurish choreography, lip synching, the predominance of a single fixed or sequence shot and the absence of special effects) are not only typical of the vernacular aesthetic (Burgess 2007) of user-generated content as they are quite effective in creating a potential empathy on the majority of the prosumers that populate the web: Ok Go’s counterpower narrative empowers them with the possibility of also becoming successful outsiders.
On the other hand, what makes every music video of the band singular is the fact that each one of themalways includes a creative (re)mediatisation of a different conceptual element whose popularity has already been tested and certified either on YouTube (home dance, fail, pet and other music videos) or on other media such as cinema, videogames, comics and promo ads (hypotexts).
The popularity of Ok Go music videos on the web has nothing “viral” or anaesthetic (Sherman 2008: 163) to it, but instead follows an elaborate communication formula (Figure 2) whose creative application aims to trigger its active diffusion by users. It’s this rare combination of an acute vernacular sensibility with an eye for top-notch hypertextual references and an intangible creativity factor that made possible for an indie rock band to go from a low-budget home-made dance music video (2005) to having their latest production (2012) not only sponsored by a top American corporation but also aired during the most expensive broadcasting airspace in the world (Super Bowl TV slot).
Burgess, Jean. 2007. Vernacular Creativity and New Media. St. Lucia: Queensland University of Technology.
Genette, Gerard. 1982. Palimpsestes. La Littérature au Second Degré. Paris: Point.
Jenkins, Henry with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. 2013. Spreadable Media. Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press.
Kot, Greg. 2009. Ripped. How the Wired Generation Revolutioned Music. New York: Scribner.
Sherman, Tom. 2008. «Vernacular Video» in Lovink, Geert and Sabine Niederer (eds.), Video Vortex Reader. Responses to YouTube. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures: 161-168.
The following YouTube playlist containing the eight analyzed Ok Go music videos was digitally infused into the static poster via Layar.
The following sticker was produced and then glued to several locations in the campus during the event (UA Research Day). It is a recreation of the iconic cover of Sex Pistols 1977 debut record with the title of the poster and a QR code with the URL of this post superimposed on it. Its aim was to create a buzz through mouth-to-mouth or through what marketeers would (wrongly) call a “viral marketing” action, which is quite ironic and suitable for a poster dedicated to renegade the viral/meme metaphors, which is definitely a rather “punish” statement in an academic context largely subdued by the marketing and memetics approaches.