Meme music is a term I like to use to describe the songs that are featured in viral videos across the internet. Usually, it’s one or two songs that get passed around from video to video, which in turn make the song a hit. For the most part, the songs that have been used in viral videos have been rap songs. In recent weeks it has been Mask Off by Future that has followed this trend, mainly being used by white people in awkward dance videos on Instagram (Haha comedy!). Another up and coming one that I have seen has been Magnolia by Playboi Carti, which is used in the same sort of manner as Mask Off is. Meme music, however, is not a recent trend. It may not have been called Meme music or referred in a similar manner, but it was still present in pop culture.
The trend of songs becoming popular through frequent uses in other medias can be traced back to the ringtone era of rap. Ringtone rap was prominent around the time when cellphones were becoming more widespread and people began customizing their ringtones. The music industry, as well as up and coming artists saw this growing trend and realized that they could easily capitalize on it. Since a ringtone was only played for a max of 30 seconds, music artists only really needed to make a catchy hook with a nice beat that people could use as a fun, catchy ringtone. People would hear their friend’s catchy ringtone and want to use it themselves, then their friends would hear it and want to use it and so on and so forth. When Kiss Me Thru The Phone came out, practically every teenager rushed to make that their ringtone. It was such a fly song at the time, yet many look back on it as being wack as hell. But these rappers didn’t care. They just wanted to make something catchy. Many of these songs saw millions of plays and their creators in turn, saw millions of dollars and that’s all most of them cared about. Many rappers achieved their popularity through these means, but for many of them, it was short-lived. Rappers like Soulja Boy, D4L, and Jibbs saw there moments of fame, with their hits Kiss Me Thru The Phone, Laffy Taffy, and Chain Hang Low, respectively, only to be left in obscurity once the ringtone age was over. You may still see their names pop up every once in a while, but other than that, their music is nothing but a memory. Ringtone rap died down like any other music trend, but with the launch of Vine in 2012, viral songs saw light in a new medium.
Vine was introduced to be a fun, unique social media platform where people could create 7-second clips of whatever they wanted. Many used Vine for comedic videos, to show off their musical talents, or sports highlights. Like anything in pop culture and especially the meme era, Vine would follow certain trends. Viners would recycle jokes, styles, and even music. It became a trend to use certain songs in your videos, especially if you wanted to gain popularity on the site. Many of the songs used were dance songs that’s sole intention was to do a certain dance to it. Examples being Watch Me by Silentó, Hit the Quan by iLoveMephis, and countless others. The dances to many of these songs were quite simple, yet of course white people couldn’t figure them out, but they would still try nonetheless. These songs were just novelties made for viners to use in their videos, so the rappers could make millions. Of course none of this would be possible without the help of streaming sites like Soundcloud and Spotify to house the songs for people to listen to in their free time (Not sure why). However what was different about the Vine era from the ringtone era was the fact that there was a large number of songs that were not intended to be viral hits. Examples of such songs being Hot Nigga by Bobby Schmurda, Hotline Bling by Drake, and Ultimate by Denzel Curry. What’s interesting about these songs is that they were not originally intended to become viral like their ringtone era predecessors. For the most part, these were simply songs that were released by the rappers, picked up by certain viners, and then beaten to death by the entire site. Although one could argue that these songs were intended to blow up due to the internet, Bobby Schmurda did have talent, in my opinion, before he got put in jail. Drake is Drake, so he didn’t need Vine plays to gain popularity. And Denzel Curry is impossible to group with the other Vine rappers, because he’s as far from being a Vine rapper as possible. Denzel Curry is one of the best up and coming rappers in the game, who saw one of his songs see viral play. Just because one of his songs blew up in that manner does not mean he should be written off as a one-hit wonder. Denzel Curry has all the talent in the world and I have nothing but respect for him.
Like every trend, however, it has to die and Vine saw it’s demise in January when it was shut down by Twitter, putting an end to the Vine era of rap. Viral rap, however, simply moved platforms, shifting from Vine to Instagram and Twitter, bringing us to the present day. The songs that are popping on those sites being Mask Off, Magnolia, and perhaps some others that I have yet to notice, are slightly unique from their predecessors. Both Mask Off and Magnolia were written and released within their artist’s album. They weren’t released as singles like the countless other viral rap songs. This shows that they were not intended to become viral hits. They’re just catchy songs that lived out their purpose of catching on and gaining popularity. It’s fun to see an artist that you love have a song catch on and be a success, but it got me thinking; is it always a good thing?
Looking at the history of viral rap songs, the majority of the rappers became one-hit wonders. In most cases it’s because the artist cashed out and just never made music again, but in some cases, it is because that one viral hit is all the rapper is ever known for, which is what I worry for Denzel Curry and Playboi Carti. Denzel Curry has all the talent in the world, but I fear that his music will just always be associated with middle schoolers flipping water bottles and dabbing. Playboi Carti, meanwhile, looks to be being picked up by the white kid crowd that dances to songs that don’t fit their style (hilarious, right???) as well as the revitalization of the Milly Rock. I guess what my worries boil down to most is the lack of appreciation for these rappers and the delegitimization of their music. I enjoy Ultimate by Denzel Curry and Mask Off by Future, but now I have a hard time listening to them because it just feels…weird. I can’t separate the song from the viral videos and neither can most people. The average person who does not really listen to a lot of rap music hears these songs and automatically associate them with the viral trend. I play Ultimate and my friends will just start dabbing and flipping water bottles. I play Bad and Boujee and all the white girls in the room start acting hood.
Now I understand that there will always be popular music, I mean that’s exactly why it’s called “pop” music. There will always be those songs that you just can’t avoid because they’re played on every radio station out there. That’s just how it goes. And there’s always a reason that it is so popular. It’s not like the songs that I have talked about have no appeal that I can see. I completely recognize what exactly makes these songs popular, it is merely the attitude about the music that comes afterwards that bothers me about these meme songs. Whether it be the trend becoming annoying and being beaten to death or the devaluing of the song and the artist. Now I’m completely okay with it if that is the only song the rapper has to his or her’s name, but when an artist like Future, Drake, or even Migos have their entire discography devalued simply because of one viral song that they had, that’s where I get annoyed. The majority of people only know a couple songs by these artists (Maybe not Drake) and write off the rest of them. They don’t bother diving deeper into the rapper’s music because they only view them as a novelty.
People just disrespect the music. I may be just whining about people not appreciating the music I like, but I’m sure many people agree with me when I say that I don’t like it when people disrespect the artists I love. I’ve listened to Denzel Curry, Future, and Migos long before they saw their viral successes. That sounds pretentious, but it’s just me wishing people would respect the music more. Dive deeper into an artist’s discography every once in a while. Don’t just hear an artist’s most popular song and associate them with that until you die.
“Listen deeper than the music before you put it in a box”-Tyler The Creator.