When Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” music video premiered last week on YouTube, 829,000 people watched it simultaneously and posted over 500,000 chat messages during its debut. That’s bigger news than how within 24 hours the video was seen by 50 million people. Why?
Because in a world on demand, where you can see anything on your own schedule, having an audience tune into something at an appointed time almost never happens, unless its live sports, award shows or the final season of Game of Thrones.
It’s also remarkable that in our modern era — ruled by individual tastes, niches, sub-genres and all that the “long tail” model of marketing documented — there can still be an artist who reaches a mass audience like this. It harkens back to days of yore (which itself is a phrase that should go back to yore), to the time of the monoculture, when there were musicians, TV shows and movies that nearly everyone liked or at least knew about. From a pop music standpoint, I mean The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Madonna through 1992, who essentially owned the zeitgeist.
I am not proclaiming Ariana Grande the next Beatles. Whew, right? Her popularity and how it mobilized nearly a million souls to do the same thing at the same time is worth writing about.
Her video release was carefully plotted. The song itself came out last month, then a series of stills and video tease images were shared across social media, with a call to action to watch the premiere live on YouTube. It was very much like how MTV long ago promoted their World Premiere Videos. Anyone old enough to remember the campaign announcing the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video? MTV made them into events, as did Ariana Grande’s savvy team.