2012 Was The Year That Memecore Went Legit & The Covers Made The Band

Posted December 18

Internet culture cataloguing site Know Your Meme is out with its list of the top memes of 2012, and it features two burgeoning trends in the music scene: the rise and legitimization of memecore, as well as the popularization of tunes via spinoffs and parodies.

This year, Know Your Meme‘s list features three memes related to music, all ranking in the top five: Psy’s unexpected hit, “Gangnam Style,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s uber popular, Justin Bieber-endorsed “Call Me Maybe” and Gotye’s multi-Grammy-nominated “Somebody That I Used To Know.” Know Your Meme ranks memes based on the total number of Know Your Meme entry pageviews, Google Trends search interest, and derivative artworks (parodies, covers, etc.)

The Rise of Memecore

In 2011, by way of contrast, the only music — and we use that term loosely — present on the Know Your Meme list was Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” As anyone who had ears in 2011 knew, “Friday” was basically a spectacularly poorly written song about the days of the week sung by a marginally talented teenage girl. The jam nabbed a spot in the Internet firmament solely because it was just so weird.

Last year, I dubbed Black’s jam a prime example of a genre I called “Memecore,” jams that become popular due to their shareablity and weirdness, not inherent quality. These tunes don’t necessarily become popular in traditional realms — see “Friday”s noticeable lack of radio airplay and Black’s non-existent music career — and generally fade away into obscurity after a spell.

This year, however, one song defied the usual tenets of Memecore — IE, the lack of legitimacy — and that was Psy’s megahit, “Gangnam Style.” “Gangnam Style” has all the traits of a memecore hit: 1). It is now the most-viewed video on YouTube with nearly one billion hits (beating out longstanding favorite Justin Bieber’s “Baby”), 2). It has spawned myriad parodies, 3). It’s really, really weird. He dances like a horse. Enough said. However, unlike viral stars like Rebecca Black, Psy has also reached some huge milestones of legitimacy: IE, he was signed by Scooter Braun to Schoolboy Records and he’s spent an ample amount of time in Billboard’s Hot 100.

Granted, Psy has spent years in the musical game — and his “Gangnam Style” is much more self-aware than “Friday” — but the song’s meteoric rise is still impressive. With Psy’s popularity looming, and the burgeoning success of the dubiously named “Tumblr-Wave” genre (see: Kitty Pryde), perhaps 2013 will be the year when memecore will truly go beyond the anomaly stage to the mainstream. [Insert deity here] help us all.

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form…

Cover songs are nothing new — YouTubers having been garnering fame by cribbing off of other bands for years now (see: Karmin, Pomplamoose, etc). However, this year, we saw the opposite taking effect: Covers helping to propel the original artist to stardom.

“This year we saw a notable jump in real-life participation, as in on-camera performances, parodies and tributes,” says Know Your Meme’s senior editor, Brad Kim. “And though most recording artists that made the top ten already had some reputation in their local scenes, their global fame can be partially explained by the parodies and covers that went viral themselves… In a sense, fan tributes can now potentially serve as ‘turbo boost’ for the original artists to piggyback on.”

A prime example of this is Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” — one of Know Your Meme’s Top 10. The Belgian-Australian’s hit record Making Mirrors was released in the U.S. last winter, the single from which has gone on to score high-ranking spots on countless “Best of 2012″ lists, as well as three Grammy nominations for the artist.

Granted, Gotye was already established in his home country when the jam hit the U.S., but we can’t ignore the influence of covers like Walk Off The Earth’s five person, one guitar rendition on the popular tune. That cover has since scored 140 million-plus views on YouTube, and has spawned still more parodies of the jam. Yup, if you don’t know all the words to that song by now, you’re officially stupider than this baby.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s Grammy-nominated jam, “Call Me Maybe,” got a similar treatment — after being officially endorsed by the Biebs himself, that is. This jam was covered by basically everyone in the worldJoan Rivers, James Franco, you — scoring it an official place in the collective brainpan, spots on top ten lists, etc, etc.

What Will 2013 Bring?

So what’s the common thread between all of these viral jams? Aside from some level of major label support, that would be audience participation. Sure, labels can push an artist all they like, but unless fans actively engage with said artist, all that money and time is basically moot.

Each year, we’re seeing more and more bands blow up due to fan-spun excitement — from big artists like Jepsen to more modest acts, like Jane Doze — and with more and more fanfacing technology hitting the scene this year (social networks, crowdfunding service, etc), we imagine this trend will only continue to grow come 2013.

So, is the ticket to fame in 2013 a weird-ass YouTube smash? Should musicians just start releasing their tunes — Beck-style — via sheet music? Or will another avenue lead the next Jepsen/Psy/Gotye to fame? What do you think?

Image courtesy of Cybele Malinowski