The song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” was an unstoppable force in pop culture in 2015.
Silentó’s maniacally catchy track not only cracked YouTube’s 10 most watched music videos of the year, but it also became a runaway dance phenomenon. Silentó’s dance also spawned thousands of imitators who served to amplify the effect of the official video’s 622 million — and counting — views. A video of toddler Heaven King dancing to it was named YouTube’s most viral video of the year.
But if you think the dance’s success was a happy accident for the artist, a viral hit that simply captured the imagination of the public at the right time, you’re wrong. The explosion in popularity of the “Whip/Nae Nae” dance was the result of a carefully orchestrated campaign spearheaded by one particular company.
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DanceOn, which counts Madonna as a cofounder, is in the business of creating viral dance hits.
CEO Amanda Taylor describes the company as a digital network that promotes the work of about 1,200 creators of dance content — she uses the term “influencers.” A creator will film a dance video and DanceOn will work to get it exposure and subsequently help it bring in revenue.
Though most of its contracts have slight variations, DanceOn generally takes a percentage of an artist’s revenue for services, including promotion, ad sales, and management. And DanceOn can work with a dancer on a single video or an entire catalog, depending on the situation.
But the innovative part of the company rests in how DanceOn can leverage this network to create, practically out of thin air, a worldwide dance trend.
How does it do it? Let’s look at “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).”
Taylor says that after approaching Silentó for permission to make unofficial dance videos for the song, DanceOn tapped 50 members of its network to make their own variations on the video. Those 50 partners, in the span of 2 1/2 months, drove 250 million views. And when you have that kind of traction, it snowballs outside the network. Taylor says variations on the dance totaled about 500 million views during that period.
The exposure catapulted Silentó into a major label deal with Capitol Records. “DanceOn’s campaign was one of the biggest factors in helping make my single a viral dance hit,” Silentó told Billboard.