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What Does the Fox Say: The anatomy of Ylvis’s instant viral hit

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Some memes spread — others explode. And that’s what happened this morning, when a music video by a Norwegian band named Ylvis didn’t so much go viral as it took over the collective attention of the entire internet for a few hours.

What Does the Fox Say? features adults in outlandish animal costumes reciting an Old McDonald’s-ish list of animal noises, before addressing the titular question in the chorus. There is thumping bass and a silly, easily imitatable dance: In short, it is the video internet hipsters and five-year-olds can finally agree on.

Blogs may matter before social

It’s hard to say exactly where detonation occurred, but having traced back the hat-tips and links in today’s blog coverage, I’m personally prepared to declare the Pleated Jeans Tumblr account the winner in terms of discovering this video — they initially posted it last night. (The original post, as of writing, had almost 1,400 views.)

Gawker, though, took it and ran with it, declaring What Does the Fox Say? the song of the summer.

It wasn’t until a few hours later, though, that things really picked up — thanks to social media. YouTube tweeted it out, as did many other high-profile blogs and tastemakers — one of the earliest being Felicia Day’s enthusiastic endorsement (which has been retweeted 220 times and favorited 152 times):

Though, as she says, she discovered it through the team at Geek and Sundry. Because we all find out about something like this through somebody else.

Success doesn’t come out of nowhere

While this may be the first that those outside of Norway have heard of Ylvis, brothers Bård Ylvisåker and Vegard Ylvisåker have been performing together since 2000, first as a cabaret act, then on Norwegian television and film. Their last show was seen by 120,000 people — that’s a pretty decent fan base.

So if you like What Does the Fox Say?, you’re in luck — they have a huge backlog of videos to discover. One recommendation: The music video Stonehenge. (Some NSFW language.)

The obvious comparison is that of Psy, who was an established performer and producer in South Korea for years before Gangnam Style took over the internet in 2012.

Of course, Psy has yet to really match his initial viral success. But based on Ylvis’s pre-established talent, there’s a real chance that What Does the Fox Say?, as explosions go, could be more than just a flash in the pan.

16 Responses to “What Does the Fox Say: The anatomy of Ylvis’s instant viral hit”

  1. UghThatGirl

    Did this video really, as Neetzan Zimmerman proclaimed, “set the world of sound on fire” (it’s all about the music) OR did a marketing scheme just successfully dupe people into giving away four minutes of their much-sought-after attention by getting (or, you know, paying) YouTube; Gawker; and what Buzzfeed, HuffPo, and Time Magazine called one of THE Must-See Tumblrs on the web; to simultaneously declare a knock-off Lonely Island short the second coming in internetz?

    I guess if this video totes made your day; if you’re happy as a clam and proud as a peacock that you “just so happened” to come across an AMAZING video on your favorite blog that made you and 8 million other people INSTANTLY ROFL because IT’S THAT GOOD; congratulations! You, unlike me, will probably not lose your mind any time soon.

  2. Never seen anything like this. Brilliant! Comedy, top video and top song at the same time. 1 million new views since I started watching … only a couple of hours ago :). Can not stop …. heeeeeeeeelp :D. PSY … loved that one too … but this?!! YLVIS … “you rock” :D.

  3. Marcus G. Prescott

    Would advise watching their elevator pranks – the Intelevator. Most of it is in English.

    “Classic” songs like “Jan Egeland” (tribute to the United Nations ex-Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator) and Pressure (about applying the right amount of pressure) are also worth a few minutes. Actually they´re easily worth a few hours.

  4. When you say “decent fan base”: remember how tiny Norway is. Most of the population, from children to little old ladies, love these guys. They’re a national treasure.