Music and social media: “Rhabarberbar”: How to land a viral hit

Music and social media: “Rhabarberbar”: How to land a viral hit
Music and social media: “Rhabarberbar”: How to land a viral hit

Tiktok is changing the music industry. How else would a cabaret artist from Berlin become known worldwide with the song “Barbaras Rhabarberbar”? Experts explain the phenomenon.

Bodo Wartke from Berlin has received the accolade of social media, so to speak. His tongue-twister rap “Barbaras Rhabarberbar” went around the world on the platforms Tiktok and Instagram in the spring. The accompanying dance video by him and fellow musician Marti Fischer had been viewed around 48 million times at the end of June. “I still can’t really understand what actually happened,” Wartke told the German Press Agency. But how easy is it to land a viral hit on social media – and do artists benefit from it?

Success came suddenly – but not overnight

In the case of the Berlin music cabaret artist, it took almost half a year before “Barbara’s Rhubarb Bar” took off: Wartke and Fischer turned the tongue twister into a song and published it on Tiktok at the end of 2023. First, users shared the song or tried to pronounce the rhymes about a woman named Barbara who owns a rhubarb bar correctly. Later, two Australian women discovered the song and came up with a dance to go with it. It spread like wildfire on Tiktok and then on Instagram and YouTube.

“With the song, you can feel – whether you understand German or not – that we enjoy what we do and that we are able to convey this joy beyond language,” says Wartke about the international success. The song has now been translated into languages ​​such as Danish, Norwegian and Hebrew.

Even old songs are experiencing a revival

Users were able to use “Barbara’s Rhubarb Bar” for their own contributions – according to Tiktok, the audio file was reproduced in at least 105,000 short videos, and the music was then played along with dance or sing-along videos. Musicologist Barbara Hornberger describes this as “(re-)appropriation by users”. She teaches popular music and digital music cultures at the University of Wuppertal and is the first chairwoman of the Society for Music Business and Music Culture Research (GMM).

But this doesn’t just happen to new songs, it can also bring old hits back from obscurity: Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” from 1985, for example, experienced a resurgence in 2022 after the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” On Tiktok, the song was used as background music in 2.5 million short videos.

Many viral songs have one thing in common

What worked well with previous songs that went viral: speed. For example, the hook of the song should be quickly present, explains Hornberger. “Something has to happen in the first 15 seconds that interests me. That means: intros that seem to last for hours or stories that slowly get going like in the past don’t work as well.” The labels Warner Music, Universal and Sony in Berlin did not comment on the question of whether artists base their songwriting on what is working on Tiktok or not.

The user “Girl on Couch” recently came up with a phenomenal quick hook. She crooned the following text in a video on Tiktok: “I’m looking for a man in finance, trust fund, six-five, blue eyes.” She then asked if she had just written the song of the summer – and if someone could turn it into a real song.

The video now has more than 50.9 million views. “Girl on Couch” actually met a man through it – the internationally known DJ David Guetta, who produced a remix of her clip and now plays it at parties. The duo also entered the Official German Charts in the first week after release – albeit only at number 83. Otherwise, Tiktok trends only influence the German charts indirectly – you have to click on a viral hit on a streaming platform or on YouTube for it to count for the chart investigators, as a spokesperson said.

What a viral hit brings to an artist – and what it doesn’t

Hornberger believes that many people overestimate the opportunities for aspiring artists on the platform. “If you consider how many millions of young musicians around the world are trying to land a hit or become famous, then those who actually achieve this are absolute exceptions.”

From Wartke’s point of view, who has been on stage with various programs for more than 25 years, Tiktok has advantages and disadvantages for music creators. “The advantage is that songs can spread worldwide in no time. The disadvantage is that Tiktok does not pay music authors appropriately. The operators basically only provide the infrastructure, but the others provide the content for free,” says the 47-year-old. Although he has incredibly high click numbers, he earns “virtually nothing”. He hopes that the fame will also have a long-term effect on his performances as a live artist.

The issue of compensation had already caused a dispute between the much-criticized Chinese company Tiktok and the music label Universal. At the beginning of this year, Universal pulled its artists’ music from the platform because they were not being compensated for the use of the songs as is standard with streaming providers. Billie Eilish and Adele, among others, are under contract with Universal. In May, the companies agreed on a new deal – and the music returned. Tiktok says it does not see itself as a streaming platform, but it ensures that rights holders receive royalties when their music is used. Artists can also connect their music on Tiktok with streaming services.

Source: Stern

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