Why Ke$ha went #1…and why it could’ve been bigger…

I’ve been asked several times since the release of Futurehit.DNA to show some examples of recent hits and how the book can point out why the song was so successful. No better place to start than the beginning of the year with new pop phenom Ke$ha. While she briefly appeared as a guest on Flo Rida’s “Right Round” hit last year, she basically came from nowhere to being #1 in 5 months with her hit “TiK ToK”. In that span, she sold 2 million downloads, was streamed 45 million times on YouTube alone, and looks poised to have a chart-topping album debut. What made it get so insanely popular so quickly?

THE SONG STARTS RIGHT AT ZERO SECONDS
Right from the get-go, at zero seconds, Ke$ha immediately starts with her rap. No instrumental intro. You know exactly what you’re getting the minute the song starts. Even the video, which does have an intro, jumps into the song at 9 seconds in. There is very little waiting to get to the song itself. This is one of the key chapters of Futurehit.DNA, hence why it’s the first chapter (which is available as a free download).

THE FIRST LYRIC IS PROVOCATIVE MULTIPLE TIMES
The first line in the song is “Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy” which, to the target audience, is a bold audacious line that is extremely attention grabbing. Shortly thereafter, she raps the line, “Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack” which is certainly a disturbing image to parents and alluring to teens. All this occurs in the first 15 seconds before the drums even kick in. Let’s put it this way: by this point, you’re in or you’re out, but you’re not neutral. If you’re excited by what you hear, you’re probably in for the long haul. More importantly, it also creates from the get-go the need to share this song (see Chapter 14 of Futurehit.DNA) which is all too crucial for a song’s success. By the way

THE DROP OUTS PREVENT BOREDOM
There are two crucial points in the song where the music basically drops out and forces the listener to engage. This is an essential point for any new song to prevent it from being passive. You need it to be active in order to engage people to listen multiple times and actively purchase. The first drop out occurs at 31 seconds when the verse ends and creates a half second of silence before the chorus kicks in. This actively accents the chorus and makes sure you are paying attention before it starts. The second point is just after 2 minutes when the bridge after the second chorus drops out most of the instruments and all the rhythm. Typically most listeners start getting bored right at the two minute mark, so having this change up right at this moment is the smartest move the producers could do. There’s also a subtle, yet crucial change in the chord progressions at this point. This is key as this also creates a shift that engages the listener. This draws from chapters 3 and 4.

LACK OF RESOLUTION AT THE END
The song is in D minor, but that chord first comes in at the 7th beat of the 16 bar progression. So when the song ends cold on the first note of that progression, it ends on Bb. This gives the listener a subtle feeling of an unfinished song, even though it ended on the 1st beat, which is typical of most songs. By not resolving the chord, the listener is more apt to hum the song and therefore more likely to need to listen to it again. This is detailed out in Chapter 5.

In other words, “TiK ToK” did nearly everything right to position it as a A-class pop hit and has been justly rewarded with #1s in several countries, a record sales week for downloads of a solo female, and tons of YouTube views…however…

COULD TIK TOK HAVE BEEN BIGGER?
When a user has a short attention span, they better get to what they need to and quickly. By being creative with her name and the song title, Ke$ha is actually giving people ample opportunity to NOT FIND HER MUSIC. In this day and age where attention time is key and you need to engage the audience quickly, this is no small issue. Her team (label, management, etc.) would need to work extra unnecessary hours in order to keep up with all the blind alleyways potential fans might go down. Consider:

ARTIST NAME SEARCH
According to Google searches, users are 4x as likely to search an incorrect spelling (“Kesha” vs. “Ke$ha”). They’re also nearly as likely to search “Keyshia” as they are to search for the correct version. The results one gets as of today don’t offer a lot of comfort.
KESHA SEARCH RESULTS: Wikipedia shows up first which offers minimal links to music, making discovery difficult. Two different Myspace pages show up, both of which are her, but easily causes consumer confusion. No video results come up, no Google Music links come up, and the one Youtube link that shows up goes to the single stream on YouTube and not the music video. In other words, with the exception of the artist site (the #2 result), the listener is going to less-than-ideal engagement destinations.
KEYSHIA SEARCH RESULTS: Even worse as they all point to Keyshia Cole, creating artist confusion on who even sings the song and potentially driving people to buy music from the wrong artist.
KE$HA SEARCH RESULTS: The best of the bunch, with proper image results and the artist site as the #1 result. But still no Google Music links and song streaming links are way at the bottom (with links to Flo Rida showing up before “TiK Tok”).
Now that the song has been up there for 18 weeks, most search engines have gotten smart and recognize that “Kesha” and “Ke$ha” are the same thing, but as an artist you don’t want to rely on that. For one thing, early adopters who could be your biggest fans may not find you before the search engine gets smart. Plus you’re then hoping that the search engines themselves ARE smart. Google, Amazon and iTunes are, but try searching for “Kesha” on mtvmusic.com or Yahoo! Music, or even the reverse by searching “Ke$ha” on Facebook or MySpace. Bottom line is that you can’t let the consumer be confused.

The artist herself addresses the difficulty in her name and, despite best efforts to clear the air, the reality is that consumers have short attention spans and need to get things on the first try or they’ll give up.

NO CENTRAL LOCATION
It’s already difficult enough as an artist dealing with separate profiles on multiple social networking sites plus your own artist site. But it’s even harder when there’s way too many places that are ‘your own destination’. While her two Myspace pages have been merged into one, it’s already been noted that both show up in search results creating consumer confusion. On Youtube, there is even more confusion as she is on the channels “Kesha”, “KeshaVEVO” and “KeshaTV”. (Note, BTW, that because YouTube accounts can’t contain the “$” symbol, the user names don’t match the artist actual name thereby reinforcing the incorrect spelling as being correct.) This inevitably leads people to have a higher likelihood at ending up at fan streams vs. the actual artist stream. Not the end of the world, but that just means that you’ve got to work harder to ensure you get paid for your music. Of the 45 million YouTube streams noted earlier, about 40% of them are not coming from official sources. And that’s not counting the User Generated versions…that’s just from the official video and single. You can hope that song mapping software will catch those uses, but do you want to take the chance of leaving that money on the table? More importantly, artists can now monetize the non-music videos they make for fans. As an example, the video mentioned earlier of Kesha explaining her name? Her official channel has gotten 3200 views. But on user “GirlFriday1011″, the video got over 175,000 views. A big difference. Of course, I can’t tell for sure, but “GirlFriday1011″ might actually be Ke$ha herself, but if she is, then we’re just adding to the confusion of where her content resides.

I won’t even get started on “TiK Tok” vs “Tick Tock” or “Tic Toc”…you get the idea. The song is a bona-fide smash, and follows just about every twist one needs nowadays to have an established hit. It’s obviously working given the sales figures and airplay. The question that won’t be answered is how many people didn’t interact because of the confusion over finding the music? That may never be known.

10 Responses to “Why Ke$ha went #1…and why it could’ve been bigger…”

  1. micko January 6, 2010 at 2:32 pm # Reply

    Good post!

    Her success despite the mess of finding her official site(s) may suggest that the impact of having that centralized Ke$ha destination is not as important as we think. Even if people can’t find the official video on the official channel, the crowd will provide unofficial versions under the search terms that the crowd actually uses. The consumers with short attention spans either aren’t gonna be the ones buying, or are more susceptible to “endcap” style merchandising (online equivalent to “featured placement” at purchase portals) so they get roped in anyway.

    The “blinged” spelling (Ke$ha) may have also increased her cred among the target audience, who seem to like that sort of thing. Dunno if it’s repeatable though.

  2. michael January 7, 2010 at 9:53 pm # Reply

    “PROVACTIVE” is not a word

  3. admin January 8, 2010 at 10:21 am # Reply

    Thanks…’twas a spelling error, and I changed it…

  4. John January 16, 2010 at 11:10 pm # Reply

    She’s got a recognizable voice. The bridge to this song is horrible lyrically. The whole song is a monotone anthem. I don’t like it though I can’t deny it has a melody (cough Beyonce video phone).

  5. David January 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm # Reply

    This was a thoughtful post. But how could you not even mention Dr. Luke?

  6. admin January 17, 2010 at 8:20 pm # Reply

    John, while you might think the bridge has a horrible lyric, I’d argue that is what makes the lyric memorable. And David, you’re correct. I should have mentioned Dr. Luke who surely had a huge role in constructing the strength of this track.

  7. Tippi January 21, 2010 at 8:35 am # Reply

    Thanks for this blog. I directed my music students to this for for research for their songwriting class. The students found it very interesting. If you are ever in Scotland, you must come along to our Motherwell College for a guest talk.

    Thanks again
    Tippi

  8. R.G. February 1, 2010 at 11:37 am # Reply

    Hello? Has anyone ever heard of Uffie?

    Listen to Pop The Glock by Uffie and you’ll see where Ke$ha ripped off her sound from.

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