March 1st, 2010
I hadn’t really thought about OK Go in a while and then all of a sudden they come up again with a vengeance. Though they are obviously best known for their quirky and creative videos, this LA foursome should actually hold a bigger claim to fame: they get social media. They’re at it again regarding the release of their second official video for their single ‘This Too Shall Pass’.
Obviously their treadmill video was a massive viral success, culminating in their performance at the 2006 MTV VMAs. Pretty impressive stuff. This video was actually preceded by not one but two choreographed videos: ‘A Million Ways’ (or In the Backyard Dancing) and ‘Cinnamon Lips’. They were playing around with these ideas years ago, not too long after the rise of Youtube itself (another non-dance/music video is their Table Tennis Program–I believe this was their first, but don’t hold me to that).
The new video, following the old ‘This Too Shall Pass’ video featuring the Notre Dame marching band, is the appropriately subtitled Rube Goldberg Machine, a crazy concoction directed by James Frost (Radiohead’s ‘House of Cards’, Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, and more). It follows in the same tradition as their old videos, capturing their zany spirit and “we will eschew traditional videos that just make us look sexy” ethic (they’ve directly mentioned this–but they do still look sexy), while still being a bit of a refreshing aesthetic departure. ‘This Too Shall Pass’ feels more reminiscent of their self-made material, unlike their slightly glossier videos for ‘WTF’ and ‘Do What You Want’ (the wallpaper version).
What interests me more than the video itself (which says a lot) is its release. The video debuted today at 4:00pm PST, and was followed by a live stream Q&A. Damian Kulash, the band’s lead singer, answered questions from within the room as well as via live chat on the band’s website. He even got a phone call mid-question from the band’s bassist (and lip-synching lead) Tim Nordwind, who was able to give his brief two cents as well via speaker phone.
This latest in fan participation further illustrates the band’s grasp of the importance of interactive social media. After their ‘A Million Ways’ video success, they opened up a contest in response to the entirely organic outpouring of fan-made replicas. I’ve called the dance jokingly the ‘Single Ladies’ of its day, but the public reaction was no joke. They set a precedent.
The band has built its success and reputation on these sorts of ‘grassroots’ endeavors; on multiple occasions, for example, they’ve encouraged fans–via Facebook–to meet them in various locations to give food to the homeless. They’ve set up yet another contest, this time looking for remixes of their ‘WTF’ video. The fan response is clearly a reflection of this mentality: a post on Facebook from yesterday, for example, reads: “A fan is giving $1 to charity for every comment he gets on his repost about our video. What an excellent idea: http://bit.ly/d8i4Sm“. Another fan made their own online app inspired by ‘WTF”s crazy coloration, allowing people to try it out for themselves.
Yet another interesting choice from OK Go has to do with Youtube embedding. Damian’s op-ed article in the New York Times criticizes his own label (EMI)’s involvement in disallowing the embedding of Youtube videos. He mentioned in today’s live stream that ‘This Too Shall Pass’ will not have those restrictions, allowing fans to embed away. This is very much in line with OK Go’s ideology: not only do embedding restrictions hurt the band’s views, it also undermines their overall marketing strategy and ethos.
In general, OK Go is a band that strives to avoid the traditional. From their quirky dress to their funky videos, they really do give power pop a slightly different flavor. But their genius comes from their methods, which are, in a way, much more traditional than the corporation-dominated marketing strategies of others in their field: they try to connect. They try to know you, and let you know them. It’s almost neighborly–as if you were invited to dance along with them in their backyard.