Viral Online Media: How a Weird Song Goes Viral

The musical video named PPAP (Pen Pineapple Apple Pen) was first published on August 25th, 2016 by a Japanese singer PIKO-TARO and has been watched by 35,682,494 times with more than 22 thousand comments on Youtube  right now.  Its affected range reaches far beyond Youtube.  I knew this song a week ago when passing time on Weibo and noticed that several famous stars imitating the actions of PIKO-TARO, which helped the song went viral in Chinese media platform. It’s only a 50 seconds song with simple lyrics and weird melody, but it also hit people by its simplicity and weirdness. BBC news also described the song as an earworm which took over the internet.

PPAP became famous throughout the world beyond expectation, just like the song Gangnam Style by PSY a few years ago. Seldom people think it is good listening, but they admit it is an earworm which they can’t help singing along with once listening to it.

The singer combines funny and easy moves with the melody. So the video directly gives people the impression that the song is not a common song but an interesting and comical one. The content is obvious to have the character of humor, which accords with Peretti’s ninth suggestion of how to make things go viral- “humor is inherently social” (2013).

At the same time, it became popular by many other people and stars’ imitation and they help to “capture the moment” (Peretti, 2013). Common people also make use of the song’s heat and create their own dances online, which not only raise their own popularity, but also help transmitting the song.

Peretti also stresses the importance of mobile phones to make things go viral (2013). I can’t agree more. Mobile phones make it possible for us to check news whenever and wherever we want. Therefore they are basic for transmission and for people watching the same video in a very short period.

The song is very easy-making and contradicts with the first principle of what Peretti called to “have a heart” (2013), for it is lack of profound meaning and people will forget it after some time, but it can relax people right now and bring people some fun in life.

Most people participate in the virality of the song only by watching the video, and they do not imitate or share it even if they think it is interesting. This conforms to Alhabash & McAlister’s conclusion that “participants were more likely to carry out the least cognitively demanding behavior” (2015, p. 1331). On YouTube, watching is less demanding than “like”, commenting and sharing. Luckily, the times of watching can be displayed below the video and reflect the song’s popularity.

But in this case, I don’t think women engage in viral behavioral intentions more than men, which is also pointed out by Alhabash & McAlister (2015). I talk with my male friends, and they knew the song as well as female friends do. And there is no evidence online that less men participate in imitating the video than women.

Berger & Milkman suggest that content evoked arousal emotions like amusement and anger is more likely to be shared (2012), which is true of the PPAP case. When listening to the song, people feel refresh (although may be not in a good way) and will be amused by the weirdness and awkward move of the singer.

They also suggest that positive news is more viral online (2012), and this cannot be verified from the PPAP song. Since the song is not a positive nor a negative one, only made for entertaining.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Lin'ao Li says:

    The case you taken as an example reminds me of another viral song, the Little Apple by Chopstick Brothers. I believe that you must have heard that before, it was so popular in China and thus two singers was invited to perform in an American big ceremony. And in my opinion the reason that the Little Apple can go viral is somewhat similar with the PPAP and the Gangnam Style you referred. Firstly, as you said that humor is very important, the Little Apple not only have humor lyrics, the MTV of this song was also so humor that lots of people even other singers imitated it, and these imitation is also referred by you in your article, I do agree with that this activity helped the transmission of the song. What’s more, I also agree with you that mobile phone is important for a case becomes virality. Actually, the first time I heard this song on my phone when one of my friends shared a link of the song to me and said that I should hear it.


  2. oalbishri says:

    Hi Yi,
    The song is funny, and I don’t surprise if it went viral. However, I was shocked that the number of views has increased by 10 million since you wrote your post. I think you have made a good argument regarding the virality of this song. Although the song has no profound meaning people likes it because it is funny, entertaining and gives them a reason to laugh. However, I disagree with you that people will forget about it after a short period of time. I think in the coming days we will see many people who will try to imitate this song, to gain popularity. In fact, when they do so, they will help the song become more viral.


  3. I have never seen this video in my life and it has 46,174,000 views on YouTube. I can honestly say that I am so confused as to why this is so famous. I definitely agree with you that is aims for humor rather than something profound and meaningful. This video is really only about a minute long, content wise, and doesn’t have much else besides a song and a little bit of dancing. This simplicity could relate to Gangnam Style and the point Matt made about the language barrier not preventing us from engaging in the song. I do not have a clue what this singer is trying to say with the pen pineapple apple pen phrase but most people don’t care because they find it catchy. Again, this is a good example of viral media that doesn’t require much brain power.


  4. This video is crazy. I understand why “Gangnam Style” went viral — but not this! Maybe it owes as much to the dance moves as to the song. I was reminded of the “Harlem Shake,” because people wanted to imitate the moves and also post their own videos. You wrote a very good analysis too.


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