Miley Cyrus might have people turning up their noses lately, but one thing's for sure: Twerking is hot. And like most viral trends (see: "Harlem Shake" and "Gangnam Style"), there is a recipe that works when you want to create an online phenomenon. But what are the ingredients?
HLN spoke to Brad Kim, editor-in-chief of Internet culture website Know Your Meme, to get the skinny on what it is that makes certain trends go viral.
Bruce Kim: I think it is worth taking a look at the recent climate of pop and Internet cultures to get a better sense of how controversy can be a powerful driving factor in the meme-making process, the Exhibit A being Twerking + Miley Cyrus.
HLN: Can you break it down for us?
Sure! First, there's the "Streisand effect." The promiscuous nature of twerking and its popularity among teenagers drew some ire from the news media well before Miley Cyrus co-oped it into her routine, which turned it into the next "alarming trend among teenagers" that parents should know about. As we've seen with previous teen trends, such as the Cinnamon Challenge
, raising parental concern can backfire as another reason for some teenagers to try it.
HLN: OK, And how does the history of twerking factor in?
Kim: Well, we call that the "Racial Authenticity" factor. Because twerking emerged from the Southern hip-hop music scene, not to mention the lasting stigma of inauthenticity against hip-hop artists and performers who aren't apparently from the core African-American and minority demographics, twerking has grown into a cringe-worthy trend for many, similar to the online backlash we saw against the Harlem Shake for the re-appropriation of black culture.
HLN: So it gets attention because it's making people angry?
Kim: Well, when twerking began hitting the mainstream news, Cyrus was already undergoing a highly publicized "good girl gone bad" transformation. She made herself the poster child of the dance by launching the #WeCantStop Twitter campaign and later the VMA performance. As we've seen with previous celebrity endorsements or participation in Internet memes (Justin Bieber & Guy Fawkes Mask), I think the pairing of a celebrity with a vocal anti-fanbase and a dance meme with its own history of controversy was the tipping point that turned twerking into a joke more than anything else.
In Miley's case, there's also the allegations of slut-shaming, which has been a running issue in recent years. Miley's VMA performance also contributed to furthering the meme's life span by setting off another wave of Internet debates and discussions.
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HLN: Is success with going viral about inventing a trend or re-appropriating something and making it new?
Kim: The simplest answer is that they can be both trendstarters and trendjammers. By our definition, viral media simply denotes that the video/image immediately or suddenly came into high demand and mass exposure in a short time period, no more, no less. But as a result of that, it can often generate feedback from the audience, whether it be emulative or satirical in nature, which amounts to a multimedia conversation that we all know as an Internet meme. In this sense, a viral video is a trendstarter.
And if we extend that timeline a little further, some of those responses to the first viral video (seed) may in turn go viral as well, so in that sense, a viral video can be a catalyst to a pre-existing trend. Whether re-appropriation or subversion of meaning has occurred is secondary to the scale and size of audience feedback, although that can significantly prolong the lifespan of the trend.