iCult of Celebrity

August 18th, 2007 | Posted in General

The internet is a bizarre place where ordinary people become “iCelebrities” for seemingly no concrete reason other than they are on the internet and strike some unknown chord with other internet dwellers. YouTube in particular has spawned a number of iCelebrities thanks to quirky and just plain weird uploaded videos. The traditional media is starting to take notice, and as a result iCelebrities are sometimes breaking into the mainstream pop culture.

Here’s a recent example: The other day in my local newspaper was a story (front page, no less) about a University of Minnesota grad student who has made a YouTube music video of his original song “Chocolate Rain” under the name Tay Zonday. It’s a simple video but has some bizarre idiosyncrasies to it, including seeing just the top of his head before he rises to the mike, strange breathing pauses that are explained via over-layed text and goofy overhead shots of hands playing the keyboard. The song is eminently ordinary at best, although the repetitive nature of it and the deep bass voice coming out of the scrawny, bespectacled singer makes it hang about in your head for awhile. It’s hard to tell if this is serious, a parody of some kind or just campy fun. Maybe that’s the fascination.

The video has been watched almost 6 million times on YouTube, and has turned “Tay Zonday” into an iCelebrity. Last week he performed the song live on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”. Kobe Bryant is a fan and mentioned not minding it if the song title was adopted as his nickname. John Mayer covered the song recently on a VH1 show.

The video has spawned a lot of parodies on Youtube as well. Here’s one of the better ones:

That one cracks me up. Actually all the “Chad Vader” videos are pretty funny.

So, is this an example of an internet William Hung? Not exactly, this guy is not without talent, but like Hung it’s not his talent that’s garnering the attention. Nobody can quite define what makes something catch hold on the internet and become this popular. Oddity, weirdness, something just a little off about it? Who knows, but the fact that some anonymous grad student in Minnesota probably eating macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles for dinner 5 nights a week can end up on network TV by uploading a 4 minute video that probably cost $50.00 to produce (probably had to feed the cameraman ramen noodles, so $50.62) is certainly interesting, and a testament to how pop culture in the world is changing.

I think if Andy Warhol had an inkling about the internet and YouTube he might have increased his time limit for everyone to experience fame from 15 minutes to about a week.


  1. Matt. says:

    Agreed. I was quite surprised to see how popular this video has gotten. I don’t find it that entertaining though.

    Even Tre Cool, drummer for Green Day, did a “cover” of this song.



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