Radio Hits One: Raising The Bar For "YouTube Platinum"
On August 28, MTV will throw the 2011 installment of its Video Music Awards, honoring achievements in the art form that used to make up the majority of its programming. While it's all too tempting to note the irony that the channel has been marginilizing videos in favor of longer-form programming for nearly two decades now, the fact is that the music video as a pop culture force is in good health these days, with or (more often) without MTV's support.
Justin Bieber and Ludacris: Congratulations. A lot of people watched your video.
The internet, broadly, has helped revive excitement around the music video, but credit can be specifically given to YouTube. The music video probably reached its nadir of interest and influence around 2005, just before the site exploded into popular consciousness and made streaming video more accessible both to watch and to upload. Not only do major-label stars finally have a place for their big-budget videos to be disseminated in a mass way resembling that of MTV's heyday; new artists have an unprecedented universal portal for their own low-budget clips, a development that's launched a constellation of stars from Justin Bieber to Kreayshawn and Pomplamoose.
Since 2007, the VMAs have routinely given Video of the Year nominations to up-and-coming artists, critical favorites, and internationally popular artists who'd only experienced moderate success in the U.S.Justice, the Ting Tings, Florence and the Machine. This year, the curveball nominee was an American, the divisive upstart rapper Tyler, The Creator, whose offbeat clip for "Yonkers" gained a following online thanks to the Odd Future crew's critical buzz and Kanye West's Twitter co-sign, with little to no airplay on MTV or other video channels. And so Tyler is, in effect, the YouTube-boosted grassroots choice, up against big hits by Katy Perry, Adele and Bruno Mars, as well as a star-studded short film by music video pioneers the Beastie Boys.
But let's look for a second at the idea that "Yonkers" is the YouTube candidate. It currently boasts about 18 million views, which is pretty impressive for a song with no radio presence. The videos for "Firework," "Rolling In The Deep" and "Grenade" all have well over 100 million views. (Bringing up the rear is the Beasties' "Make Some Noise," which has only 3 million, plus another 3 million for the half-hour film it's excerpted from.) Early in the year, when "Yonkers" first crossed the million views mark, Tyler tweeted, with his usual garish approach to capitalization and blunt word choice, "I Just Went Platinum On Youtube. Fuck." If Tyler was platinum then, is he 18 times platinum now? And is "Firework" 224 times platinum?
Strictly speaking, of course, there is no YouTube Platinum. Platinum records are awarded by the Recording Industry Association of America, and its equivalent organizations in other countries, for sales certifications. In the U.S., a platinum album or single has sold (or shipped, rather) a million copies, but in other countries "platinum" refers to a much smaller figure that varies on the size of the population or the strength of the sales market; it ranges from 300,000 in the U.K. to a piddly little 4,000 in Uruguay (and, surprisingly, only 20,000 in China).
Most people using the phrase "YouTube Platinum" are bragging about reaching a million hits, generally Americans who are used to the word "platinum" signifying one millioneven Urban Dictionary agrees. And frankly, that just sets the bar too low. Only a few dozen albums and singles go platinum every year, and each does so because a million people actually made a choice to purchase a piece of music with legal tender. Hundreds, if not thousands of videos rack up a million views annually; the view count represents each time a person clicked on a page, whether they only watched five seconds of it or the whole thing, and whether they watched it once or rewatched it every day.