“Did I really just forget that melody?”
That’s the self-effacing first line in Y2K and bbno$’s frivolous hit “Lalala,” which shot to the top of Spotify’s Viral 50 on July 1st and has remained in the Top 5 all month. It’s bragging, tongue-in-cheek nonsense-rap with a touch of drugged-out nursery rhyme: “Popped a Lucy loosey goosey, sussy boy, I keep you cool/Got the paper, went to school, be careful who you callin’ fool.”
But this is a pop hit, so the verses are just a way of killing time until you arrive at the onomatopoeic hook, which rhymes “shashasha” with “lalala,” as if it’s trying to bring back the glory days of girl groups. Despite its opening line, the melody is hard to forget, and that’s part of the reason the track was scooped up by Columbia Records this month.
“Lalala” is the latest in a line of “weird, unusual, atypical songs that have had explosive digital growth” in the last six months, says Mark Adams, program director for KYLD in San Francisco, a Top 40 station that is already playing the single. “There’s a thread of records like this one after another: Lil Nas X [with ‘Old Town Road’] of course, Ambjay [with ‘Uno’], Blanco Brown [with ‘The Git Up’]. Here comes another one.”
In the case of “Lalala,” part of the reason for the “explosive digital growth” is a guerilla marketing offensive involving Tinder, Craigslist ads, and even old-school call centers. The song starts like it was made by two slackers on a lark in the studio, but don’t be fooled; these artists speak about promotional tactics like they’re taking the Acela from business school to an innovation conference. “We tackled a lot of non-traditional markets in a very aggressive way,” says Y2k.
Antonio Chavez, who manages bbno$, has a nose for these campaigns — he also works with Shotgun Willy, who flipped “Don’t Worry Be Happy” into “Oreo,” a smutty ode to promiscuity that cracked the Viral 50 this month. “Labels are calling me up like, ‘how did you do that?'” Chavez says.
Eight months before the majors were swarming, Y2k and bbno$ made most of “Lalala” during a November night in the studio. “People keep telling us one of the melodies sounds like Nirvana, but that wasn’t our intention at all,” Y2k says. “My voice just sounds whiny when I hit those notes,” bbno$ adds. Contrary to the song’s self-deprecating introduction, the pair remember their hit’s melody. But some of the circumstances around the song’s creation are, in fact, hazy.
“You know [Cardi B’s] ‘I Like It Like That?'” bbno$ asks. “I sat down on [Y2k’s] couch and was like, ‘can you try [making something like] this?'”
“Did we even listen to it?” Y2k retorts. “I swear to God I’ve never heard that song.”
“I’m pretty sure I said Latin Spanish vibes,” bbno$ responds.
“No offense to Cardi B, love her,” Y2k says. “But I’ve never heard that song.”
Cardi B or not, Y2k approximated a “Latin vibe” with a guitar line written on a MIDI keyboard. bbno$’s hook mostly traces the same melody. “While [Y2K] was doing that [writing the guitar part], I was like ‘nah-nah, nah-nah-nah,” bbno$ says. “He turned around like, ‘go record that.'”
The “did I really just forget that melody?” part came about during a bum take, but rather than delete the gaffe, Y2k and bbno$ decided to wear it proudly, moving it to the front of the final version. “It’s unorthodox,” bbno$ says. And it’s smart: Listen to the intros of 20 different songs, and this one sticks out.
Plenty of would-be hits wither and die without the right exposure. To ensure that “Lalala” got the consideration it deserved, Y2k, bbno$, and Chavez drew up a detailed rollout plan. “Typically what works best is when you spam people the same shit over and over again,” bbno$ says. This is exactly how pop radio makes hits, but pop radio is just one medium; Y2k and bbno$ planned to come at potential listeners from every possible direction. “They had an Excel spreadsheet of potential viral marketing ideas,” recalls Nic Warner, who now manages Y2k.
The video app TikTok provided an early boost. “They had a lot of friends who had big TikTok followings or had access to them,” Warner says. “A lot of kids in the age of self-promotion and marketing on the internet, you collect these relationships. It’s like going to Dave & Buster’s, you’re getting all these tickets and then you cash them in for the big one.” “Lalala” was an opportunity to call in these favors.
Thanks to their web of friends, bbno$ boasts that “people were spray-painting their car ‘Lalala June 7’ — we had the song viral before it even came out.” To date, three different versions of “Lalala” have been used in over 1.1 million TikTok videos. The most popular snippet incorporates that jarring opening: “Did I really just forget that melody?” (Another disorienting track in this vein, Freddie Dread’s “Cha Cha,” also hit Spotify’s Viral 50 recently; it has been used to soundtrack over 600,000 TikTok videos.)
Pushing music through TikTok is old news at this point, but on the wilder side of the modern-self-promotion spectrum, Y2k, bbno$, and Chavez also paid for subscriptions to Tinder Plus to rack up an audience. Tinder Plus has two advantages for horny, wealthy people. First, “you can remotely tap into any city,” Y2k explains. Second, “you can buy extra Super Likes,” bbno$ says. “The Super Like increases the chance of you getting a match by probably 50%.” For Y2k and bbno$, that means they could get more matches in more cities, expanding the pool of people to send their song. “We would spam ‘Lalala’ to all our matches,” Y2K says. “It was definitely obnoxious.” (“I’ve gotten a few numbers,” bbno$ adds.)
In addition to these social-media promotions, Y2k and bbno$ tried several throwback marketing techniques that are unusual in the world of modern song-plugging. Like politicians trying to win competitive electoral districts, the artists hired call centers to push their track. “We did research on the listener base for our audiences using analytics from all these websites,” Y2k says. They took that information and turned into a telemarketing campaign. “Everyone hates telemarketers, but everyone still answers,” Y2k says. “We got good results back from them.”
They even pounded the pavement, hiring random people “to go door-to-door with a song on the USB” and just give it away for free. “We put in ads [for the song] on Craigslist and eBay, really seeding the song in places you wouldn’t expect,” Y2k says. He’s not sure this worked: “We have no way of gauging that. We were just trying everything.”
“Everything” also included unleashing fake-news mayhem. “We made a bunch of phony stories on how we met each other to get publications to post to make it more interesting,” Y2k says. “One said we met at an Ariana Grande meet-and-greet line, another said [bbno$ was] my Postmates delivery driver. We thought it was fun to post different stories from different blogs that were conflicting and have them all on our pages at the same time.” While clever, this raises the question of whether some of the stories they tell of their promotional efforts are somewhat exaggerated.
But their results aren’t: “Lalala” has amassed 47 million streams in the U.S. to date, according to the analytics company Alpha Data. And most of those streams were due to Y2k and bbno$’s own marketing work. “When it really started moving around June 18th or 19th, only 2% of their streams were coming from Spotify editorial [playlists],” Warner says. “Almost everyone listening was fans finding it on their own. That’s what’s indicative of a hit.”
With “Lalala” starting to rise at pop radio — more than 200 plays last week — and a freshly signed record deal, Y2k and bbno$ are both planning to release more music. But on Monday, the day before they shot the video for their single, they were more excited by the breakfast sandwich at the Highland Cafe in L.A. “We go there maybe even twice a day,” says bbno$, praising the “perfect consistency of the mayo.”
Thanks to millions of streams, they can now afford plenty of breakfast sandwiches. According to Y2k, though, the pair are dreaming of bigger things: “We’re hoping to get ’em for free,” he says. “But thank you.”