Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” is the No. 1 song on the Billboard singles chart this week, thanks to a trend in which people fantasize about being frozen in time as if the software that runs all of existence has crashed, or as if a new Vesuvius has encased everyone forever in ash. Perhaps you understand the appeal already.
#TheMannequinChallenge began in late October when students at a Jacksonville high school filmed themselves pretending to be stuck motionless, mid-pose, as if they were modeling slacks at Macy’s. The clip gained traction online and other people started to make their own versions, many set to the bubbling-up rap track “Black Beatles” for no real reason at all.
“Love those Black Beatles #MannequinChallenge,” the 74-year-old Paul McCartney posted to Twitter last Thursday, along with a video of him — still — at a piano as the song’s spare, ominous intro blooms into a joyous number about partying and “rocking John Lennon lenses.”
Even the greatest haters of internet culture, even those who somehow see signs of civilizational decline in planking and the running man, have to admit the meme is a pretty joyful thing, capturing football teams, gymnastic squads, and dogs turning life into fresco.
With its jump to No. 1 from No. 9 in one meme-filled week, “Black Beatles” joins a peculiar lineage of recent hits — also including the dance-along “Juju On That Beat (TZ Anthem),” currently No. 8 on the Hot 100 — that have been boosted by organic user-generated content on social media, outside of the traditional channels of music promotion.
“As the charts have evolved, the components of what makes a hit have changed so dramatically,” said David Bakula, a senior analyst for Nielsen Music, which supplies the data for Billboard. “This is not a world that is dominated by just radio and sales. There are new creative outlets to market songs, albums and artists.”
Streams of “Black Beatles” have nearly tripled from 15 million in the final week of October to 43 million last week. And paid downloads of the track shot up even more, reaching 144,000 in the most recent chart period, compared to just 22,000 two weeks prior, according to Nielsen Music. Even radio play — far from guaranteed for viral hits — has been rising consistently.