From Dua Lipa to Rosalía: The Meme-fication of the Modern Pop Star
By the time Dua Lipa announced that there would be a Latin American leg of her “Future Nostalgia” tour, Will Laura Schmidt, who lives in Peru, had already bought plane tickets to Europe so he could attend the singer’s concert in Munich in May.
Mr. Schmidt, 25, had been watching online clips from her tour, recorded by fans who attended a show. There were certain moments that he was particularly looking forward to seeing live, including the artist’s re-enactment of her infamous “pencil sharpener” dance.
In 2018, Dua Lipa robotically twisted her hips back and forth during a performance of her single “One Kiss.” A recording of the move went viral, inspiring countless memes that poked fun at her on social media. She later shared that the bullying had caused her “a lot of grief.”
Since then, she has reclaimed the dance move, demonstrating growth in her stage presence and delivery. She performs the move during the final song of her “Future Nostalgia” set, “Don’t Start Now.”
“It’s a grand finale as a way of saying: ‘I did my job. I worked on my dance skills, and now I’m doing the thing,’” Mr. Schmidt said. “Everyone started screaming at that moment,” he recalled.
Another bit of choreography from Ms. Lipa’s tour that has seemed to resonate with fans is her so-called mic-stand dance. During performances of “Pretty Please,” the artist dances with her microphone stand, using it as a prop as she body rolls down to the floor. Fans have compiled videos of the singer performing the same dance at different concerts throughout her “Future Nostalgia” tour, which began in February and ends this week in Australia.
The live music industry made its big return this year, as artists organize tours to make up for pandemic-related postponements and cancellations. In August, the concert giant Live Nation Entertainment reported its highest quarterly attendance ever. Since TikTok has budded into a music-sharing platform, fans have recorded every moment of a show with the cameras on their phones and posted clips on the app, ready for an audience to watch from home without ever attending a show.
Becoming a meme
During her “Motomami” tour, which began in July and is expected to end in December, the Spanish singer Rosalía went viral for aggressively chewing gum during her performance of “Bizcochito.”
Videos taken by fans show Rosalía with her right hand on her hip as she rolls her eyes and exaggeratedly pantomimes chewing.
TikTok users have recreated the moment, posting their own takes of her aggressive chewing. The hashtag #bizcochito currently has over 1.7 billion views on TikTok, and Rosalía also joined in on the meme.
As to how the moment was created, she explained on a podcast that it was an accident. After feeling bored during a rehearsal, she had the idea and performed it on the spot. When she saw that everyone at the rehearsal was laughing, she decided to do it in her shows. “I was just improvising, it came out, and then I said, ‘Well, I’ll leave it,’” she said in Spanish.
Guilherme Schmitt, 32, who attended Rosalía’s show in Boston in September, said he noticed people around him pulling out their phones specifically when “Bizcochito” began. Bella Hadid was spotted at the singer’s New York show days later, mimicking the gum chewing in the crowd at the same moment that Rosalía was performing it onstage.
“A lot of people were filming it,” Mr. Schmitt said. “Other than the intro, it was one of the moments that people were most looking forward to recording.”
A new marketing opportunity
“I cannot listen to ‘Bizcochito’ without thinking about it,” Mr. Schmitt said, referring to Rosalía’s gum-chewing meme.
Artists have long had signature moves — like Michael Jackson’s moonwalk or Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” dance — and choreography can serve as promotional material for artists.
“It gives the audience something to engage with,” said Tatiana Cirisano, a music industry analyst and consultant with Midia Research. “You feel like you’re really a part of the song that you’re a fan of when not only are you singing along to the song, but you know how to do the dance.”
According to Ms. Cirisano, TikTok has amplified the marketing opportunities associated with signature dance moves because users can upload their own videos, share them with others and tag the songs with greater visibility than ever before. On TikTok, users not only see shorter video content than they would on YouTube, but also see more of it, meaning each clip has greater exposure.
After the gum-chewing moment in her concerts, Rosalía executes a bit of playful choreography. TikTok users have learned the dance moves and uploaded their own videos, and many fans attending her concert perform the moves along with the artist onstage.
In addition to learning a dance move or engaging with a meme, fans watching clips are also getting a trailer for the concert.
“They might watch that clip and be like: ‘Who is this artist? It looks like such a fun show,’” Ms. Cirisano said. “Or they might say, ‘I know this artist, but I didn’t know what their tour would be like.’”
According to data compiled by Midia Research, 26 percent of consumers ages 20 to 24 say they have attended a live music concert or bought merchandise from artists they have discovered through viral trends. Professionals in the live entertainment industry have caught on to the way that video clips from shows can bring in new audiences and fans.
“Those viral moments are great promotional tools,” said Kelly Strickland, the president of Live Nation concerts tour marketing. Although it’s difficult to know whether such moments directly translate to ticket sales, she said the company had seen “a lift from it.”
“It’s modern-day word of mouth,” she said, “so it’s absolutely something we consider as part of our marketing campaigns on our tours.”
‘It was definitely intentional’
While helping to plan the choreography for Kehlani’s “Blue Water Road” tour, Yanelis Francesca and Cassidy Bright hoped to come up with a moment “where the audience gasps every time,” Ms. Francesca said. When they ginned up choreography for “Can I,” which involves a simulated sex act, they were initially worried that it would be “corny.”
“At the end of the day, we were like, ‘No, put that, people will love it. That’s going to be the moment,’” Ms. Francesca said. “And lo and behold, on TikTok, all you see is that section of ‘Can I.’”
“We definitely expected it,” she added, “and it was definitely intentional.”