It Went Viral

A few months ago, I was a brunch party at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen in the west end of Toronto, where the food is amazing and the place looks like Judy Jetson meets Martha Stewart. A good friend of mine named Brian Kent, an emerging pop/dance music artist, was visiting from NYC, and at the table he unveiled to us on his iPhone his new single, which was about to be released. When he played it, my friend Julie Geller, our social media expert, said, without hesitation, “Wow, that song has a memetic quality. It’s like I know it even though I’ve never heard it before. This is addictive…” Several people around the table asked what “memetic” meant and Julie turned to me. I replied by saying that ‘Memetic’ is based on the word ‘meme’, coined by rock star biologist Richard Dawkins in his best-seller ‘The Selfish Gene’. A ‘meme’ is like a gene, it’s a set of ideas arranged in a sequence or structure that is inexplicably appealing and naturally ‘repeats’ itself in the human mind. Without memetic sequences of ideas, that spread like a virus (hence the term “it went viral”), there would be no popular music, no beloved novels or movies, no brands, not even widespread technology. Everything we know and love in society is, underneath the surface, a meme or set of memes that have spread and established themselves, to the point where we often take them for granted or don’t recognize the power they have over our collective preferences. When something (a song, an ad, a campaign, a brand, a movie, etc.) is memetic, you can feel how it resonates and sticks. And yes, you can’t get it out of your head, even if you say you hate it. Like a Lady Gaga song. Like it or not, that woman is a memetic genius.
Fast forward to last week, just after New Year’s: I received an ecstatic email from Brian that his song entered multiple European and World dance charts in the top 20, and it’s going up as we speak. Julie had called it right: The memetic cycle has begun.