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Each year brings an overwhelming variety of music releases. Some releases fail, some rack up a healthy amount of streams, and some explode like supernovas until they’re a permanent part of the cultural fabric. These viral hits, as we like to call them, are the jackpot of the FanLabel experience. Selecting an artist or song that reaches viral levels can propel your label to new heights. 

So how do you find one of these hits before it hits?

It’s surely no exact science, but we’ve identified some common threads that many recent viral hits share. Check out this list of attributes that have helped quite a few songs reach viral levels of popularity in recent years.

Originality and genre-blending

It should come as no surprise that people love unique-sounding music. Fortunately, there are more new and experimental sounds available to the average listener than ever before. This melting pot of styles, genres and influences often churns out some of the most popular hits. Look for tracks that either seamlessly blend multiple genres or create an entirely new yet natural-sounding style of their own.

Drake, “Hotline Bling” (2015) 

Released as a single, “Hotline Bling” quickly found itself played everywhere on a constant basis. The song’s sound might not strike today’s listeners as too unique, but at the time of its release, its style was truly game-changing. While Drake didn’t invent this sound (credit mostly goes to DRAM), “Hotline Bling” was the first of a long line of infectious rap hits that combined soothing tropical melodies with hard-hitting trap beats. 

Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” (2019) 

Many would argue that “Old Town Road” was the defining song of 2019. It came out of seemingly nowhere, and quickly received global play on an everyday basis. While the exact formula to the success of “Old Town Road” is unknown, there are a few easily identifiable key ingredients. Most notably, the song blends two very different genres, rap and country, without sounding even remotely forced or unusual. 

Love and heartbreak

Have you ever wanted to listen to one song over and over after a breakup? If the answer’s yes, you’re not alone.

Romance has been a staple of popular music since the beginning of time. Today, we can see clearly that it’s no coincidence. The proof is in the data – breakup songs frequently resonate with wide enough audiences to attain viral status. When searching for the next viral breakup song, listen for tracks that touch on relatable romantic themes, but do so in the coolest, catchiest ways possible.

Juice WRLD, “Lucid Dreams” (2018) 

Cementing his role as the bold new face of “emo rap,” the late Juice WRLD’s breakout hit first found success on SoundCloud before spreading to other platforms months later. This song had serious replay value, even to those who were not going through a breakup at the time. Equal parts breakup song and party anthem, this song’s versatility took it right to the top.

Ariana Grande, “thank u, next” (2018) 

Ariana’s eloquent take on her tumultuous love life definitely resonated with listeners, earning her both admiration and tons of streams. Besides stellar production, the key to this song’s success was her positive reimagining of the classic “ex-boyfriend” trope. By reframing her unsuccessful relationships as life lessons, Ariana proved songs about breakups don’t need to be sad.

Viral videos

The digital age has given artists more promotional tools than ever before. Long gone are the days where agencies and film crews are needed to produce and distribute music videos. Today, some of the best music videos are fan-made. Harnessing the storm of everyday social media content, artists have found a new audience through short videos, often with common themes or “challenges.” 

While most of these videos only contain 10 to 20 second snippets of songs, they still serve as a powerful promotional tool for artists. If you hear the same song in the background of several Instagram, TikTok and/or Twitter videos, you might have a viral hit on your hands.

Rae Sremmurd, “Black Beatles” (2016) 

The original release of this song was successful, but it didn’t necessarily make waves like other entries within this list. Unexpectedly, it found a rare second wind via the spread of viral “Mannequin Challenge” videos. Each video included a freeze-frame of a different scenario, set to the intro of “Black Beatles.” Content creators and celebrities alike found ways to put their own creative spin on the challenge, pushing the song to the No. 1 Billboard spot two months after its release.

Drake, “In My Feelings” (2018) 

In a similar fashion to “Black Beatles,” Drake’s hit “In My Feelings” owes a large part of its popularity to fan-made challenge videos spread across social media platforms. This time, the videos focused more on the actual song, but less on safety: fans filmed themselves running alongside slow-moving cars and singing the song’s hook. While the videos spread like wildfire, we wouldn’t recommend trying this at home. The inclusion of the song’s lyrics in the “In My Feelings Challenge,” as opposed to only the non-vocal intro that was used in the “Mannequin Challenge” videos, gave the song a big promotion boost.

Now that you have some inspiration, it’s time to start doing some research to find the next viral hit before it blows up! These are just a select few of the many qualities that make up winning hit formulas that we’ve seen garner millions of streams. In addition to these, maybe you can find other contributing factors that bring your FanLabel strategy to life!

Another key strategy for making a hit song is collaborations amongst artists, bringing a lot of star power to one track. For more, read our article “The Age of Collabs and Collectives.”

FanLabel Staff

FanLabel Staff

Enjoy great music and fun contests as you operate your own fantasy record label in the FanLabel app! Pick the songs you think will rise on the contest charts. Compete for the top spot and become a music mogul!