Tube Chum Presents: An Interview with Tay Zonday

This week on Tube Chum, Daniel speaks to YouTube’s Tay Zonday about his thoughts on YouTube and the song that made him a viral sensation.

Only a select few people have experienced a sudden shot of viral fame through YouTube, people like Rebecca Black and most recently Ylvis.

However, you could argue that it almost all began with Tay Zonday when his song ‘Chocolate Rain’ became one of the first truly viral sensations from the YouTube website, and since then it’s been nothing but an upward spiral for the YouTube star.

The viral song was first uploaded in 2007 and has since gained over 95 million views. The video’s popularity lead to Zonday appearing on shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live, America’s Got Talent and even South Park.

Tay Zonday spoke to Dan about his viral success, and also shares his current thoughts on YouTube  and his disappointments with the website.

Why did you first decide to get involved in YouTube?

I was tired of dragging my heavy keyboard, keyboard stand and amplifier to perform at very small venues in the cold Minneapolis winter. YoutTube let my music reach a bigger audience from my living room.

It’s hard to ignore the video that put you on the map – ‘Chocolate Rain’. How did you first come up with the idea for it?

I strongly believe that we sing what can’t be spoken — otherwise there’s no reason to sing it. I sing what I can’t say, and so I can’t say what I sing. Besides — questions are more important than answers. Our world has an epidemic of declaratives and a poverty of interrogatives. If “Chocolate Rain” provokes questions and those questions birth more questions, inquiry is the highest form of the human mind. I leave it in its highest form.

zonday1

Do you get recognised much out in public? And do you have any funny stories about it?

Yes, all the time. People do bizarre things — like the White Castle employee who almost fell in my lap taking a picture of me while leaning through a drive-thru window. People will scope me shopping in a store and then orchestrate their approach, e.g. “I totally never do this. But my son loves your videos. He’s on the phone right now and he’ll never believe I saw you. Can you say hello to him?”

How much do you think YouTube has changed since you first started using it?

The way we consume media has changed and YouTube echoes this. Eyeballs have moved from desktop and laptop to phone and tablet; from television to paid online streaming. Every platform owner wants to maximize their platform loyalty and session-duration. The resulting wars are not always good for consumer choice. I don’t like closed gardens and Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and other big platform players are all guilty of hoarding consumers’ digital assets in proprietary closed-gardens.

Do you think it has become easier or harder for new YouTubers to become popular and establish a following?

This is more complex than the “easier/harder” binary. Many types of YouTube content have very clear “eras.”

YouTube suspended accounts that tried to review video clips in 2007. In 2009 RayWilliamJohnson used the format to become most-subscribed on YouTube. In 2014 that format is very saturated. It will always be part of YouTube but not the hottest thing. Freddie Wong started the special-effects craze on YouTube. Thousands of kids followed him in uploading their After Effects Kung-Fu to YouTube. Now the format is saturated. It will always be present but not necessarily “hot.”

Zonday singing Skyrim's main theme on his channel.

Zonday singing Skyrim’s main theme on his channel.

You tend to have some fun with your music videos, especially with the song choices. What do you hope your viewers get out of your videos?

I don’t know. I make my music for me. A video is like a kid. If I create a kid, I don’t think of his or her life as “what do I want the world to get out of this kid?”

What has been your favourite video that you have produced in recent years?

I don’t do favorites. Ranking videos is like ranking kids. Maybe parents who create families secretly prefer some offspring over others, but it’s not polite conversation. It’s not hard to see which videos have more views, so there’s some numeric testimony to which ones are the publics’ favorites.

You’ve featured on various TV shows, which has been the highlight for you?

Tosh.0 was the most fun. But sitting next to Lily Allen and Cuba Gooding Jr. on the BBC was interesting. So was Jimmy Kimmel and America’s Got Talent. I’m not sure I’ve appeared on TV in any way I’d consider a “highlight” because it has always been an echo of what I was doing online. If I pursue acting with more success, I may appear on TV for a reason other than content on YouTube.

Singing 'Gotta catch em all' from Pokemon.

Singing ‘Gotta catch em all’ from Pokemon.

Are there any YouTube video series ideas that you wish you had come up with?

Not really. I could do somebody else’s format but that does not make me into that person. The essential element to most formats is the person being featured.

Do you have any projects planned this year that you can tell us about?

I’m doing a show with Discovery Digital’s Animalist network called “Animal Takedowns.” ( http://www.youtube.com/animaltakedowns ). I’m always planning more original music.

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Daniel Mackrell

Co-editor at Tube Chum
Journalist. Former Winchester Student. Chelsea fan. @WINOL Alumnus. Co-editor, @TubeChum.
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