This is the first interview in Chapter 3 in my new book, Designing Media
Jorge Just, December 2008
While studying history and political science, Jorge fell in love with the public radio program This American Life, so he taught himself to edit audio, moved to Chicago, and applied for an internship with the program. Ira Glass gave him the opportunity and helped him learn the art of storytelling. During his time with the program, Jorge developed a friendship with the members of the band OK Go and became interested in finding creative ways for them to communicate with their fans, and for the fans to connect with each other.
OK Go In Concert
Jorge masterminded promotion for the band, making connection to YouTube before any other musician, band, or label. When This American Life did its first tour, Ira Glass invited OK Go to go along as the house band. It was strange for a rock band to be playing songs to a seated audience as part of a public radio show, so they looked for something to add that would be entertaining and different. They ended up creating an intricate dance that was one part choreographed boy band dance and two parts cheerleading routine. When preparing for their own next tour and planning their stage show, the band decided to replace encores with a new version of this type of dance routine, which proved to be very popular and turned into a signature element of their shows. Jorge remembers how the dance performance was recorded on video.
There is a video of them in Damian’s backyard where they’re rehearsing; it’s the last take. They borrowed a camera and recorded it and sent it around to me, and some friends, just to show us the work in progress, and it happens to be this fantastic, perfect piece of viral video. It’s just the sort of thing you see and immediately want to see again and want other people to see.
OK Go Rehearsing Their Dance Routine in the Backyard
By this time they had a record company sponsoring their tour, but the professionals behind the label did not want to release the video to the fans, thinking that having a boy band pirouetting around in a dance routine was not the right kind of promotional material. The band did what any self-respecting band does in that situation; they burned a few DVDs and handed them to fans at shows. The video started to propagate and soon showed up on YouTube, and soon after someone sent the band a video of a re-creation of the dance at a wedding, with four chubby, middle-aged guys performing for the bride. The band members and the fans loved this example, so Jorge seized the opportunity to make something of it, setting up a dance contest. They asked people to re-create the video in whatever imaginative, creative way they could. This turned viral, with the derivative videos popping up everywhere. They were compelling, funny, and even sometimes cool. A magical new kind of connection happened, with the band inventing this new kind of entertainment that could easily have just been an embarrassment but turned out to be both charming and engrossing. Total strangers around the world joined in with their own creativity and fantasy. The idea for using treadmills in the “Here It Goes Again” video also proved to have an irresistibly viral quality. The fan base for OK Go was there and ready, and the open competition had become popular, so the moment they put the new video out, it floated to the top of the YouTube ratings. The band went from obscurity to worldwide fame with the help of an ingenious connection to a new medium, combined with inspired performances that engaged and charmed people by their unselfconscious vitality.
OK Go Performing on Treadmills
I find it encouraging that OK Go achieved this incredible viral success by focusing on simple values, combining their music and amusing dance routines, connected through the new medium of YouTube. Who hasn’t seen the treadmill video? The connections enabled by YouTube are amazingly powerful, but this story reminds us to stick to simple and strong emotional values for artistic content rather than going for slickness and hype.