It’s the Summer of Challenges

It’s the Summer of Challenges


Challenges get shared. Challenges get fans. Challenges make hits.

We’ve seen challenges before. The Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people had ice water dumped on them and sometimes raised money for ALS research, and the Mannequin Challenge, in which groups of people remained still in videos. But in the summer of 2018, challenges have proliferated rapidly and have been a dominant format on social media.

Of them all, the InMyFeelings Challenge will surely be the dominant challenge of the summer.

For the unfamiliar, the challenge is meant to be performed to Drake’s “In My Feelings.” Shiggy, an Instagram performer, invented it back in early July.

Shiggy said he was pleased “to have potentially the No. 1 challenge of the summer.

“I just think of them as a new art form,” he said, regarding challenges in general. “I don’t want to say it’s a meme. Just people being creative and putting themselves out there through the internet.”

InMyFeelings was embraced by celebrities and normals alike. Will Smith filmed his version on the roof of a bridge in Budapest. A cow did a cow version in a field. And after some people got very enthusiastic about the whole thing, a federal agency had to issue a warning about the dangers of jumping out of a moving car (which for some people had become a part of the challenge).

It wasn’t always a given that Shiggy’s challenge would win the summer, though. He had competition.

The LevelUp Challenge: Introduced by Ciara, this challenge boils down to announcing three ways you plan to better yourself, or “level up.” You can also just dance to the song.

The Shoot Challenge: This is more of a top-down dance craze, in the vein of Soulja Boy’s “Crank That,” except that Blocboy JB appears to have invented it almost accidentally in the video for his song “Shoot.”

The Matilda Challenge: This one takes some forethought. Participants create variations of a scene in the film “Matilda,” in which Matilda discovers she has telekinesis. The Thurston Harris song “Little Bitty Pretty One” MUST be played or the video does not count.

The Fluff Challenge: This is that thing where you hold up a sheet in front of your dog and then run away immediately after dropping the sheet, leaving the dog stunned that you have vanished.

The tag of “challenge” has become so ubiquitous on social media that sometimes participatory memes just get tagged “challenge.” That may have been true for the Fluff Challenge.

And challenges certainly have more avenues to spread these days. Since April 2016, Instagram has allowed users to post videos that are up to a minute long, providing a medium that’s friendly to people on their phones.

Brad Kim, the editor in chief of Know Your Meme, the meme encyclopedia, pointed out that as technology has gotten better, internet challenges have evolved from photo fads like planking, and filmed dares like bros icing bros, to the high-concept choreography of the Mannequin Challenge, which, about a week after it began to trend, started to incorporate the Rae Sremmurd song “Black Beatles.”

“The rules are getting more specific,” Mr. Kim said.

Viral challenges are ushered along by the media which helps the spread of feel-good challenges (like the Ice Bucket Challenge) as well as the kind that reasonably make parents more concerned (like the Hot Water Challenge, or teenagers eating Tide pods.)

Challenges also may have captured more attention these past few months because no one song has really dominated the summer. Chris Molanphy, a music critic who specializes in analyzing why popular songs become popular, pointed out that the biggest tracks of the past three months also imitate the news cycle, riding waves of enthusiasm on social media, only to be pushed aside once the next big thing starts to trend. There was Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” propelled by an explicitly political music video, XXXTEntacion’s “Sad,” borne by the news of the artist’s death and, yes, “In My Feelings,” which soared to the top of the charts with Shiggy’s help.

Drake did not hire Shiggy to create the challenge, but he latched on to it soon afterward, realizing the marketing potential at hand. Since Billboard added YouTube streaming to its metrics, songs with viral challenges can hit number one, fast. (This happened most notably with the “Harlem Shake” in 2013.) Ciara has tried to seize the reins of virality several times. But when she started hashtagging videos of fans enjoying her song “Freak Me” with the phrase “#FreakMeChallenge,” people took note of her gambit.

Shiggy said that Drake had been effusive in his gratitude for the video and had continued to support it throughout its rise. “He kind of showed me love like I was a new artist who had his first song that went big,” Shiggy said. He even ended up playing a major part in the song’s official music video.

Truly worthy challenges are more than just their soundtrack, and are more than marketing tools for a particular song. They can be better understood as constantly evolving cultural artifacts — living memes that anyone in the world can make theirs, creating a new kind of hit in the process.

Jonah Bromwich is based in New York. He writes for the Style section. @jonesieman





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