2007 was a good year, wasn't it? A year where videos of babies biting siblings' fingers would spread like wildfire through the forests of the Internet, on some new site called YouTube, or something. A time when J.K. Rowling was still penning Harry Potter novels, everybody was sharpening their HTML skills making unique MySpace profiles, and a time where the weather wasn't too unlike it is now, but came with a huge chance of 'Chocolate Rain.'
Remember that? The viral sensation that introduced the world to the glory that is Tay Zonday and his unique style of performing. Go on, refresh your memory:
Who Is Tay Zonday?
Adam Nyerere Bahner, or better known by his online persona Tay Zonday, was busy preparing himself for a Ph.D. in American Studies at University of Minnesota, when, suddenly, one of his YouTube videos catapulted him from cosy living room performer to full-on Internet superstar.
A self-proclaimed not particularly disciplined performer, Zonday began playing the piano at 3 years old and was discouraged from listening to pop music by his parents. Zonday discussed this fact in a 2012 interview, when he said:
I tried to take lessons, but wasn’t disciplined enough to pursue it seriously. It’s always been a hobby of mine I guess — playing the keyboard.
Some hobby! Zonday first became aware of the start up that was YouTube after growing disillusioned with being a roving keyboardist in the open mic scene:
I was tired of going to open mics in Minneapolis. When you’re a keyboard player going to open mics, it is much less convenient then being a guitarist. A stage piano is a lot heavier than a guitar and you can’t just sit on the sidewalk and sing to people.
So by setting up a mini recording studio and a camera in his living room, his trail to Internet stardom was carved:
YouTube became a place where I could play and sing to people, without dragging an amplifier and a bag of wires to a random café.
In February 2007, Zonday uploaded his very first video, 'Canon in Z,' a classical arrangement created by the man himself, which garnered almost 810,000 YouTube views:
'Canon in Z' was swiftly followed by the collaboration between Zonday and fellow YouTube musician Kooby, which earned him his first sweet million:
Then, the heavens opened and coated the Internet in a monsoon of chocolate flavored fuss. 'Chocolate Rain' had arrived, and it would go on to become one of the most legendary videos to ever grace the behemoth that is YouTube, with an astonishing amount of views that leans just over 100 million!
How do you deal with a fame that instantaneous?!
It was extremely, extremely awkward. I had no experience being a media personality. I had no experience doing interviews, marketing myself or marketing my products. To top it all off, no one had really done it before I did it. No one had gone from being in an Internet video to the front page of Sunday’s LA Times and performing on Jimmy Kimmel. There were no bread crumbs to follow.
"A nerd who made music as a hobby"
People gathered together in wonder, postulating over what the hell Zonday was talking about in the track, what the deal was with his super deep, baritone voice and his super youthful looks and what exactly is Chocolate Rain? Is it dangerous? Can you slip on it?
I definitely chose not to be polemic with “Chocolate Rain,” to not emphasize the politics in the spoken interviews I gave. I chose not to go on the radio and say, “This is a political tirade about race and class and injustice” because I always believed the song did a better job of that than any spoken interview could do.
I was very careful not to upstage the song when I gave the interviews. I think I’m still very cognizant of that.
After The Downpour
With Zonday's instant fame came a deluge of mash-ups, parodies and homages from a wide spectrum of YouTubers and even celebrities and musicians, such as John Mayer and Weezer (Zonday appeared in the video for 'Pork and Beans').
He's appeared on talk shows, including Good Morning America, commercials for Comedy Central and Firefox, and fronted the infamous promotional music video 'Cherry Chocolate Rain' in collab with Dr. Pepper:
...and dabbled in a spot of voice acting with an appearance on Robot Chicken:
Throw in some more voiceover work for Animalist's 'Animal Takedowns' videos and raking in even more millions of views lending his idiosyncratic vocals to covers of pop hits, even throwing Frozen's "Let It Go" in for good measure! Is there nothing he can't do?:
Tay Zonday, dude, I salute you. From becoming a surprise star, to standing, today, in the limelight a self-made entertainer. You are a legend and your rendition of the Pokemon series theme song will forever remain one of my fondest memories of the Internet.