It’s 2018. 24 years and 11 albums in, there’s no reason we should be talking about the somewhat obscure indie darling, Weezer, who peaked with their first album in 1994. Yet, somehow they’ve done it again. They’ve made themselves relevant and they’ve won the internet. And this isn’t the first time they’ve done it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a fan since the beginning, it’s that I should never underestimate frontman Rivers Cuomo. While his creativity goes from sheer brilliance to cringe-worthy (look at 1996’s Pinkerton, which single-handedly kicked off emo’s second wave and compare it to 2008’s Death to False Metal, which was so bad that it was downgraded from being the bands 8th studio album to a b-sides and rarities album in their discography), when he’s on, Rivers is one of the most brilliant viral marketers on the planet. Decades from now, college courses on social movements will still be dissecting how his happy powerpop with a side of 80s metal pulled the mid-90s alternative world out of the gloom and doom of West Coast grunge. It defies logic…So how did Rivers break the internet this time? By covering Toto. Yes, you read that right. By covering Toto. Not once, but twice.As far as I can tell, it all started in mid-February when Rivers made a passing comment in an interview with an Australian radio station, where he stated that Weezer’s much-rumored Black Album would be dropping on May 25th. Fans went crazy and the band went silent. They literally acted as if the statement hadn’t been made. Fan boards (yes, there are incredibly active forums dedicated to Weezer) spent month’s speculating, will they or won’t they? As the day approached, the threads started leaning more towards the later.Then, on May 25th, something happened. Weezer dropped a new track on Youtube and all of the music streaming services. A cover of Toto’s 1982 hit, Rosanna. Now, this may seem like a standard diversion from an out-of-place comment earlier in the year, but it’s more than that. It was Rivers trolling his fans to the nth degree and, as the title of this article states, winning the internet.You see, starting in December, a fan from Ohio started a Twitter campaign to get the band to cover Toto’s Africa. For whatever the reason, maybe it’s as simple as the fact that Weezer fans are weird, the campaign picked up steam and fans started asking for the cover.In true Rivers fashion, instead of simply giving the fans what they wanted, he put together a great Toto cover of the wrong song. The fans loved it! Music bloggers loved it! Entertainment news loved it! They all loved it so much that they posted all over social media about it and suddenly, Weezer was relevant.
For most 90s acts, that brief resurgence to notoriety would have been enough, but not for Rivers, because one week after Rosanna, Weezer dropped the cover fans had asked for, Toto’s Africa and it blew up the internet ever more than Rosanna. As of this writing, Rosanna has been viewed 740,000 times on Youtube and Africa has been viewed 3,000,000 times. On top of that, both songs have been ranked in the Top 10 most popular downloads on virtually every music service. And best of all for the band, fans have all but forgotten about the missed Black Album release date. If not forgotten, at least forgiven.
As a marketer by profession, I look at situations like this and ask myself what I can learn. And the truth is, I haven’t quite figured it out. What is Rivers’ secret? Was there a whole plan behind the Toto covers or was it a last minute, oh crap, Black isn’t done yet situation? Maybe the lesson here is that if you try enough weird random stuff, some of it will stick, and when it does, you’ll reach mass appeal. I’m not sure we’ll ever truly know what goes on in Rivers’ head. Regardless, this past week has been an amazing rollercoaster ride as a fan and has me more excited than ever to take two of my sons with me to see Weezer and the Pixies in August.