In January 2021, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut single full of teenage angst and harmony broke the internet and catapulted her to a worldwide sensation.


This isn’t the typical scenario teenagers experience when they write or sing about milestones like getting a driver’s license … but this chance rise to fame certainly fuels the fire for most young creators today to become the ‘next greatest thing’. But was it really just chance for Olivia?


October 25-30, 2021 is Media and Digital Literacy Week, and we’re diving into the truth about going viral by looking into a couple popular artists – Olivia Rodrigo, Lizzo and Machine Gun Kelly – that seem to have had overnight success when their music went viral.


How likely is it to go viral? What does it take to experience incredible success as a content creator? And who were these superstars prior to today’s spotlight?


‘Going viral’ is incredibly endearing in today’s digital world. Being widely celebrated for your creativity or talents is something we all dream of experiencing, and social media is making this possible for many. But is there a hack or formula to going viral? 


Simply put, no. The chances of going viral is like being struck by lightning, plus the definition of virality is constantly evolving. 


Prior to 2011, getting over 100,000 views meant you went viral, now more people consider the benchmark 500,000 or 1 million views to constitute virality. But the thing is, brands can pay to get a video viewed over 1 million times, but that video likely won’t be considered or talked about as viral like Driver’s License or Old Town Road was.


Therefore, people often used ‘viral’ to mean highly shared, but what it really means today is very popular.


While there’s no formula to going viral, there are some valuable elements to create popular content. The last of which are exactly what launched mega-artists Lizzo, Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly into what seemed like overnight success.

  • Be Helpful – this doesn’t always mean a ‘how-to’ video, but instead, think of a personal problem that you’ve faced and how you can create content to support others in that very thing. Lizzo’s Truth Hurts and Olivia’s Driver’s License are creations that tug on women’s heart strings about being undervalued in a relationship and how to go on and create a new identity after heart break – VERY helpful.


  • Be Newsworthy/Current – Sharing a theory or setting an example that could change people’s perspective on an issue aka ‘speaking your truth’  is a popular thing to do nowadays. Artists are making political statements at their concerts and everyday people are deciding to pursue their creative passions or go against the grain. These are all examples of content we see more often today that are news and viral-worthy. 


  • Be Consistent “It takes about 10 years to become an overnight success” – successful people everywhere. Lizzo made music in a girl group and solo while holding a myriad of odd jobs (like a food critic which explains her insta handle @LizzoBeEating) for almost 11 years before she became a worldwide hit.2 Machine Gun Kelly was an underground rapper for 7 years before experimenting with guitar and singing on his album Bloom, later leading to his recent platinum Punk-Rock album Tickets to My Downfall 3 years later. Olivia Rodrigo is an anomaly to the 10 year rule, but acting in Disney shows and commercials for about 6 years prior to making Driver’s License proves it still takes time for star power to develop.


Virality and popularity should not be the goal, and these viral sensations prove it. They each made/wrote music as their passion and almost 10 years later it rewarded them for their efforts. 


Nearly 5 million pieces of content get posted to Facebook alone everyday. So creating with the intent to go viral will be a lottery you often lose. But creating content that is truthful, may help other people, and being consistent in expressing yourself this way is the kind of content the world needs. 


Don’t go viral – go valuable. 


I hope we get to write about your incredible content one day!


Learn more about Digital Literacy Week with downloadable resources here!