In 2017, algorithms are quietly shaping our day-to-day lives. Google selects advertisements for us based on our search history. Streaming services like Spotify make custom playlists tailored to our listening habits. News-based algorithms are even starting to affect our political viewpoints.
Lots of the time, this all feels creepy and unnatural. But sometimes these algorithms do their job. Sometimes, they're able to recommend hidden gems. That’s exactly what’s happening with a lo-fi song from a Norwegian band called Boy Pablo.
Their video for “Everytime” kept showing up in my "recommended videos” section on YouTube this week. After I saw the goofy thumbnail of a kid wearing short shorts and rocking a pink hoodie a half dozen times, I finally clicked play.
Honestly, at first I wasn't sure if these guys were for real or not, because most of the shots in the video showed the band members in goofy positions, looking over their shoulders and squinting into the sun. But the song hooked me right away. Chilled out, with Mac DeMarco-reminiscent guitar tones and an overall warm, charming energy, it was clear there was something special going on here.
After a little digging, I found out that Boy Pablo is the musical project of an 18-year-old singer-songwriter named Pablo, who plays with some of his best friends from high school. But, as I looked around, I saw that all of his other songs had play counts in the low thousands—much lower than the 300,000+ current views on "Everytime." His social media numbers were surprisingly low for a song this big, as well.
the YouTube algorithms were in our favor for some reason. From there, we started getting 40-50,000 views per day.
Pablo and his manager/collaborator Fabio echo this over email. They explain that the video only got a few thousand views in the first few weeks when they uploaded the video in May (similar to everything else they had put out at the time). A little while later, a post on Reddit gave it a bump to 25,000 or so. But then everything went really crazy a week ago when they started showing up in everyone's "recommended" tab and the view counts soared into the hundreds of thousands.
"The real boost hit about a week ago as a result of YouTube adding the video as a recommendation on peoples front page, if you had watched videos with similar music," Fabio says. "So the YouTube algorithms were in our favor for some reason. From there, we started getting 40-50,000 views per day, which has a direct correlation with all the streaming services Pablo's music is available through. So in a matter of just a few days, all of Pablo's songs are performing way better than normal."
So, how did this happen? How did an obscure video seemingly win the lottery of YouTube's algorithms and get hundreds of thousands of views out of nowhere?
"YouTube is using machine learning/artificial intelligence to dictate what content is featured and promoted across the site," explains Jason Killgore, Director of YouTube Operations and Strategy at Complex. "YouTube’s algorithm is given a few metrics from YouTube engineers that it is programmed to optimize [...] The algorithm is trying to find videos specifically for each viewer based on their past viewing habits, search queries, channels subscribed to, and video engagements (Did you like the video? Dislike the video? Leave a comment?)"
Killgore explains that the algorithm tries to be predictive and looks at other viewers that have similar watching habits and demographics. He adds, "This is a very personalized system that is constantly learning and using the feedback it gets on a minute by minute basis to alter it’s recommendations."
The algorithm also gives a preference to clips that hold viewers for long amounts of time and keep users on the same channel.
the fact that people are finding out about me through my music video is already giving me so many new opportunities with my music.
So, it's likely that Boy Pablo received a boost through the popular reddit thread that linked to it, and because the song is surprisingly good, people watched the clip all the way through and checked out other videos on the channel (which includes a couple amazing videos of these guys climbing fences to interview Tyler, The Creator). From there, the song climbed to the top of YouTube's algorithm priorities and ended up in front of people like me, who are now sharing the video with more people.
At P&P, we still value music recommendation with a human touch, but it's difficult to ignore the power and potential of some of these algorithms. And it's really nice to see that these systems are sometimes able to identify quality content, bring it to the surface, and give talented artists like Boy Pablo a big break.
A lot of people are finding out about your music for the first time through the video for "Everytime." Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Pablo: I'm an 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Norway, but both my parents are Chilean. I released my first single in February 2016 under the Boy Pablo project, and currently have two singles and a six-track EP out. I write and produce all the songs myself, but when I play live I bring some of my best friends to play with me. They're all talented musicians that I met in high school. We played our first gig at our high school and it worked really well, so we just kept playing together when I got booking requests for my project.
The "Everytime" video was uploaded in May, but it seems to have received a lot of attention very recently. When did you notice it start getting all of these views?
Pablo: We uploaded the video in May, and got about as many views as we expected the first few weeks: a few thousand. The video caught some attention in a Reddit forum called r/listentothis, which gave us 25-30,000 more views and made a lot of people reach out to us wanting to know more about the project. I don't know how people from YouTube found the video, but as soon as we were put on recommendations, things went crazy. I'd love to know who in the YouTube team found our video and how, because the fact that people are finding out about me through my music video is already giving me so many new opportunities with my music.
I found the video when it popped up in my YouTube recommendations, and based on the comments, that seems like its the way a lot of people have been finding out about it. Have you noticed that too?
Fabio: The real boost hit about a week ago as a result of YouTube adding the video as a recommendation on peoples front page if you had watched videos with similar music, so the YouTube algorithms were in our favor for some reason. From there, we started getting 40-50,000 views per day, which has a direct correlation with all the streaming services Pablo's music is available through. So in a matter of just a few days, all of Pablo's songs are performing way better than normal.
I remember everyone had the sun in their eyes, and someone in the band was like 'yo maybe you should stand somewhere else my eyes hurt,' but it was too good of a shot.
The video itself is really great. Can you tell me about what it was like making that?
Pablo: I'm glad you like it! We made the video at a spot close to my old high school, which is on this island called Os on the west coast of Norway. We brought all our instruments down by the water and Fabio started filming from different angles.
Fabio: In one of the shots, I remember everyone had the sun in their eyes, and someone in the band was like, "Yo maybe you should stand somewhere else my eyes hurt," but it was too good of a shot, and when I edited the video it looked way too funny with everyone squinting in the camera and me zooming in on their faces. It turned out to make the whole video so much cooler.
The video is hosted on a channel called 777tv. What is that? The most popular video is of you guys meeting Tyler, The Creator. How'd that happen?
Fabio: 777 is sort of a collective of creative people in our circle. When Pablo told me he needed help with management and booking and all the not-making-music stuff that comes with being an artist, I decided to make 777 records, which is basically all about me trying my best to give good music the attention it deserves.
And yes, the most popular video on the channel is the first one produced under 777tv. It's a video of me and my friend jumping like four fences to get into the backstage area at a festival to interview Tyler in 2015. Still one of the best moments of my life. It's actually really crazy, because this artist named Anna of the North played at that same festival that year, and Tyler and his friends were talking about her and how talented she is. Now, Boy Pablo is supporting her on her tour. And she appeared on two of the songs on Tyler's newest album. Make sure you check out the video, it's actually insane.
Anything else you guys would like new fans to know?
Pablo: I'm always working on new music, and I'll be releasing a lot of music and video content in 2018. So, if you like the "Everytime" video and the song just follow me on Instagram and Facebook and SoundCloud and you won't miss out on anything. Also, I want to thank everyone who is giving my music attention and sharing it with their friends. I really appreciate it.