SEEMS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
While business churns behind them, and the press buzzes to translate the crew, the Odd Future youth fan base still seems largely sustained by DIY and word-of-mouth networks. A glance at the YouTube views for "Yonkers" shows the vast majority of traffic coming from social networks like Facebook and Twitter, not the so-called tastemaker sites that posted it. Most Odd Future members maintain running Q&A sessions on Tumblr and Formspring accounts.
They offer seemingly honest -- if brief -- answers to fan queries regarding everything from production tips to half-joking sexual propositions. These sites aren't necessarily publicized; some are even maintained under semi-anonymous aliases (on Formspring Tyler goes by his alter-ego "WolfHaley") but the fans, now coming from around the world, always seem to find them, and the interactions often spill into the real world.
"Talking to fans [is] easy when your fan base is the size of ours," Syd says. "When it comes to the die-hards, we do know them. You answer questions [online] just to get the story straight, and during that you end up building a relationship."
Some speculate that Odd Future will do to the polished hip-pop of Drake and B.o.B what Nirvana did to hair metal. The charisma, intelligence and sheer destructive impulse are definitely similar, spearheaded by hyper-creative music nerds who play the rebel role artfully. The members of Odd Future have of course yet to produce a "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and it's unclear if that's even their goal. Today's media is perhaps too fragmented to even support such a big bang movement. Instead, Odd Future moves horizontally through word-of-mouth.
This is how its age group consumes music. Thousands of teens record from home and release it to the Web. Millions more find it and share it. No middlemen, except social networking sites and chat windows. But there's a disconnect between this network and the outlets that still rule the airwaves. How does an Internet star get into radio or MTV rotation? Do they need to? Odd Future peers like Bieber and Soulja Boy quickly jumped from YouTube fame into major-label situations, but Tyler and crew are consciously trying to raise the ceiling on that model. If successful, they could be paving the way for an entire generation of musical independence.
Of course, Internet fame is notoriously fickle when translated into the real world. Odd Future has sold out every show it has put on, but they've all been small venues in large markets. It's still hard to say what percentage of the 2.5 million people who have watched the "Yonkers" clip were simply rubbernecking on the shock and buzz highway. It's also hard to expect roach-eating to connect across demographics. But the numbers will speak when "Goblin" drops.
"I could be a complete failure come June," Tyler says. " 'Goblin' could brick. Everyone could hate it. The hype could be over. I could be back to trying to fill out junior college [applications]." Then he snaps back into dreamer mode. "But I don't see that happening. I see Grammys."
This piece's writer, Andrew Nosnitsky (@noz on Twitter), contributes to NPR and the Washington Post.