'Back to the 90s' Duo Talk Viral Hit's 'Life-Changing, Career-Making' Billboard Chart Debut
The song’s creators Ben Giroux & Jensen Reed speak with Billboard about the song’s success.
'90s kids, rejoice! Ben Giroux and Jensen Reed, the masterminds behind the viral hit “Back to the 90s” featuring Garrett Clayton, scored an unexpected hit on Billboard’s Comedy Digital Track Sales chart, as the song debuted at No. 11 (on the chart dated May 20).
The song’s music video has been a huge success for the duo, surging to 34 million views on Facebook since its posting on May 1, through May 12.
Giroux, who directed, co-wrote and co-stars in the video with Reed, who also composed the song, described the project as “a massive love letter to our childhood.” And rightfully so. The lyrics reference a number of styles, fads and news stories from the ’90s -- from Nickelodeon cartoons, to Furbies and Easy-Bake Ovens, to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video.
The video even gained the attention of Backstreet Boys member AJ McLean, who invited the duo onstage at the band's upcoming show in Las Vegas on June 17.
While the song is the first Billboard chart hit for Giroux and Reed, Clayton returns to the charts for the first time in two years. The actor has charted four separate songs on the Kid Digital Song Sales chart from the Disney Channel Original Movies Teen Beach Movie and Teen Beach Movie 2. His biggest hit, “Gotta Be Me” with Ross Lynch, Maia Mitchell, Grace Phipps, John Deluca and Jordan Fisher, reached No. 3 on the chart dated May 30, 2015.
Giroux and Reed spoke with Billboard about the success of their song and how the video came about.
Tell me a little background behind the video. How did you guys come up with the idea and when did you begin working together?
Ben Giroux: We became a duo after working on a project called “Little Dude Anthem.” Jensen and I work at the same voice-over agency in Beverly Hills and were introduced to one another and started working on that project afterwards. We wanted to do something even crazier as our follow-up video, and it just made sense to do something about the '90s because we both grew up in that decade. The music portion of it took about a year before we started thinking about how to actually put this thing together.
Jensen Reed: I’ve been doing music for about 20 years. I told my production partner, Christian Hand, that Ben and I had this idea for a tribute to the '90s, and he gave us the idea to incorporate all the major genres of the '90s into one song. I instantly knew that it was a genius idea. So we got the song together and I thought to hit up my buddy Jared Lee, who's an amazing pop writer and artist, and he gave it a true pop hit chorus. Then my friend Dirty Hollywood helped us with the grunge bit. I think part of the video’s success is the clever idea of incorporating all the genres.
In the video, one of the Pop-Up Video blurbs says you filmed the whole thing in “two (very long) production days.” What was it like having just two days to film the whole video?
Ben: With any shoot, it’s just about intense preparation and knowing exactly what you want to get, so when things go haywire, you can modify on the fly. That’s the exciting thing about music video filmmaking. We knew [before shooting] that this was such a massive undertaking that we had to basically edit this in our minds beforehand. We did very few full passes of the entire song because it was such a segmented shoot. And I think that’s what allowed us to cram so much into two days. It's also a testament to all our producers and incredible team.
Jensen: When we started, we came up with a list of probably 300 references from the '90s, then Ben and I worked out the lyrics and we changed them a bunch -- we built the shoot around the actual lyrics. So the skeleton of the video came together quickly because of that pre-production. It was all very specific and gave us a blueprint to make the video into what it is.
One small touch I liked was at the very beginning of the video, before the music starts playing, where you both “pull” the screen in to physically change the aspect ratio, making the screen square. How did you guys come up with that idea and think to do that?
Ben: That was actually planned. There are plenty of Easter eggs in the video that we planned beforehand -- we focused heavily on the minutia hoping that people would catch certain things. For me, I shot 4x3 in high school as a filmmaker -- so my view of the '90s is this 4x3 square. I think that actually watching it morph into the 4x3 was a fun way to time-travel “back to the '90s.”
The video is already doing really well -- it’s at 34 million views and counting on Facebook. Have you ever experienced something like this with any other project you’ve worked on?
Ben: Our last two music videos got a million and then 2 million views, but this has surpassed the idea and concept of what viral is. This is now life-changing, career-making kind of stuff for us. The fact that I’m a schlubby little Jewish comedian and somehow wound up on the Billboard charts with my best friend is the funniest thing in the world to me. We’re so excited to see where this takes us.
Ben: We really want to collaborate with some of the other people on [Bilboard’s] charts. A collaboration with Lil Dicky or The Lonely Island would be phenomenal and would make a lot of sense. We’re excited to see where the future takes us. And it’s funny that the future for us is coming from something about the past.
Jensen: It’s one of those typical overnight success stories that are 20 years in the making. I’ve worked with a ton of great artists and produced my own music, but all of my past work was pointing to this project to gain that validation and credibility. The idea of us charting on Billboard, for me as a musician, is a pinch-me moment that is so cool and gives me such a boost of confidence and validation that we’re going to channel moving forward.