'JuJu On That Beat': How a Viral Meme Earned a Million Bucks

Pawel Kaminski/ABC
Kelly Ripa and Ciara are pictured with Zay and the three Kelly & You Co-host finalists during the production of "LIVE Kelly" in New York City on Oct. 19, 2016.

Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall estimate that it took them about five minutes to make "Juju on That Beat (TZ Anthem Challenge)." Comparatively speaking, it didn't take much longer for the song to rocket up the Billboard Hot 100. In just three weeks, it soared to No. 11. Like Silento's No. 3 hit "Watch Me" and iHeartMemphis' "Hit the Quan" (which reached No. 15) in 2015, "Juju on That Beat" succeeded on the strength of homemade dance videos. 

"People keep finding it and engaging with it," says Jeff Vaughn, senior director of A&R at Artist Partners Group (APG), a joint venture with Atlantic Records, where the duo is now signed. "Shaq just did the challenge [on Oct. 20]."

Yet a key factor in the song's continuing rise is how quickly the label was able to capitalize on its virality, which by nature is ephemeral. "The problem with dance records is it takes too long to handle business, and the momentum dies," says Vaughn. "These types of records need to be approached differently."

So APG moved fast once it caught wind of "Juju." The dance trend was first initiated by a troupe called Fresh the Clowns in August; then, on Sept. 7, a clip of a Virginia high school student dancing to the song hit the Internet; Vaughn then saw it on Instagram -- "But it was not available for sale anywhere," he says. He met Hilfigerrr and McCall in Los Angeles on Sept. 20.

As soon as the pair was signed, APG got to work. "Juju" includes a prominent sample of Crime Mob's 2004 hit "Knuck If You Buck" that had to be cleared -- a momentum-killer for many songs. But because "Knuck" was originally released through Atlantic/APG sister company Warner Bros., Vaughn's team managed to get the clearance in just 72 hours, and "Juju" hit iTunes five business days after the act's signing.

"It was happening so fast, it felt like it would burn out quick," says Vaughn. "It hasn't, because we were able to act quickly and start promoting." And once the song went up for sale, Vaughn says that its subsequent growth has been "explosive."

So how much can a viral meme-turned-legit hit make? Over its lifetime, which can be as short as three to four months, "Juju" could earn nearly $1 million when you factor in publishing income, global revenues from streams, synchs and sales, and future performances and appearances by Hilfigerrr and McCall (for example, a club appearance that might pay $20,000 for them to perform two songs, or even a tour). That's on the high end; typically, such novelty songs will see anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 for publishing and hope to earn the same for the recorded music side, according to industry insiders. 

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 5 issue of Billboard.