Two months after Beyoncé dropped her surprise self-titled album, it’s still shaking up the music industry. Album cut “Partition” reached No. 49 on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart last week with more than 1.4 million U.S. streams, despite the fact that the video (available for purchase with the album) isn’t on YouTube or Vevo, and the audio isn’t available on Spotify, Pandora or other similar services. So, how is this possible? Through user-generated YouTube videos, driven by a vibrant community of choreographed dance crews shaking it to the song on camera.
The “Partition” phenomenon is in some ways similar to “Harlem Shake,” the viral, dorm-room dance meme that took DJ/producer Baauer straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 the week of Feb. 23, 2013, thanks to millions of YouTube clicks. However, unlike with “Harlem Shake,” many of the most popular dance videos featuring “Partition” are created by professional choreographers like Kyle Hanagami.
“What I really look for in a song is for it to be dynamic, so it doesn’t get boring,” says the Los Angeles-based 27-year-old, who uploaded a video of a dance crew he choreographed to the song to his YouTube channel on Jan. 23, receiving nearly 400,000 views to date. “‘Partition’ is like a choreographer’s dream in that regard.”
Hanagami has been a choreographer since 2006, and began posting videos to his channel right around the time when the YouTube dance phenomenon began. “It’s great marketing,” Hanagami says. “I travel internationally to teach students, and the way they know to fly me around the world is YouTube.”
“Partition” moves 73-70 on the Hot 100 this week, “Beyoncé”‘s third song on the chart, joining singles “Drunk in Love” (No. 2) and “XO” (No. 50). “Partition” sold 19,000 copies in the week ending Feb. 2, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a jump of 13%. Radio airplay grew 25 percent to 4.8 million audience impressions, according to Nielsen BDS. Streams are up 2%, although the track falls off the Streaming Songs tally this week. But streaming numbers for “Partition” are boosted by the fact that it’s a two-part track. “Beyoncé” comes with separate videos (one titled “Yoncé,” the other “Partition”) for each, and fans have followed her lead, uploading different videos to both parts, all of which count toward the song’ streaming tally. Hanagami’s video uses “Yoncé,” the first part of the song, while others, like one by dancer/choreographer Yanis Marshall, use the “Partition” section.
Marshall’s “Partition” YouTube video, featuring him and a group of dancers he choreographed, was shared by Beyoncé herself on Facebook, and has received more than 775,000 views. “It felt like Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday all at the same time,” he recalls.
Marshall, a 24-year-old Parisian, started out dancing in music videos and stage musicals, and launched a YouTube channel four years ago. With 200,000 subscribers and more than 18 million channel views, he’s become a choreographer with an international clientele. The “Partition” video, in fact, was filmed in Ukraine, where Marshall worked on the local version of “So You Think You Can Dance.” “Most of the jobs I get today are because people found me via YouTube,” he says.
But Beyoncé isn’t the only artist inspiring YouTube’s dance world: Most recent uptempo pop hits, from Icona Pop’s “I Love It” to Pitbull’s “Timber,” have conjured similar clips. It’s another example of how technology is changing the way fans interact with music.
“A true hit song is one where the audience goes from passive to active,” says Dion Singer, executive VP of creative and marketing at Warner Bros. Records. Singer works with Jason Derulo, whose kinetic new single “Talk Dirty” has inspired multiple dance videos with million-plus views, helping the song climb 6-4 on the Hot 100 this week.
“Instead of just listening to a song on the radio, [fans have] the energy to make a dance video and put it up on YouTube,” Singer says. “That must mean the song is really affecting people.”