For about seven seconds, I’m a foot away from Marshmello. He’s wearing white pants, impeccably white sneakers, a pale teal hoodie and his plastic helmet. Three inches of his neck skin are visible between the latter two accessories, and then he’s gone, whisked away to the stage by a crew of security personnel and body guards, a clutch of photographers in tow.
Marshmello doesn’t speak, doesn’t visibly express emotion, and is one of the biggest dance pop artists on the planet. At the Marshmello YouTube Universe party tonight (June 24), a new mini documentary about the Marshmello phenomenon is about to show us that none of this is coincidence.
The crowd here at the YouTube space on the westside of Los Angeles feels representative of the core Mellogang demographic: there are young adults sipping cocktails with Marshmello’s face printed on the cups, industry types in line at the food truck, and parents with their kids.
There are in fact a lot of children here, particularly for the traditionally 18+ world of electronic dance music. These kids sit at workstations decorating their own paper Marshmello helmets with glitter and crayons, while others settle in on the floor waiting for the movie to start. After an introduction from Marshmello’s manager Moe Shalizi and a reminder from YouTube personnel to not take any photos or video of what we’re about to see, a screening of the new documentary Marshmello: More Than Music fires up on the big screen.
Out July 2, the documentary explores how and why Marshmello has risen to his elite global superstar position. (See a trailer for the film below.) In the doc we learn the original Marshmello mask was made from a yoga mat and that a co-sign from Skrillex kicked the Mello brand into high gear. There is focus on how Marshmello built his fanbase in India, and how, because he is essentially a non-verbal half-man, half-cartoon, he can be anything to anyone — if you’re sad, he seems sad too. If you’re happy, he’s also stoked. The ability to project one’s self onto Marshmello, squared by the power of the Internet, is one of the secrets of his global appeal.
“Whether you’re ten years old, 50 years old, live in China or Brazil, anyone can relate to the emotion and the messages in the story,” Shalizi says in the film. “And I think that’s what makes our content so powerful.”
The doc then cuts to a segment featuring a family in Detroit that dresses up as Marshmello every Halloween, and one in which Marshmello surprises a young fan who says his music got her through a battle with leukemia. That girl eventually ends up onstage with him before a huge audience. It’s undeniably feel-good material. The doc also features commentary from Fortnite gamer Ninja, Martin Garrix, The Chainsmokers and Tiesto, the last of whom notes that he and Shalizi talk a lot about content, “and he always said the more content the better, and he’s been so smart with that.” After 25 minutes of this particular piece of content the credits roll (revealing Lyor Cohen as one of the executive producers), and there’s a loud round of applause.
The crowd then disperses to the various Marshmello themed installations. You can eat s’mores, Instagram yourself in front of a large inflatable Marshmello head, see the set where Marshmello recorded his “Cooking With Marshmello” series (which the doc notes intentionally covered international dishes to bolster his worldwide presence) and step into a Mello Cave outfitted with Marshmello-and-YouTube-branded everything.
It is altogether the tangble summation of the strategic branding that helped elevate Marshmello to the top of Billboard‘s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart, where his single “Happier” with Bastille still sits at the No. 1 position after 44 weeks. Here tonight, the newest deliverable — Marshmello’s forthcoming LP Joytime III, out July 3 — plays through the speakers.
The party’s most revealing installation is a virtual reality experience, where guests strap on VR goggles and headphones for the opportunity to hear and see this forthcoming album. Inside the goggles each of the 13 Joytime III tracks (see the complete tracklist below), has its own virtual reality world, and each of these worlds makes you feel like you’re inside floating through a glittery, slightly hectic cartoon world in which Marshmello is the omniscient center of the universe. (The album includes recent single “Rescue Me”, but not the more recent Kane Brown collaboration “One Right Thing.”) The music is brightly effervescent and quintessential Marshmello, but as Shalizi says in the doc, “It’s bigger than music at this point.” Inside this virtual, self-designed Marshmello universe, this sentiment certainly feels true.
“I was always fascinated by trying to create a universal character, something that would empower the fans, Shalizi also notes in the movie, “something that allows a fan to make Marshmello theirs.”
Here in the virtual reality room, fans, parents, kids — includung the cancer-surviving girl featured in the movie — all sit motionless. With their goggles on, none of them can see that Marshmello himself is standing at the front of the room, watching his fans absorb themselves in a world of his co-creation. It doesn’t really matter. It’s bigger than him. He and his crew leave through the backdoor as the party continues.
Joytime III Tracklist
1. “Down” – Marshmello
2. “Run it Up” – Marshmello
3. “Put Yo Hands Up” – Marshmello x Slushii
4. “Let’s Get Down” – Marshmello x Yultron
5. “Sad Songs” – Marshmello
6. “Set Me Free” – Marshmello x Bellecour
7. “Room to Fall” – Marshmello x Flux Pavilion ft. Elohim
8. “Angklung Life” – Marshmello x Wiwek
9. “Earthquake” – Marshmello x TYNAN
10. Falling To Pieces” – Marshmello x Crankdat
11. “Here We Go Again” – Marshmello
12. “Rescue Me – Marshmello x A Day To Remember
13. “Proud” – Marshmello