Pandas. Kids. Clintons. In 2015, everyone and their grandmother made videos dancing to rapper-singer Silento‘s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).” The song, which hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, led a wave of top 20 tracks from indie-rap unknowns (ILoveMemphis‘ “Hit the Quan,” T. Wayne‘s “Nasty [Freestyle]”) powered by user-made online clips. “Before it was even a song, it was an a cappella on Instagram — I got 200 comments,” says Silento. “It’s called ‘Watch Me,’ but I made it so everyone would think it’s talking to them, telling them to dance.” Now the question is: Can he and his peers parlay viral hits into careers? After signing with Capitol this summer, Silento is about to find out. “I know how to go viral, but I want people to see another side of me — I don’t want to be ‘the dance kid,’ ” says the 17-year-old, who recently released a more traditional R&B track, “All About You.” “But if one of my regular songs doesn’t get popping? I’m going to make another dance song.”
This story originally appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of Billboard.