Protest Songs: How Social Momentum Influences Social Stats

After almost 30 years, Rage Against the Machine are still making a splash in the charts, proving how a well-timed tweet can turbo-boost your online presence.
Protest Songs: How Social Momentum Influences Social Stats
Insights
Sara Mekinc

In comedy, timing is everything. The same can be said for certain song launches. Or re-launches, for that matter. Case in point: Rage Against the Machine (RATM). Amidst global unrest and following Tom Morello’s hilarious tweets which made headlines this June, the band’s signature protest songs have entered playlists and charts again – almost 30 years after first being released. 
 

We first noticed the momentum when we saw Morello at the top of our Viberate PRO Alternative Rock charts, filtered by “Instagram Post Likes” in June (for anyone double-checking: please remember that the charts are dynamic, so the results naturally vary with time). 

The goal of our analysis was to find out two things: 

#1: how did this happen, and 
#2: what can we learn? 

The tweet that set the ball in motion. Source: Twitter

How did it happen?

Long story short: after doing other projects for the better part of the decade, the band planned a reunion world tour for 2020, but had to reschedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, by 11 June, all their albums had entered the top 30 of Apple Music’s Rock Albums chart, and their self-titled album (released in 1992) made the Billboard Top 200 chart again.
What made RATM’s politically-charged music as relevant as ever were the Black Lives Matter protests that had been sweeping the USA since 26 May 2020. Assuming that this social momentum, combined with well-timed and unapologetic tweets and IG posts, was the key element that rekindled the interest in Tom Morello’s and RATM’s online presence, we went to explore the data. 

The clapback that echoed around the world

We started with Tom Morello, specifically, his Twitter stats. Looking at the graph, it’s obvious when the infamous tweets happened – and with them, a steep rise in online popularity. In the four weeks following the first BLM protests, Morello gained 132k new Twitter fans, meaning he achieved an impressive 85% of his yearly follower growth in just one month. 

Morello’s tweet is a textbook example of “perfect timing”.  

The spill-over to Morello’s other channels happened almost simultaneously. In the same month, he gained 70k new Instagram followers and his engagement went through the roof: his Instagram posts got over 3.3M likes in one month, and more than 1.2M of those happened during “the clapback week”.

“And the riot be the rhyme of the unheard”

With RATM’s tracks reportedly marking a 62% surge in their streaming numbers at that time, we paid closer attention to the three tracks that our data noted as performing above average: “Killing in the Name”, “Bulls on Parade” and “Testify”. Since 1 January 2020, each of these tracks – again, tracks aged between 20 and 30 years – has been played in the millions on YouTube alone.

By 12 July 2020, “Killing in the Name” was played 13.4M times on YouTube, “Bulls on Parade” 4.9M times, and “Testify” 1.8M times.

All three tracks saw a jump in June, with “Killing in the Name” being played over 3.3M times in June alone. What’s also interesting is the almost identical pattern of views for all three tracks: one could assume that people tend to blast more than one RATM track at each listen. 

The surges in RATM's YouTube video views go hand in hand with tour development and the BLM protests. 

Key takeaways

The main thing everyone’s asking at this point is probably: does “getting political” with your music pay off in the long run? To quote John Legend’s recent twitter thread: “Ummmmmm not necessarily.” 

Read the entire thing, it’s quite worth it. Source: Twitter

Or to put it differently: getting political is totally up to you. 

 

#1 Respect your own values. For every band and artist who's recently addressed their views on social injustice via music (see: Anderson .PaakAlicia KeysPublic EnemyH.E.R.Swae Lee, etc.), there’s another band or artist who will avoid such messages at any cost. Be it a personal apolitical stance, focusing on other issues, like mental health or preserving nature, or simply avoiding alienating an important source of revenue, we can only speculate on their motive. All of them are valid. 


#2 Stay on brand. A firm agenda and integrity keep resonating with people through the decades. Your tweets and tracks will not suddenly go viral if you’re jumping from one trend bandwagon to the next – well, at least not for reasons you’d like. Only by remaining honest with your work and joining the conversation with a meaningful topic will you turn the attention to yourself, and ultimately grow it.

 

***

Cover photo: RATM by Robin Harper. Source: Artist’s Press.

 

We dived into the case above with the newly released beta version of Viberate analytics, which we're officially launching in the fall. It enables artists and music pros to make smarter decisions with data-based insights. You can scour the Charts for information exactly like above, as well as check more specific information on Artist Pages. 


Here's how you can start. If you're a musician, your page, automatically updated with all your latest stuff, is probably already on Viberate. You can send it to promoters, talent scouts, and A&Rs, and use the time you'd otherwise spend updating your onepager on making music. Check it out and sign-up to claim it.

 

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Sara Mekinc

Sara Mekinc

Content Specialist at Viberate
Avid concert-goer, a sucker for creative wordsmithery, and 100 % biodegradable. Google "melomaniac".