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From YouTube to the MMVAs

Bieber and PSY have come a long way since their viral days, but millions of clicks doesn't always guarantee stardom beyond the internet.
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Warren L. Waterman, June 14, 2013 4:14:50 PM

The 2013 MMVAs owe at least a small portion of their star power to YouTube, which famously spawned the careers of both MMVA co-host PSY and big-name nominee Justin Bieber. Rounding out the internet-sensation contingent at this year’s awards: Burlington, Ontario group Walk off the Earth, nominated in the International Video of the Year by a Canadian category; and you can probably count Carly Rae Jepsen, who didn’t get her start on YouTube per se, but did get a career boost from Bieber and is now facing him in both the “Fave” Artist or Group and International Video of the Year by a Canadian categories.

Here’s a look a some virulently viral music artists of the past, present and future:

Justin Bieber

Biebs’ roots as a YouTube-only phenom are so overgrown with major-media celebrity and tabloid ubiquity, you could almost forget about that chirpy, mop-headed 14-year-old song ‘n’ dance kid who came seemingly out of nowhere after his future manager clicked one of this performance clips by accident. Still, the notion that the biggest teen-pop sensation of the past half-decade happened because his mum put him on YouTube continues to sustain other internet hopefuls to this day, even if few have followed in his shoes except for maybe….

PSY

Already a name back home in South Korea, PSY basically put K-pop on the international map (while simultaneously spoofing it) with last year’s irreverent YouTube scorcher “Gangnam Style.” The video that had grade schoolers the world over dancing along—though he’s 35, his core following may be even younger than Bieber’s—and reset PSY for worldwide fame as not just a musical act but also a film and TV comedy star. Also: 1.5 billion YouTube views.

Walk off the Earth

This unassuming cover band from Southern Ontario formed six years ago but only caught on in 2012, when their novelty performance of Gotye‘s “Somebody That I Used to Know” and its video quietly racked up 130 million YouTube hits. That cleared the way for the group’s own songwriting gambit, including “Red Hands,” up for the International Video of the Year by a Canadian MMVA.

Soulja Boy

Chicago hip-hop artist DeAndre Cortez Way—a.k.a. Soulja Boy—made a quick transition from internet hopeful to major-label player, signing with Interscope Records in 2007 and scoring a Billboard No. 1 with “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” He had not yet turned 18. He’d made Forbes’ Hip-hop Cash Kings list by the time things started to cool down in the early ’10s.

Greyson Chance

This Oklahoma kid’s performance of Lady Gaga‘s “Paparazzi” wasn’t a big YouTube fuss until a family member brought it to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who invited Greyson, then 12, to perform on her show. Evidently she wasn’t just being nice: Chance became the first artists signed to Ellen’s own label, eleveneleven (a subsidiary of major label Geffen), where he put out a second release last year.

Cody Simpson

“The Australian Bieber” started out posting his bedroom cover tunes to YouTube and was promptly snapped up by Atlantic Records. A collaboration with US rapper Flo Rida and a move to LA followed. And while none of these things are guarantees of success—the industry has courted many a YouTube non-starter in the wake of Bieber—Simpson actually hit, charting at No. 1 in Canada and the US (and, oddly, No. 2 in his native Australia) with his 2012 debut album Paradise.

Arnel Pineda

Scrambling (I guess?) to find a replacement replacement lead singer in ’07, Journey resorted to scouting cover bands and YouTube. The latter led them to Filipino singer Arnel Pineda. Pineda remains the group’s frontman today. (At seven years, he’s now held the job for a third as long as famed Journey vocalist Steve Perry.)

Tay Zonday

Have you forgotten? Maybe I should’ve filed this under “Chocolate Rain” instead. An internet star in pure form, Zonday hasn’t gone on to a chart-busting pop career, though hits on his original video have crept up over the years toward 100 million. He even lent his vocal stylings to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” recently.

Unlocking the Truth

As of about last week, the YouTube buzz (and I do mean buzz) on everyone’s browsers is Unlocking the Truth, a trio of precociously talented 11-year-olds who play particularly shred-worthy metal. If this minute-long clip can get a million clicks (and counting), could global domination be far behind? Could make for an interesting teen-pop future—MMVAs, take note for 2014!

The MuchMusic Video Awards air live on Sunday, June 16 at 9 p.m. ET

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Warren L. Waterman

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