What Does the Fox Say: The anatomy of Ylvis’s instant viral hit

Some memes spread — others explode. And that’s what happened this morning, when a music video by a Norwegian band named Ylvis didn’t so much go viral as it took over the collective attention of the entire internet for a few hours.

What Does the Fox Say? features adults in outlandish animal costumes reciting an Old McDonald’s-ish list of animal noises, before addressing the titular question in the chorus. There is thumping bass and a silly, easily imitatable dance: In short, it is the video internet hipsters and five-year-olds can finally agree on.


Blogs may matter before social

It’s hard to say exactly where detonation occurred, but having traced back the hat-tips and links in today’s blog coverage, I’m personally prepared to declare the Pleated Jeans Tumblr account the winner in terms of discovering this video — they initially posted it last night. (The original post, as of writing, had almost 1,400 views.)

Gawker, though, took it and ran with it, declaring What Does the Fox Say? the song of the summer.

It wasn’t until a few hours later, though, that things really picked up — thanks to social media. YouTube tweeted it out, as did many other high-profile blogs and tastemakers — one of the earliest being Felicia Day’s enthusiastic endorsement (which has been retweeted 220 times and favorited 152 times):

Though, as she says, she discovered it through the team at Geek and Sundry. Because we all find out about something like this through somebody else.

Success doesn’t come out of nowhere

While this may be the first that those outside of Norway have heard of Ylvis, brothers Bård Ylvisåker and Vegard Ylvisåker have been performing together since 2000, first as a cabaret act, then on Norwegian television and film. Their last show was seen by 120,000 people — that’s a pretty decent fan base.

So if you like What Does the Fox Say?, you’re in luck — they have a huge backlog of videos to discover. One recommendation: The music video Stonehenge. (Some NSFW language.)


The obvious comparison is that of Psy, who was an established performer and producer in South Korea for years before Gangnam Style took over the internet in 2012.

Of course, Psy has yet to really match his initial viral success. But based on Ylvis’s pre-established talent, there’s a real chance that What Does the Fox Say?, as explosions go, could be more than just a flash in the pan.