The Phenomenal Rise of "The Dirt Man": A Viral TikTok Sensation

But I think in this viral world we’re in right now, you never know if, like with the Dirt Man, a song can just go crazy out of nowhere.Last week, Gizmodo sat down face-to-face (via Zoom) to talk to Vail about his experience. Here’s how a seemingly innocuous song was turned into a TikTok anthem, and the manifold lore, fan art and cosplay that shows why the culture of the internet today is so distinct from anything that came before.

THE SURGE OF "The Dirt Man" on TikTok

The history of ‘The Dirt Man’ – from bathroom door into a viral smash on the internet – encapsulates the distribution of pop music in 2020. Vail had uploaded the track to YouTube alongside Instagram and other platforms, but it was TikTok, a website for bite-sized viral content, that saw the track experience a massive boom.

The Unforeseen SURGE in Popularity

This was no delicate ripple but a tsunami. TikTok viewers appropriated the song, creating an iterative cycle of invention that brought ‘The Dirt Man’ to every corner of the app. Vail’s follower count spike and his song formed the backdrop for thousands of videos and memes. Equally interesting, however, is the subsequent surge of fandom, spawning a plethora of fan-made art and cosplay.

The Artist's Amazement at the SURGE

But whatever else the reaction has been so far, as Carter Vail himself put it in an interview with Gizmodo, it’s been pretty amazing: ‘I had no intention of it turning into The Dirt Man,’ he said. ‘I should say that it was a complete joke. But the internet is insane. It has had my face all over websites for months, and I am really happy about it. I have made a life for myself and I actually have way more motivation to do things now because of all the attention. It has opened up so many doors to me.’

Riding the Wave: Capitalizing on the Viral SURGE

In other words, Vail is harnessing the viral boost to his fame as a chance to capitalise on his newfound popularity. According to Vail, his latest plans are to write another song. It must be the only way to milk that golden cow. The Dirt Man has become the stuff of legend.

The Creative SURGE: Fan Art and Cosplay

Perhaps the most touching thing to emerge from ‘The Dirt Man’s’ viral run, though, was the community it has created. Moved by the song’s kooky charms, fans have created a wealth of fan art and elaborate cosplay, proving that there’s more to ‘The Dirt Man’ than its addictive earworm.

BEYOND The Song: The SURGE's Impact on Social Media Culture

The tale of The Dirt Man and Carter Vail isn’t just a story of virality, it’s a reflection of the social media culture of collaboration and creativity that allows creators to rapidly merge forces, and of the immense power of platforms such as TikTok to shape trends, careers and even communities around certain content.

Understanding the SURGE

If that sounds like a flood, that’s because it was: The Dirt Man was a wave; a tidal swell; a flood of inspiration; a swarm of interest; or a viral maelstrom of sound. But the exact term Carter Vail wants for the thing that happened to his songs – the seemingly overnight success, the swarm of new listeners and followers – is more precise. ‘In computing,’ explains Vail, ‘a surge is a sudden increase, as in a rise in traffic or an uplift.’ (Other meanings, such as thrust or an upward movement, have to do with written language.) ‘I like that term a lot,’ he says. ‘I mean, for the publicity aspect, sure. But it’s also a surge of creation, an outpouring of creativity. It inspires people to make stuff the same way it inspired me.’ In a sense, Vail’s story is about the internet itself: it’s about people reaching across a divide to borrow an analogue artefact and give it digital life. It’s about enthralling many, and about people entertaining each other. It’s a timely reminder of just what the internet is good for.

‘The Dirt Man’ went from a joke upload to an internet success story, a tale of how tumultuous the currents are in the vast ocean of the internet. Carter Vail is living proof that, sometimes, we don’t know where we’re going, that success can seem like it is thrust upon us. The crowd wants us to be a certain way, and the crowd can be reached – by those of us who otherwise feel we are flailing in the open sea. From Bored Panda.

Jun 08, 2024
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