‘Take On Me’ tops a billion YouTube views: What makes 80s Norwegian hit so enduring?

It’s arguably the biggest success in the history of Norwegian pop, and A-ha’s 1984 pop classic ‘Take On Me’ this week reached a new milestone.

'Take On Me' tops a billion YouTube views: What makes 80s Norwegian hit so enduring?
A-Ha performing in 2015. Photo: AFP

The song combines synthpop with acoustic guitars, keyboards and drums and is indisputably the band’s signature tune and one of the most evocative pop songs of the decade.

That is complemented by a memorable music video which combined live action sequences with black-and-white pencil sketch animated overlays, in what was then an innovative technique called rotoscoping. It won six awards at the 1986 MTV Music Video Awards.

Perhaps the combination of both music and visuals has driven Take On Me into the realms of YouTube royalty. The official video, originally released in 1985, was recently restored and upgraded to 4K resolution to improve visual quality, Warner Music Norway wrote in a press statement.

In any case, A-ha now join a small list of artists with music videos that have tipped the 10-figure mark for total views on the social media website.

While South Korean rapper Psy’s 2012 hit Gangnam Style and Despacito by Luis Fonsi (2017) have famously garnered monstrous numbers of YouTube views, it’s arguably harder for songs which pre-date widespread use of the Internet to rack up those kind of figures.

Take On Me joins two Guns N’ Roses songs (November Rain, Sweet Child o’ Mine), Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in an elite club of just five songs from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s with over a billion views.

Numb by Linkin Park was the first pre-YouTube video from the 2000s to reach a billion views.

“Obviously the video is unique and it has some features that stand up and stand the test of time,” he shared. “It’s hand drawn which makes it what it is,” A-ha guitarist Magne Furuholmen told Billboard last year.

“The song also seems to resonate with people across time. It’s just very fortunate to have such a big song in our catalogue,” Furuholmen said.

“We probably spent a few years talking it down, trying to get people to focus on new stuff we’re doing. At this point, certainly speaking for myself, I’m just surprised and proud that the song has done so well and still finds an audience,” he added.

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Biggie gets bigger via young Norwegian DJ

The Notorious B.I.G. would figure at or near the top on any list of hip-hop all-stars, yet the slain rapper's top song on Spotify comes via a 26-year-old Norwegian.

Biggie gets bigger via young Norwegian DJ
Tom Lagergren, aka Matoma. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP

Matoma, a fresh-faced DJ who played to a packed, raucous crowd Saturday at the Panorama festival in The Notorious B.I.G.'s hometown of New York, grew up admiring the rapper before he ever understood the lyrics.

“His beats were so flawless and there was something about his voice and his rhythm that I got really curious about,” Matoma, who affably introduces himself by his real name of Tom Lagergren, told AFP before his set.

Studying music production in Norway's third largest city Trondheim, Matoma noticed that clubs would empty out when hip-hop came on.

He tried his hand and married hip-hop to electronica – which enjoys a significantly larger base in Europe. To his surprise, “Old Thing Back,” his Notorious B.I.G. remix, quickly went viral after he posted it online in 2014.

“Old Thing Back” has since been heard more than 189 million times on leading streaming site Spotify — more than any original track by The Notorious B.I.G., known to fans as Biggie, who was shot dead in 1997 just before the revolution in online music.

Matoma has been signed to a major label, Atlantic, and released an album.

He himself has more than 12 million monthly listeners on Spotify.

And in a sign of acceptance, Matoma in May put out a new Biggie remix, “Party on the West Coast,” working with both his widow, Faith Evans, and Snoop Dogg, who has spoken fondly of Biggie despite coming from the rival rap camp of Los Angeles.

New audience for Biggie

Matoma – his stage name comes from his brother's drunken bastardization of “Hakuna Matata,” the Swahili phrase popularized globally by “The Lion King” – notes proudly that The Notorious B.I.G.'s overall streams on Spotify have risen sharply since “Old Thing Back.”

He wondered if many young listeners, especially outside the United States, would have otherwise encountered the rapper born as Christopher Wallace.

“I see comments on the internet like, 'You should never touch Biggie's work, this is disrespectful for the artist.' But I start thinking – at 10 or 12 years old, the only hip-hop you're going to get is the new hip-hop on the pop stations,” Matoma said.

“His voice deserves to reach out to people who haven't heard him today,” he said.

The viral remix took vocals from The Notorious B.I.G. and collaborator Ja Rule on “Want That Old Thing Back,” a relatively obscure track released after Biggie's death in which the rap legend makes his sexual prowess explicitly clear through his fast-tongued rhymes.

Matoma said that the original version – quick-tempoed with anxious synthesized strings – did not do justice to Biggie's voice.

For the remix, Matoma brought tropical house – the Caribbean-accented electronic style that has swept pop music – and saxophone to give the track a new feel-good energy.

Psychedelic show from Tame Impala

Panorama, launched last year as a New York outpost by the organizers of California's famed Coachella festival, opened Friday with a rare performance by Frank Ocean, the sensitive R&B singer whose set, through on-stage video, resembled a real-time live concert film.

Kevin Parker, frontman of Australian psychedelic rockers Tame Impala who headlined Saturday, voiced awe at Ocean.

“That's the type of show that makes me think — at least we have lasers,” Parker quipped.

Yet Tame Impala put on a visually elaborate set of it own in what Parker said was the Perth band's largest ever US concert.

Accentuating the band's dreamy rock, Tame Impala played to swirls of trippy colour on the back-screens, with the Sun descending like a flying saucer on “Let It Happen.”

Among other memorable performances, indie rocker Mitski roused the crowd with a hard-charging set of her deeply introspective tracks of self-identity.

Joking that she was living up to caricatures of her as intense, Mitski closed by shouting into her guitar's bridge to create a loop of feedback.

By Shaun Tandon