Join me — won’t you? — on a journey back to the early days of internet video. It was a simpler time, full of shared (and mostly harmless) cultural moments. Cats, babies and Flash animations induced uncontrollable laughter in households and offices all over the world. And a few lucky musicians took the proverbial stage in front of a global audience of millions.
Skilled covers, mesmerizing originals and a bit of humor helped these artists achieve internet fame on a massive scale. But what have they been up to in the years since? With the annual online video conference VidCon in full swing, I thought it high time to dig into the more recent projects of some of the web’s biggest musical sensations. Here’s what I found: they may perform in different genres and with varying levels of seriousness, but all these artists continue to create exciting and original material well worth a listen.
You Probably Know: When he started uploading videos six years ago, then-teenager Jacob Collier instantly one-upped every glee club in existence with his immaculately layered covers of jazz and pop standards. The internet took note: Collier’s takes on Stevie Wonder, George Gershwin and Burt Bacharach have each been viewed more than a million times online.
Now Hear This: He’s giving TED Talks and explaining music theory to kids, but his GRAMMY-winning debut full-length, In My Room, is the best example thus far of Collier’s god-tier chops and boundless energy. From introspective cuts like “Hideaway” to the feel-good “Hajanga,” the album earned a spot as one of my favorite albums of 2016 thanks to its mind-melting construction and infectious rhythms.
You Probably Know: Andy McKee’s “Drifting” has racked up 57 million views since hitting YouTube in 2006. The percussive guitar tune briefly became the most-viewed video on the site, earning McKee a contract with acoustic label CandyRat Records.
Now Hear This: McKee has kept busy since his performance went viral, releasing several live and studio albums of instrumental guitar music. Art of Motion, his 2006 release, features several of his best-known compositions, while 2010’s Joyland adds drums, bass and even strings to the mix. His most recent album, 2016’s Live Book, recreates the intimate setting that brought McKee his initial fame.
You Probably Know: Julia Nunes grew up in a musical family, but it’s her instrument of choice — the ukulele — that helped her sweet-as-sugar covers of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Destiny’s Child stand out.
Now Hear This: A decade later, she’s opened for Ben Folds and released five albums of tight, heartfelt indie-pop. She stuffed 2015’s Some Feelings with plenty of catchy-as-hell songs, including “Make Out,” an upbeat, come-hither groove, and the rain-smeared “Don’t Feel.”
You Probably Know: Webby Award-winner Bill Wurtz has hilariously summarized the history of Japan (and the world) to the tune of several million views. Absurdist and always jazzy, he’s got a penchant for non-sequiturs that has made his videos infinitely meme-able, too.
Now Hear This: Wurtz has published several original songs over the past few years. Recorded in the same plink-y, lo-fi style as his popular ramblings, tunes like “And the Day Goes On” and “La De Da De Da De Da De Day Oh” straddle the line between funky jazz-pop and straight-up easy listening. And don’t worry: with lyrics about becoming pregnant with aliens, there’s still plenty of silliness in these genuinely catchy songs.
You Probably Know: Hailing from North Carolina and now based in Brooklyn, singer and multi-instrumental Josh Turner has quietly earned millions of views online for years with authentic covers of rock, blues and folk classics.
Now Hear This: Once you’ve finished watching his laid-back saunter through Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing,” check out the original music he makes as one-half of folk-rock duo the Other Favorites with singer Carson McKee. You’ll hear the haunting “The Ballad of John McCrae” and AM radio throwback “Number One in America” on their just-released sophomore LP, Naysayer.
You Probably Know: Kinda Grannis’s achingly beautiful vocals on her song “Message from Your Heart” propelled her to internet stardom more than a decade ago, winning her a Super Bowl contest, a major-label deal and songs on television.
Now Hear This: She’s at five albums and counting, plus a slew of recent singles. Her most recent collection of original songs, 2014’s Elements, is a hushed slice of warmth buoyed by delicate harmonies and superb production.
You Probably Know: Pick a chart-topping hit from the past 10 years, and chances are Boyce Avenue has done it justice. Three brothers comprise the Florida outfit, which has earned more than 4 billion views of its impeccable covers online.
Now Hear This: The band brings the same production values to its three albums of original music, polishing radio-friendly anthems to a sparkling sheen. “Be Somebody,” from their 2016 album Road Less Traveled, is the “whoah-oh” chorus you didn’t know you were missing.
You Probably Know: Audio stuntman Rob Scallon attempts the zaniest “what if” concepts in music, from a bluegrass cover of Slipknot to recreating a delay effect with three guitarists in real time (trust me, your brain will hurt).
Now Hear This: Scallon has a healthy catalogue of less extreme records, too, including a gorgeous EP of instrumental math rock and a brutal metal album dedicated to local Chicago bands. They’re worth checking out for the fancy fretwork alone, or as a break from ridiculous sonic experiments gone right.