On November 25, UK artist Stormzy has released his highly anticipated third album, This Is What I Mean. Critically acclaimed, the record marked a determined effort from the multi-talented MC to make a single record for himself. It also meant a new part of his empire #Merky.
Stormzy, 29, has been using #Merky on Twitter and other platforms since he was a 2010s phenomenon. As his popularity grows, so does the network he builds around the hashtag. He releases his albums through the #Merky label, which is now affiliated with Def Jam. His #Merky Foundation provides scholarships to black students at Cambridge University. #Merky Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, is committed to publishing underrepresented voices (and re-publishing Stormzy’s. Wake Up: The #Merky Story So Far). In front of This Is What I Mean, launched #Merky FC, a collaboration with Adidas on a massive campaign to get more black people employed in prominent positions throughout football. (The same word, in case you’re wondering, often refers to character and strength. “I feel sad / they complain,” she sang on 2017’s “Shut Up.”
#Merky has long since moved on from where it came from, and today the rapper only uses social media for a short period of time, but Stormzy’s hashtag campaign stands as one way to use social media platforms. As Twitter moves into its volatile, volatile Elon Musk phase, and TikTok continues to grow, it’s worth asking: Will the musicians of the future be able to follow Stormzy’s lead and find ways to adapt social media to suit their needs? Or will he become foolish in his ways?
When Stormzy started building his #Merky network, he grew it through a traditional model: by posting tweets or Instagram photos, attracting followers along the way. It was a steady ride that built a solid fan base. For some, social success may come too quickly.
Take comedian and musician Whitmer Thomas. He translated the popularity of his song “Big Baby,” which he tweeted in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, to travel to the US. Or Lil Nas X, who left his Twitter account for “Old Town Road”, which portrayed the dominance of TikTok as a success factory. These days the easiest and best way to get famous on the internet has been going viral on video sharing platforms, like Megan Thee Stallion’s inspiring “Body”, or Lil Yachty’s “Poland” meme-ing its way to the charts. TikTok has also given work to niche voices like Nathan Evans, also known as sea chantey, who signed a contract with Polydor Records. The idea of TikTok virality translating into real world fame is now so cliché that it is part of a new conspiracy. Pitch perfect TV output, A restaurant in Berlin.
But the marriage of musicians and social media is still complicated, says Jeremy Morris, a professor of media studies and culture at the University of Wisconsin. “I’m not sure there’s a ‘right’ way for musicians to use social media,” he says. “Yes, downloading music on TikTok is driving a lot of musicians these days, and yes, you see songwriters trying to create 10- to 20-second songs that can easily be turned into a dance. But you also see artists pushing back to have their songs cut and edited that way.”