How TikTok & A Dancing Kangaroo Helped Turn The Lumineers’ ‘Ophelia’ Into A Viral Smash
The Lumineers might be the last band you’d expect to have a viral TikTok video but search the Gen-Z-fueled platform and you’ll find a kangaroo dancing to the band’s “Ophelia,” the first single from their 2016 sophomore album, Cleopatra. The clip has racked up 11.5 million views to date.
Fresh off a summer tour, which saw them play sold-out shows at Coors Field in Denver in July and, earlier this month Chicago’s legendary Wrigley Field, The Lumineers are playing to an audience a lot younger these days, thanks in part to their TikTok fame.
Chris Ruff, head of global marketing at Activist Artists Management, which manages the band, points to how TikTok “became the new touring” during the pandemic, providing a captive and receptive new audience.
“There was a rediscovery of these catalog songs by creators and fans, not just algorithms,” he explains. “But The Lumineers have spent more than a decade laying the groundwork to build an incredible foundation for a fan base.”
“Ophelia,” ironically, is a song that casts a wary eye at the popularity they achieved with the hit single, “Ho Hey,” an infectious track from their 2012 self-titled debut album characterized by the martial chant of the title refrain interspersed with the catchy chorus, “I belong with you/You belong with me/You’re my sweetheart.”
The band had shelved “Ophelia” for years, not least because it had the same name as the classic song from The Band, but they could find no substitution for its “Oh-Ophelia” hook. Shortly after a TikTok account was set up for The Lumineers at the tail end of 2020, a young creator, Emily Batten, posted the original “Ophelia Dance,” set to her own slowed-down take on the original.
Kate Willingham, manager & director of digital for The Lumineers’ management company, went into action, creating the hashtag #OpheliaDance, which gained 5.3 million views, then redirected fans back to the original song, eventually allowing Batten to use the song for her own video.
A subsequent video of an Australian fan hoofing it with their kangaroo got the digital team into action.
“We didn’t try to have the band do the dance,” explains Kate about threading the line between organic and contrived. “We just started sharing the different fan videos on social media,” with promises of including the best as part of the Spotify canvas for the track – the visualizer that illustrates the stream.
Soon, “Ophelia” streaming numbers were rising across all DSPs to almost 2 billion, according to Ruff, landing at No. 2 behind “Ho Hey” on Spotify with 843 million streams to 861 million, including 89.3 million from January through June 2022, a rise of 21%.
“It’s not necessarily vital for one of their songs to take off like this,” says Willingham. “But it is super-helpful as a marketing tool. ‘Ho Hey’ has always been the big moment in their set which everybody gets excited about, and now ‘Ophelia’ gets just as much if not more of a reaction. It’s important that The Lumineers are visible on the platform Gen Z users prefer.”
Willingham points to TikTok’s new integration with Ticketmaster, allowing users to buy tickets on the app, as being particularly useful.
“I’m noticing the demo skewing much younger at their concerts,” she says.
“TikTok is a powerful marketing tool,” agrees Ruff. “You can tell that story, then bring it back to their fourth and most recent album, Brightside, which was released in January.”
The band remains on indie Dualtone Records and is managed by Activist Artists Management.
“The Lumineers have built their credibility over the last decade,” says Ruff about any potential fan backlash to their pop success. “The hard work they’ve put in is a huge part of this. It’s just a new way of marketing, and something both management and labels will have to get used to. We have to learn to work with these new platforms.”
“It’s like capturing lightning in a bottle,” Willingham explains about viral success.
“There’s no way to predict when it’s going to happen. You need a good team around monitoring the various trends, like how many videos have been created for each of your tracks. The more organic you keep it, the less you try to manufacture a TikTok success, the better it comes across. I wish there was a road map. That’s the beauty of TikTok … It’s just completely random and it gives all the power to the fans. Which is awesome. It’s never a bad thing when a six-year-old song is being added to playlists and charting on DSPs.”
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