When we interviewed Merton in song a few months back, one of the things I asked him about was his plans for the future. With Chatroulette on the decline in terms of traffic and popularity, how would the improv piano singer evolve? His plan was to try and move from instant-video-chat performances to actual live performances in the real world.
In fact, the next video he released following our interview was of a live performance on the streets of Denver, Colorado. His brand of musical comedy works best with a live audience—whether they're live in the same room or live online—because his material is actually derived from the people and events surrounding him.
When T-Mobile released their excellent Welcome Back flash-mob video earlier this month, I actually found myself wondering if Merton would ever get the chance to perform in a similarly large-scale location. I had no idea he would get that chance just a few weeks later, or that it would come from the same forward-thinking company, T-Mobile.
The wireless provider set up a pink grand piano in three major British airports: Glasgow, Gatwick, & Manchester. Then they simply set up cameras, and let Merton work his magic with the arriving travelers—over 100,000 passed through while he was performing. Check it out:
Now that's good stuff—especially the "please put your sombrero on" guy. Also, isn't it weird to see Merton in such high-definition video, as opposed to the more lo-res (and low-light) YouTube videos?
This appears to be Part Two of an intended series of Welcome Back videos, and I'm now terribly curious to see what else they have up their sleeves. After a stunning a cappella performance group and the Improv Piano Guy… what's next? Keenan Cahill? Greyson Chance? Mystery Guitar Man? The possibilities are endless.
They could easily build out a whole series of these airport performance videos, and they would all work. Because the performer is only half of the reason viewers love flash-mob-style videos. The other half is the crowd reactions. Seeing the surprise, joy, and laughter on the faces of the unsuspecting passengers who didn't expect an Internet singing star between their plane and the baggage claim… that's the payoff for the viewer—it's the same reason all "hidden camera" videos find some audience. We can't help but insert ourselves into the scenario and wonder how we would react.
I've made no secret of my love of Merton videos—he's a rare combination of creativity and talent, and I'm not surprised to see him continuing to do well. And now I'm a card-carrying member of the "T-Mobile Makes Awesome Viral Videos" club as well.
Flash mob videos—and similar live-performance-style videos—are entertaining and quite popular. But they're also pretty cheap on the production end of things. Heck, T-Mobile just had to get a piano in there, fly Merton over from the U.S., and get permission from the airports. That's about it. So kudos to them for finding their own unique voice within this emerging genre, and for the near-perfect execution of two great viral clips.
If you're flying into England anytime over the next six months, don't be surprised to receive a welcome in the form of a one-of-a-kind musical production. And if you do receive such a welcome, I'd keep an eye on the T-Mobile YouTube account ("lifesforsharing”) to see if you made the final edit.
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