How Musician Maggie Rogers Landed a Viral Hit on YouTube

July 08, 2016

In the past two weeks, Maggie Rogers’ "Alaska" has been one of the fastest-growing songs on the internet: in just 20 days, it amassed millions of streams across the web. But one month ago, she was completing her undergraduate courses at NYU, like so many other aspiring student-musicians.

The story begins with a video posted to i am Other, Pharrell Williams’ YouTube channel. Two months ago, Pharrell hosted a masterclass at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and student Maggie Rogers’ work-in-process track, “Alaska,” was featured in the final segment of a 30-minute clip.

Maggie Rogers in a masterclass hosted by Pharrell

While the masterclass itself received media attention, Pharrell’s segment with Maggie Rogers, 18 minutes into the video, went undiscovered. Noticing a special moment where Pharrell describes Maggie’s song as “nothing I've ever heard before,” Reddit user “TheLatchKey” posted it to the hip-hop community of the site with the title “Such a genuine reaction from Pharrell to an amazing song (skip to 18:15),” which linked to Maggie Rogers’ specific segment of the video.

The renewed focus on Pharrell’s stunned reaction to Maggie’s “Alaska” led to an avalanche of attention: the video reached the front page of Reddit, received tens of thousands of shares on Facebook and Twitter, and received write-ups on Digg, Jezebel, Elle, Mic, and USA Today.

Building on the buzz, Maggie released the fully mastered “Alaska” two weeks after her initial encounter with viral fame, which was rapidly picked up by outlets such as The LA Times, Vulture, Slate, and Spin. The song has since inspired countless covers, remixes, and even a how-to tutorial on YouTube.

In one month, and rather unexpectedly, the YouTube video has put Maggie in the spotlight. The whirlwind of attention has music publications like Pitchfork asking “Now What?”

Quite a feat for a student who, only weeks prior, was taking notes from one of today’s greatest producers.