Who could have dreamed that the soul song of the moment would feature the lyrics: “Chocolate rain, history quickly crashing through your veins/ Chocolate rain, using you to fall back down again.”
OK, so it’s no “What’s Goin’ On.” But Adam “Tay Zonday” Bahner’s viral smash has logged more than 5.2 million views since the frog-voiced student posted it on YouTube in late April. The oddly alluring tune has become such a phenomenon that Green Day drummer Tre Cool and guitar whiz John Mayer recently cooked up their own covers, which join the ranks of bizarre-to-sublime takes on the tune from thousands of other “Rain”iacs.
The more than 4,200 versions include homages incorporating Darth Vader, McGruff the crime dog, a sample of Lil Jon, a chopped-and-screwed mix, a Turdzilla remix, one by a tattooed lip-synching maniac who goes by the handle “beyondtherapy,” a bite of a “Simpsons” episode where Homer visits the “land of chocolate,” a frantic drum-solo version, a mashup with Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and, of course, one performed (for no apparent reason) by prairie dogs.
The shy, bespectacled 25-year-old singer/keyboardist has ridden the chocolate wave to instant William Hung-like fame, with appearances in the past month on the “Opie & Anthony” radio show, VH1’s “Best Week Ever” and, last week, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” where he performed the deadpan song live in his signature, stiff-necked fashion.
Bahner was remarkably cool when discussing his worldwide Internet fame. “Gosh, YouTube happened to me along with the way it happened to a lot of people,” he croaked in the same deep voice he sings in. “I didn’t put any more conscious thought into it than anyone who puts something up there.”
Comprised of a haunting keyboard figure, an old-school drum-machine beat and Zonday’s impossibly low voice spouting the phrase “chocolate rain” more than 40 times amid lyrics about social injustice, the song has a hypnotic and instantly addictive quality. Zonday also helpfully captions the bit where he turns away from the microphone to catch his breath with an explanation that he’s, well, turning his head away to catch a breath.
“I just figured that if I didn’t mention it people would wonder what I was doing,” he said, just before an extremely detailed discourse on studio etiquette that you might not expect to hear from a Ph.D. student in American Studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He continues to claim that, due to all the recent media attention he’s gotten, he hasn’t really had time to watch the many cover versions, but he did say that he’s in talks with several unnamed labels and is considering putting a full-length album out.
Hardly a one-hit wonder, Bahner has already posted a series of not-quite-as-catchy follow-ups, such as “Demons on the Dance Floor” and “Internet Dream,” a thinly veiled allegory for his rise to fame, which features the memorable lines: “Winning the race for your digital fix/ Living your life with a clickety-click.”
Bahner said he is not fazed by the attention and doesn’t care why people are so interested. “I’m not really freaked out,” he said. “Why would you get freaked out? I don’t dwell on the psychology of people who watch the videos.”
For him, fans seem to be digging it because it has a “great beat, a catchy tune” and — not to get too dogmatic — a deep theme of institutional racism. It could also have a more cryptic meaning. “It’s like that book ’The Neverending Story,’ ” he offered. “There’s a character in there called the Nothing and they never say what it was. That’s kind of what ’Chocolate Rain’ is. It’s hard to define, a bit cryptic, but clearly has some effect. It’s the classic unnamed character.”
Hinting that he’s more than a one-trick pony (or whatever that flying-dog thing was in “The Neverending Story” movie), Bahner said his fame is much deeper than the current downpour of “Chocolate Rain.”
“This reminds me of an interview with William Shatner that I found online,” he said. “It’s two or three hours long, and you’re watching it and you think, ’OK, he’s Captain Kirk, let’s hear about that.’ But then you realize Bill Shatner has had quite a life outside ’Star Trek’ and you didn’t know all about that.
” ’Chocolate Rain’ is central to my public attention, but I’m very busy on lot of different things now.” What those things are — besides trying to answer the more than 100 e-mail solicitations he gets a day — he wouldn’t specify, but Bahner made it clear that he plans to make it rain again soon.