(Photo: First Kiss by Tatia PIlieva)
"That first kiss, that pause, just before, that pause spilling with expectation and possibility. Eyes. Mouth. Parting lips. Anticipation. Closer. Yes. Complicity. A submission, a moment shared in time and trust, a kiss offered, a kiss taken; a first intimacy. Kissing is The Business."
Remember to Breathe: A novel (2012)
It feels like about once a quarter, a new viral 'pheno-meme' storms out across the internet. Each example makes it ever-clearer that all content is far from equal. The short form 'video' that goes stellar is fast becoming the 'new broadcast', not reaching everyone all at once in a single Super Bowl spot buy, but rather multiple millions in an ever skyward arc over a week or two.
Content that gets to 300+ views is an achievement. The 1000 view marker is wholly kudos deserving as milestone's go. 1m views? Well, that's the super leagues, think segments from US chat shows like 'The Tonight Show' with Jimmy Fallon. Fallon's lip sync battle with Paul Rudd - very funny - is clocking close on 8m views. And I still grin when I think of the little ditty Sarah Silverman put together in duet with Matt Damon: 5.9 views.
But the stuff that goes into the tens of millions - wtf, how many views?! - well, that's simply epic, MASSIVE, a bona fide juddering of the zeitgeist.
The latest content 'Must See' is 'First Kiss', which I first saw early last week, when it was at around 20m views. Me = late to the party. As you read this, it'll be north of 60m.
First Kiss got me wondering, why do I like it? Why does it work? What can we learn from it? Why has it caught the touch paper that is cyberspace?
Can viral video be deconstructed, the nature of its allure and communicability be some kind of calculation? Might there just be a genesis code upon which we can devise a circa 3 minute stream that games the online system? Or is every content pheno-meme something different, each its own exception to any governable rule, where the only thing we can really garner is that each is just bloody good and worth a watch in its own imaginative and inimitable way? I wondered. And I still wonder. And the thing with wondering is that it can easily lead to 'listing'. Here are 7 reasons why First Kiss works:
1. It feels real: 'Authentic' seems to be a word that never goes out of fashion in branding, advertising and film-making circles - and certainly, First Kiss doesn't feel like fakery. It's intimate, tender, very human; honest. It feels very real. The camera is openly capturing a genuine moment. No one is 'acting'. And this is the really rather smart bit, because...
2. Its set-up makes it unique: For 99 folk out of 100, whacking a camera in their face changes their behaviour. They freeze, freak, act weird, turn odd. The camera is an invasion. Behaving 'normally' in front of a camera is actually abnormal. Curiously, in First Kiss, the camera 'heightens' the participant's 'naturalness', first their awkwardness, then everything else. The camera's presence actually makes the moment. Kissing a stranger is already weird. 'The Camera' compliments rather conflicts the weirdness. It adds to and captures and 'gifts' us a moment we otherwise would not have had the chance to see.
3. 'The Familiar' is flipped: It's a great one-line concept, a 'high concept': "We asked 20 people to kiss for the first time." But it's not just 20 people, it's 20 strangers. A first kiss is normally between two people who know one another on some level, human attraction established. First Kiss flips something universally familiar: make strangers kiss. The result is something awkward... But that's not awkward. Because there's consent and curiosity. And the casting of the 'consentees' is perfect. Everyone is appealing. They're not airbrush beautiful. Nor are they ugly. They're easy to look at.
4. Voyeuristic Permission: The digital age invites us to watch. In the 'content game', there is no game if there are no watchers, but understanding the emotional role of the online viewer is key. In Red Bull Stratos: we watch in awe. If watching live: awe and apprehension (will he make it, will he die?). With Epic Split: it's a retro-rebooted slice of "did he really do that?" With First Kiss: how will they, will they kiss the way they look, what will happen then?
5. It's 'Happy-Making': Human nature is portrayed as we hope, believe and want it to be. People kiss. No one's hurting anyone. In fact, a few are really getting into it. Afterwards, they're still goofy, but they're also closer, different, relieved, relaxed, the intimacy has created something new which we've bared witness to. We have witnessed something transformative.
6. It's nicely done: First Kiss is all very well judged. The emotional tone is just right. The production values are spot on. The monochrome really adds. The soundtrack 'We Might be Dead Tomorrow' perfectly complements, as does the absence of any over indulgent graphics or preachy final message. Nothing is heavy-handed.
7. It's vicarious & prompting: I was having a drink with a film director buddy, recently single, who said it made him want to kiss a stranger, or kiss someone new, or do both. First Kiss is very relatable, emotionally accessible; easy to empathise with and get on the inside of. Even if you don't want to kiss a stranger, everyone's got a string of first kisses in their memory vaults.
Content that makes us feel better about ourselves, about life, about what it is to be human - this, we are going to be interested in and drawn to.
Whether viewers know it or not, First Kiss was made by 3-employee US fashion brand, Wren. But not knowing doesn't suddenly make First Kiss less. The film is deliberately, shrewdly, unbranded. To be judged in its own right.
As Melissa Coker, founder of Wren, points out, "It's a very noisy world out there." By filming strangers kissing, she has our attention.