How is social media affecting the way our pop heroes are uncovered?

One Pound Fish Man: Muhammad NazirAstonishingly, I only heard of the “One Pound Fish” man the other day, which is proof that even if one’s job description involves a healthy dose of social media, one is not necessarily tuned in to the zeitgeist! (I was pretty slow to pick up on Gangnam Style, too).

“One Pound Fish Man” (who, contrary to popular belief it seems, actually has a name: Muhammed Nazir) is the perfect example of a grassroots internet phenomenon. But is he destined for a brief, if glorious, period of fame? And is there a certain exploitation of the “funny guy at the market”?

I can’t help feeling parallels between the YouTube heroes of today and the Big Brother stars of ten years ago. Pick’em’up, spit’em’out. Celebrity culture loves a “rags to riches” story, but it’s not one that tends to be sustained.

Others would disagree; Lily Allen and Justin Bieber were “discovered” via social media, although Allen’s showbiz parents may just have had something to with it, and while I’m hardly the most encyclopaedic source of Bieber knowledge (you’ll need to ask Twitter) as far as I’m aware his mother played a significant role in getting him “noticed” with some clever, and aggressive, marketing.

Ultimately, I suppose, there’s a minor difference between cynical efforts of Big Brother contestants who enter in order to gain fame, and social media where anyone with a camera can muck about and do what they like – and if it’s picked up by the masses, so be it. Social media allows for a more unpredictable – and thus more interesting and less manufactured – pop culture world. Simon Cowell could not have predicted, and surely would not have touched, One Pound Fish or Gangnam Style. Also, crucially, Nazir was, initially at least, an unwitting social media hero: it was third-party videos of his market banter that became the viral hit which led, in turn, to his record deal.

Time will tell whether Psy proves to be a long-term phenomenon or merely the guy with a silly dance who bagged a billion YouTube views. I’d have him over Whigfield (I am showing my age; I mean One Direction) any day of the week though.

Has pop culture changed fundamentally? Or are we just enjoying a brief spell of internet counter-culture which will wither and die once the sheer variety and humour becomes stale? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Eoghan O’Neill is social listening analyst at Ipsos MORI. He tweets at @EoghanLondon and blogs occasionally.