With his world tour well underway, George Watsky, takes some time off from rehearsal and chats with Michael Fitzpatrick about his rise to fame, his upcoming visit to Dublin and how he deals with negativity – all through a dodgy Skype connection.NOT OFTEN DOES one YouTube video spark a career in the way that ‘Pale Kid Raps Fast’ did for the spoken word poet/rapper, George Watsky. His initial media exposure came about in 2007, after performing on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. “Before I had the fast rap stuff I spent many years being pigeonholed as a slam poet worried that I would never escape that stigma.”
His ascension into internet stardom, catalysed by the video, was unprecedentedly quick, landing him invitations to television appearances and raking in tens of millions of online views. “What I was hoping would happen with that viral video was to have a second stage to my career. Because I got true fans from it who were like, ‘Wow, this kid’s really good. I want to know what else he’s about.’ So I’ve just kept my foot on the gas pedal since then, releasing a video nearly every two weeks and we’ve been able to maintain a slow growth of true fans that resulted in a real career.”
He admits that the video was an attempt to garner more fans after finding himself stuck in a rut. “After four years of steady gigging, I was making the same amount of money, playing to the same amount of people, wasn’t getting any new fans and wasn’t seeing any potential for growth.”
His frustrations drove the idea to make a “90 second video that was really shareable.” Not all of the attention garnered was positive, however, leaving Watsky feeling like it “almost worked too well.” Due to the unbelievable nature of the video, there was, at the time, much controversy surrounding its validity. Watsky’s nay-sayers are the least of his concerns, however, and he shuts down the doubters by inviting them to come to his show. “I do it live at shows every night, so if people are concerned with me faking it they can come to one of my concerts and see me doing it on stage.” A quick internet search of his live performances proves his point.
“I got into rap and poetry at around the same time” explains Watsky, having been asked about his preferred performance style. “I’ve been doing them side by side for 13 years and I’ve never stopped on either of them. I fell in love with spoken word by going to see ‘Def Poetry Jam’ as a live show, before it went to Broadway and I was also listening to tons of radio-rap and hip-hop at the time and I got really into the music. I would go up and take the microphone at school dances and thought I was way better than I actually was, but I think it was that sick self confidence that made me think that I could do it.”
When quizzed about the distinctions between the two, the artist offered an interesting take. “Rap is metered poetry that you happen to spit in 16 bar form and put choruses in between, but I don’t really see the two as being separate from one another.”
Bo Burnham, another former small-time YouTuber who made it big by consistently providing entertaining uploads shares more than a few similarities with Watsky. The two have developed a friendship after having met in an airport. “Right before that viral video came out in 2011, I was coming back from a spoken word poetry thing I had in Boston and Bo was coming back from Boston too. I went past him on the plane and told him I really liked his material. He was polite to me, but didn’t really wanna have a conversation. Then when we were waiting for our friends to come pick us up at L.A. airport, I told him again that I really liked his work but he still didn’t really wanna have a conversation. Four days later the video went viral and because he was a member of the Reddit community, immediately he recognised me from the airport and reached out to me, so we’ve had a casual friendship since then.” Bo Burnham makes a cameo in Watsky’s latest music video ‘Whoa, Whoa, Whoa’.
With an act so original and different from the norm, it’s natural to receive some criticism from reviewers. Speaking about these reviews, Watsky admits, “I care. I care about what people think, unfortunately, but I think it’s important to take it with a grain of salt and understand where the reviewer is coming from. Often reviewers are bringing their own subjective personal taste into the review. So it’s important to separate whether it’s their subjective preference to the music or are they really on to something, like a weakness in my music.”
No stranger to dealing with pressure, Watsky is constantly busy, having recently signed a deal with Penguin books to write a series of autobiographical humour essays with the first draft due in March. Watsky will showcase his originality this weekend in the Academy, the event close to selling out. “We are super appreciative of the support we get in Ireland and the fact that the country has such a rich tradition of poetry is exciting for me and I love going there so I can’t wait to play the Academy again.”
Watsky performs at the Academy, 28th September. Tickets available from ticketmaster.ie