Apr 26, 2024 6 min read

And Finally! Cotton Eye Joe is the world’s most popular song - this is not the future I asked for

Rednex this week proclaimed themselves to be record breakers, having racked up more than three billion listens of their song ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ in under a month. Sure, people were actually listening to a few seconds of a cover version in various viral videos, but maybe this is what success is in 2024


I still vividly remember the first time I heard ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex. I’m sure the same is true for all of us. Such moments in culture do not arrive often, and when they do you just have to grab hold of them and enjoy the ride. 

It was the summer, I was in the back of my parents’ car, waiting outside a friend’s house for some reason, when it was played - as far as I remember without warning - on Radio 1. The catchiness of the song was undeniable. And much as I felt I should not like it, I found it hard to resist. 

There was a banjo on it, for one thing. Did banjo not make the whole thing credible? ‘Swamp Thing’ by The Grid had come out just a few months earlier. That had a banjo on it and was generally considered to be credible. So why not this track? Were they not of the same ilk?

All this happened at a formative time, when my musical tastes were still in flux. I knew there were rules about what you were supposed to think was cool and what you should definitely reject, but I did not entirely understand them. I’m not sure I do now. But when you’re young you think it actually matters, don’t you?

In my head, I should add, this story takes place when I am ten years old. I just looked it up and I was actually fourteen. So really I should have known better. I did know better. So I think perhaps ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ caught me at a moment when I was thinking that I should be less rigid in my ideas of what was and wasn’t good. That’s a good thing to do, I think. Although quite often when I have those moments I let my guard down and start tapping my foot to things like ‘Cotton Eye Joe’.

But the point of telling you this story, I think, is that for a song that should be completely throwaway, it did hold some strange power. It came at a time when novelty songs still thrived, but there are very few of those that hold a similar place in my memory. Nearly 30 years later, the mere mention of that song takes me back to sitting in that car, hearing it for the first time. 

There’s no reason I should remember that and there’s no reason that any of us should be talking about the song at all three decades later. And yet, this week, in the year 2024, ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ has once again shown its strange and mysterious power by becoming the most popular song in the world. 

Oh sure, you may not trust me when I tell you this, but you don’t need to. You can get this undeniable fact for yourself, straight from the Rednex themselves. 

This week, the group pronounced themselves record breakers, sharing the news that ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ had received over three billion views on YouTube in just 26 days. To put that in perspective, Adele’s ‘Hello’ currently holds the record for the fastest time a song has taken to hit its first billion views on the platform. It took her a fairly laid back 87 days. And that was just one billion - Rednex just managed three billion in less than a third of that time. In fact, the first billion in this current spike came in just eight days.

The vast number of plays is seemingly down to the song’s use in Razi Irawani’s ‘Gedagedigedagedago’ viral meme, which has spread across the the internet like wildfire, and seen its audio reused in millions of videos. The sheer number of uses is what has caused overall plays of the song to spike so hard.

Sharing their YouTube stats to prove this success, the group also came up with some other great stats. Claiming to be the most played artist in the world at this moment in time, they said that they were receiving 28 times more plays than the number one music video on YouTube (that would be ‘Fortnight’ by Taylor Swift, but we don’t need to talk about her) and thirteen times more than the global number one song on Spotify (that would be ‘Fortnight’ by Taylor Swift again, but I really don’t want to talk about her).

Rednex reckon that their music (mainly small fragments of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’) has been heard by 12% of all YouTube users in 2024 and 4% of the world’s population. 

Speaking to Euronews, Rednex founder Pat Reiniz said, “A paradigm shift is happening where we’re asking: how is music success best measured? This event was created thanks to millions of video creators generating billions of fragmented plays of Rednex’s music, rather than as a result of the traditional way of listening. It will be a challenge for the music industry to reflect these various counts in charts and measurements and even poses the question, ‘Is the basic use and concept of music itself changing?’”

These are interesting questions. Does a piece of music’s appearance in a meme count as success? Possibly. Does it count as popularity? Harder to say. How many people are hearing a fragment of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ in a video designed to make them laugh and thinking, ‘I really like this song, and I want to listen to it in its entirety, and perhaps check out the rest of the performer’s back catalogue while I’m at it’? Well, roughly four million people a month are listening to Rednex on Spotify. So… not that big a portion of those three billion people. 

I suppose another question is, how many of the people who’ve heard this realise that it’s a song called ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex? What most people are hearing is ‘Gedagedigedagedago’ by Razi Irawani - an intentional mishearing of the song’s lyrics for comic effect. 

Maybe people find it funny because they know the original version (please don’t write in and point out that the song actually dates back to the 1800s, I don’t care), but maybe they just find it funny because it’s a man making funny noises. For an alarming number of people, the attraction seems to be the track being tied to a singing chicken nugget and chicken wing

As for whether it means that the traditional ways of listening are disappearing, well, if they are then it seems pretty silly that Rednex and Razi Irawani are releasing a full version of ‘Gedagedigedagedago’ next month. However, that will finally give us a definitive answer on whether or not people actually want to listen to this song in isolation. 

I am all too aware of the power this song holds. A song that should not exist. A song that should not be remembered. But a song that persists and simply will not die. Curse you, Rednex! Why can’t we just talk about Taylor Swift?

Now, take a look at the other amusing stories we stumbled across this week (note, it wasn’t a very good week for funny things happening, sorry)...

Kanye Plans to Launch ‘Yeezy Porn,’ Consulting with Stormy Daniels’ Ex
Kanye West has his sights set on a new business venture, and it’s all about people having sex on camera -- the guy’s looking to professionally dive into porn at long last ... TMZ has learned.
Soulja Boy offers to buy TikTok: “How much y’all want?”
“TikTok is more important than any other platform right now”
Luke Bryan Falls Onstage After Slipping on a Fan’s Cellphone
Luke Bryan fell on his back after tripping on a fan’s cellphone during a show in Canada over the weekend.
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