There was no stopping “Black Beatles” once Paul McCartney got involved.
Though the song by the rambunctious young rap duo Rae Sremmurd had been bubbling up steadily, it hit No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart this week in a most unexpected fashion after becoming the de facto soundtrack to the Mannequin Challenge, the online video craze of the moment, where subjects hold a pose as the camera pans across a comically eerie tableau.
“Love those Black Beatles #MannequinChallenge,” the 74-year-old Mr. McCartney posted to Twitter last Thursday, along with a video of him — still — at a piano as the song’s spare, ominous intro blooms into a joyous number about partying and “rocking John Lennon lenses.”
He wasn’t the only catalyst for the track’s spectacular rise: While the New York Giants , Dane Cook , the West Point men’s gymnastics team and Blac Chyna , in a hospital delivery room scene, all starred in Mannequin Challenge clips that went viral, most crucial were the California high school students who, by chance, made “Black Beatles” the score of choice for the rampant trend.
With its jump to No. 1 from No. 9 in one meme-filled week, “Black Beatles” joins a peculiar lineage of recent hits — also including the dance-along “Juju On That Beat (TZ Anthem),” currently No. 8 on the Hot 100 — that have been boosted by organic user-generated content on social media, outside of the traditional channels of music promotion.
“As the charts have evolved, the components of what makes a hit have changed so dramatically,” said David Bakula, a senior analyst for Nielsen Music, which supplies the data for Billboard. “This is not a world that is dominated by just radio and sales. There are new creative outlets to market songs, albums and artists.”
Luckily for major labels such as Interscope, which released Rae Sremmurd’s sophomore album, “SremmLife 2,” to modest sales in August, fans can now take it upon themselves to spread music on an almost unimaginable scale.
On Nov. 2, students at Colony High School in Ontario, Calif., choreographed an elaborate #MannequinChallenge video just as the fad was taking off among young people, having not yet reached the “Today” show or the White House .
A student there, Joseph Day, 17, became the first to use “Black Beatles” with the video because, as he explained via direct message on Twitter, “It’
The next night, at a concert in Denver, Rae Sremmurd led the crowd in its own rendition of the meme, eventually earning nearly 60,000 retweets of the video and inextricably linking “Black Beatles” to the challenge.
The synergy could not have come at a better time, said John Janick, the chairman and chief executive of Interscope, because the label had recently begun pushing “Black Beatles” as a single.
“It was like a lightning strike,” Mr. Janick said. “Without the Mannequin Challenge, this song would’ve been a hit — who knows how far it would go. But with the Mannequin Challenge, it’s gigantic.”
Streams of “Black Beatles” have nearly tripled from 15 million in the final week of October to 43 million last week. And paid downloads of the track shot up even more, reaching 144,000 in the most recent chart period, compared to just 22,000 two weeks prior, according to Nielsen Music. Even radio play — far from guaranteed for viral hits — has been rising consistently.
Such a trajectory, from social media to the top of the charts, has become increasingly common since Billboard began tweaking its formulas, factoring in YouTube views in 2013 and adding digital streams and downloads the following year.
Psy’s “Gangnam Style” was an early beneficiary, as was “Harlem Shake” by Baauer , an obscure electronic track that hit No. 1 after fans began making clips of themselves thrashing to the song’s breakdown. More carefully choreographed dance crazes that all but demand homemade videos, such as “Juju On That Beat (TZ Anthem),” by the Detroit teenagers Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall, are more pointed attempts to go viral, but have found near-instant success as well.
When the #TZAnthemChallenge ascended to meme-level in September, thanks in large part to Instagram and teenage girls , the track was not even available at digital retailers. But Atlantic Records soon announced that it had signed the pair, in what has become an annual occurrence. (Last year’s model, “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silento, is but a memory.)
“Black Beatles” may have wider reach. While fans’ #MannequinChallenge clips that use the song on Twitter and Instagram are not properly licensed through Interscope, and therefore do not count as official streams on the Billboard chart, the videos have succeeded in driving people back to Rae Sremmurd’s music.
“This isn’t ‘Gangnam Style,’ this isn’t ‘Harlem Shake,’” which did not find as much success removed from their videos, Mr. Bakula of Nielsen said. (“Juju On That Beat,” too, tallied about three times more video streams than audio last week, not necessarily translating to downloads and radio play.)
But “Black Beatles” has so far proven to be a gateway. Recent Facebook chatter about Rae Sremmurd was up 250 percent, according to Nielsen, while the group’s previous hits have also seen an uptick. “It’s not just this one song, it’s not just this one video,” Mr. Bakula said. “That’s the kind of thing that can buoy a career.”