Meet the team behind Spotify's viral music facts

By Annabel Rackham
Entertainment reporter

image source, Getty Images/ Spotify
image captionJustin Bieber and Drake both feature heavily on Spotify's Genius Behind the Lyrics

You may have found yourself laughing as you scroll through the facts that pop up while you're listening to music on Spotify.

And you're not the only one - social media has lit up with thousands of users sharing their favourite Behind the Lyrics discoveries.

The service, by New York media company Genius, provides facts, lyrics and anecdotes about thousands of songs on the streaming service.

Genius team members have loved the anecdotes going viral, telling the BBC it's "so much fun to see that people enjoy them".

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John Ganz is the executive editor at Genius and oversees the whole operation.

He says that he, and the rest of the team, haven't had a chance to bask in their internet fame because they are "so busy working".

"It's easy to forget that people watch them [the Genius facts] constantly - at home, during their commute, and while they're exercising," he says.

"On the other hand, I don't want the fame to change who we are. This is crucial work and we need quiet and total isolation to do it," he adds in his trademark irreverent tone.

One of the Genius editors, Kenneth Partridge, is eager for people to discover the facts they've slipped into some big 80s hits.

"For every Bieber song we've done, there are, like, three New Wave classics with crazy back stories involving the Cold War," he says.

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Some of the entries are slightly crazy while others are more mundane, but the team didn't make them with the expectation they'd go viral.

Cal Hickox, one of the team's writers, says they're "just having fun".

"When something we wrote goes viral, it's often months or years after we've written it. One of the first ones that blew up was for Justin Bieber's Sorry.

image captionI'm sorry, OK?

"The first card said, 'Justin wants to apologise.' People thought that was funny - or obvious - but what else could we say?"

Kenneth adds: "Obviously creating memes is the noblest thing you can do in 2018, but you can't force it".

"Our goal is educate and entertain - in that order. Once we've given you three or four facts, we feel like we've earned the right to hit you with some sass."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The gentle (and not-so-gentle) ribbing of Drake features heavily on Genius annotations, with one discussing the frankly awful rhyming scheme in Passionfruit and another about bragging about $$$.

But John says he has "nothing but love" for the Canadian star.

"He's a sensitive guy, but he's got a great sense of humour about himself, so we know he doesn't mind".

John goes on to add: "He's been a massive success because of the jokes, not despite them". Hmmm.

John sees the Genius anecdotes as a much needed antidote to the glossy packaging of modern-day stars.

"If you can't scratch away at the carefully-manufactured image of the artist for a moment, it's both boring and a disservice to fans, who have a right to know the ingredients of what they're consuming."

Ultimately, says Cal, the team would never trash music "that might be considered 'lame' or 'uncool' by some" and they like to "let the facts speak for themselves".

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One of the big benefits of working for Genius, apart from getting to listen to music all day, is that you learn a lot of new information about artists.

Leah Degrazia, who transcribes lyrics and writes facts for the team, still hasn't discovered who Carly Simon's You're So Vain is about.

"We know at least the second verse is about her relationship with Warren Beatty. And Mick Jagger sings backup vocals on the track, which I never would've guessed, but once you know, it's so obvious!"

image captionShe actually came from Greece, and had a thirst for knowledge...

Kenneth enjoys the fact that the Greek girl, who studied sculpture at St. Martins College in Pulp's Common People was real and teases that everyone should check out the story behind The Knack's My Sharona.

And John's favourite discovery?

"On the one for Flo Rida, My House, one writer used his research skills to find out that local government tried to seize Flo Rida's house for back taxes. That puts the song into a totally new context," he says.

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It turns out everyone on the team has a personal favourites.

Cal says when he compiled a list of 50 LGBT anthems in 2016, he was struck by Sylvester's 1979 disco song, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).

"The San Francisco singer was soundtracking an incredibly dark time in his city, when many gay men were unknowingly falling victim to Aids - as the singer would himself in 1988.

"The song is so beautiful and joyous, but I had never realized how much loss and tragedy lived beneath its surface. I hope that people who stumble across the song come to understand its context and learn to appreciate the music in a more nuanced way," he said.

image source, PA
image captionFiona Apple was criminally young at 17 to write such awesome music

Leah loved writing about one of her favourite songs growing up, Fiona Apple's Criminal - "I had no idea she wrote it when she was 17 in 45 minutes!"

"With that voice and those intense lyrics, I'm pretty sure I thought she was, like, 26 when the song came out," she says.

According to Kenneth: "The Clash botching their Spanish translations on Should I Stay Or Should I Go? never gets old and Prince's Purple Rain is worth hanging in for all eight minutes. We had no trouble finding enough information to fill the time."

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And who knew that amongst all the jokes, fun facts and lyrics there is also some medical content too - despite the fact that none of the team are trained doctors.

"We feel like there is so much bad and misleading medical advice on the internet, we had to set the record straight and get the real facts out there," says John.

Kenneth adds that, "Despite what you may have heard about the American healthcare system, we are not licensed to dispense medical advice.

"We do, however, warn against reading Behind the Lyrics while driving or operating heavy machinery. We also suggest giving your eyes a rest after every 8-10 songs."

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