OK Go Is Helping Redefine the Music Video For the Internet Age

Infectious pop songs weren’t good enough for the Chicago foursome. Instead, they saw music videos as a launch pad for a whole new artistic movement: virality.

12.15.14 5:00 AM ET

Some of the most fascinating people in today’s culture are distinguished not just by their craft, but also by their passions. We call them the New Alphas.

For OK Go, the four-piece band from Chicago, mainstream success started with eight treadmills and a choreographed dance routine. Damian Kulash, Tim Nordwind, Dan Konopka, and Andy Ross hopped from workout machine to workout machine, transfixing a nation with their alt-rock music and nerd-pop sensibilities.

“It has always been our position that the reason you wind up in a rock band is you want to make stuff," Kulash told Ben Rosenfeld for his book Fans, Friends and Followers. For OK Go, it has always been about much more than the music. Throughout their career they’ve transformed what it means to make a music video. The short-form video isn’t just a way to visualize a song’s meaning or show off a sexy body. For OK Go the music video is medium for personal creativity, hype, and branding. By 2006, when their treadmill-hopping hit “Here It Goes Again” was released, laptops already had front-facing video cameras, meaning bands no longer needed to drop big bucks on a directors and crew. At the same time YouTube was replacing MTV as the go-to place for music videos. All it took was a good idea, and OK Go had one—and the drive to pull it off.   

OK Go’s seemingly boundless sense for experimental creativity comes from a strong and trusted connection between band members. Kulash and Nordwind met in camp when they were 11-years-old. They picked up the band’s former guitarist and keyboardist, Andy Duncan in high school. Nordwind and Duncan found Konopka in college. Kulash moved out to Chicago to be with them and OK Go was officially born. The independent and go-getter spirit started young, with the band plastering posters throughout the Windy City. It worked. They opened for acts like Elliott Smith, Sloan, and Promise Ring. They released a couple of demo EPs called Brown and Pink. Ira Glass eventually tapped the up-and-comers to be the in-house band for This American Life.  

However, radio wasn’t the kind of success the band was looking for. So when they released their first album with Capitol records in 2002, they sent miniature ping-pong tables to press outlets to go with their video. It was creative thinking like this that helped it debut at number one on Billboard Top Heatseekers Chart.

Yet it was on their second record “Oh No” that the band fully realized success comes from so much more than good music. For the album’s first single, “A Million Ways,” guitarist Andy Ross designed a website where people could listen to the single and share it with friends in exchange for free downloads. That same song was accompanied by a music video in which the band danced in a backyard to a routine choreographed by Kulash’s sister. Later that year it became the most downloaded music video ever.

Which brings us back to that Grammy Award-winning treadmill video for “Here It Goes Again.

“It's not a labor of love for anyone to go make a commercial. This is an art project,” Kulash told Gizmodo of the band’s videos. “Here It Goes Again” was a turning point for how people thought about the band. Since then OK Go has had their videos screened at the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Moving Image, the Los Angeles Film Festival and more. And in 2013 guitarist Andy Ross launched the mobile game Say the Same Thing, which had the honor of being the App Store’s 50 billionth download.

Despite the acclaim and the viral popularity, the band has never lost that independant creative spirit. After “Here It Goes Again” they thought, "We could go in two directions: We could either try to out-cool it—try to out-run it like Radiohead did with Creep—or just embrace it and go, OK, what really worked here,” they told Rolling Stone. The important thing about embracing success, they say, is not to rest on your laurels. “I think [that] makes it more likely that we'll be able to do more in the future,” Kulash told Gizmodo. “[Then it’s] more likely that when we call to find an anti-gravity chamber in NASA, it'll happen.” Not that they’d need it. Knowing what drives OK Go to create, we wouldn’t expect anything could weigh them down.