Social distancing mandates have pulled the emergency break on public movements to curb the spread of COVID-19 and keep each other safe, but digital avenues of entertainment are still busy for good reason. Instagram Live, which launched in 2016, has remained one of the main sources of providing a platform for these memorable instances. Since March, DJs, singers, rappers, fitness experts, dancers, and more have welcomed thousands into their homes for mini-concerts, dance breaks, or previewing upcoming music. Noticing the trend, Instagram launched its “Stay Home” sticker which has been used upwards of 100 million times, according to Fadia Kader, who works on the platform’s music partnerships team. The feature was created to connect the global community where the pandemic has shuttered everyday activities for students and employees in non-essential businesses.
“In the first week since launching, the Stay Home sticker was used over 100 million times globally,” Kader says. “That just lets me know the power of Instagram. It’s a global platform and even when we have an initiative that is global like this with the Stay At Home sticker, it’s really impactful and connects the dots between us all.”
The cyber camaraderie has been felt thanks to various music industry professionals. DJ D-Nice’s “Homeschoolin” sets on Instagram Live has peaked at nearly 170,000 people in one of his hours-long productions. It began out of a desire to remain connected with his friends, but swiftly turned into a necessity for thousands to have his selections play in the background as they two-stepped. Stars like Diddy, Lenny Kravitz, Halle Berry, and the former First Lady Michelle Obama were just a few of the names to grace the livestream that momentous day in late-March. DJs across the platform also put their turntables to work to show that they can still rock an audience through a phone screen.
In an interview with The New York Times, D-Nice said those that are who’re getting creative with how they reach the masses through music will prove to be an integral part of how people will remember practicing social distancing. “Musically we found a way to use tech to unite people,” he said, adding, “that’s a beautiful thing.” In an interview with Miami New Times, Bodega Flee, a DJ from New York City, said what the world is currently experiencing presents an opportunity to revamp everyone’s focus and reorganize priorities. “I think this moment is humbling a lot of people, and I think it’s going to make a lot of us cherish time more,” Flee said.
The use of broadcasting tools like YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram Live has allowed artists and fans to connect on a devoted level. An in-person experience at a concert can never be replaced by a performance watched through a phone, but for now, this mode of entertainment can serve as a place of refuge during a time of immense loss.
Kader says initially some artists might’ve felt “gun shy” about utilizing the Live feature, but since thousands are now getting acclimated to being in the house from sunrise to sundown, showing a bit of vulnerability and remaining in tune with their audience can prove to be beneficial to both parties. Kader also notes the company is looking into extending Live’s hour-limit after users have voiced their desire for a longer time slot. “When the feature was built, no one thought anyone would want to go more than an hour,” she says. Testing out a new time limit will happen in “baby steps” and with a “small number of people” to avoid widespread technical difficulties.
”Being that we’re all at home together right now, some of those best practices that we have drilled into the industry and into the ecosystem of the music industry as a whole, surface and they automatically remembered, ‘Oh yeah, we do have this Live feature and we can get comfortable with it,’” Kader shares.
Comfortable, indeed, artists have been on Live. One figure being Tory Lanez. The Toronto rapper’s “Quarantine Radio” had no issue racking up viewers, reaching over 350,000 on Tuesday (April 7) before experiencing a temporary shut out of the service. Citing a violation of Instagram’s Terms of Service due to racy content, Lanez’s “Quarantine Radio” was slated to return on April 14 once the halt was lifted, but two days later he was able to return to his virtual task after having a conversation with Instagram. Kader says she wants artists to continue to use the tool but keep in mind to steer clear of any violations.
“This is an opportunity to have your golden moment or your stadium moment right from the comfort of your home and your iPhone or Android device,” she says. “But you have to use it responsibly. At the end of the day we still have the responsibility to the community and artists should be responsible to their fans and the community that they represent as well.” Previously, Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri also issued a statement on Lanez’s temporary halt and other accounts that raised red flags, stating he’s looking forward to the regularly scheduled program but with a few tweaks.
“The lives have been great, the lives with the fans have been great but you can’t have nudity on Instagram. That’s part of our community guidelines,” Mosseri said to The Shaderoom, noting no exceptions will be made. “And on a couple of those lives yesterday and a few of those accounts, there was nudity. So we had to stop the live and there’s a short period of time where you can’t go live again. We have to stick to the rules otherwise why do we have them? But generally a big fan of Tory Lanez, big fan of Quarantine Radio. I hope it comes back soon but just no nudity.”
In early April, the “Live With” or split-screen feature was down, which Kader says was the result of a bug. “Pre-COVID, Live was a feature that was being used globally but not in the way that everyone is using it currently. Like anything on any platform, it doesn’t matter what it is, if there’s a lot of usage happening there’s going to be a bug at times. It’s with any feature.” There are no claims of the company taking away the feature, but as it strives to “make the experience that much more impactful and better for everyone to use Live in general, things are going to get buggy at times and it just requires a little bit of patience.”
Violations aside, the Live feature continues to draw crowds, specifically when it’s time for the latest “Verzuz” showdowns (the next will be RZA and DJ Premier on Saturday, Apr. 11). Coined by mega-producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, and taking certain cues from the longstanding sound clashes established in Jamaica, they kicked off the split-screen battle between themselves in late March—Beatz also battled Just Blaze in February 2019 on the Live platform—and played hit melody after hit melody. From there, the beatsmiths paired up other music industry professionals to showcase their discography as viewers kept score of who one-upped the other. In a prior interview with VIBE, Timbaland shared that despite the United States’ increasing unemployment rate (now upwards of 10 million), “Verzuz” provides him and spectators “joy for three hours out the day that feels like I left my house.” That level of engagement is widely received due to its genuine mission.
“For me personally, I think it's because it's from the heart. This ain’t about nothing, it's for the people, by the people. That's how I see it. And you’re going to get what you're going to get,” Timbaland said. “I think artists are engaged with it and they’re in tune because it's a musical history. I believe Meek posted something on Twitter saying that ‘these battles make me appreciate music way more than I ever did.’ Fans just being free. Like Swizz said, we’re filling up a stadium but a stadium where everybody can speak their minds. And I feel like right now, in the world, we’re on one playing field.”
Another public figure that gathered the globe in one room is Rihanna. The philanthropist, who recently received an award from PETA, launched a virtual “bashment party” on Friday (April 10) in celebration of her clothing brand FENTY’s latest release. From “Los Angeles to London,” the #FENTYSocialClub premiered streams from global artists like Kitty Ca$h, Stretch Armstrong, Octavian, and Pedro.
Centering on that connectedness in a time of uncertainty continues to also fuel Kader’s statements of using the platform to brighten a person’s day, even if it’s temporary. “I think more than ever right now we are all in a very vulnerable place and we want to connect with others more than ever. My forecast here is that we’re going to see amazing creativity take place on the platform and continue,” Kader says. “ It’s already happening on the platform with IGTV or Live. I just foresee, especially with social distancing with the tools that we plan on coming with in the future along with the feedback that we’re getting in real time from the community we’re going to create a space for our audience to be even that much more creative."