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Who is Tay Zonday?

By G. Melanson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Born Adam Nyerere Bahner on July 6, 1982, Tay Zonday is a singer, songwriter and keyboardist who first gained fame in 2007 through his original song, "Chocolate Rain" and its accompanying video. An American Studies graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Zonday was not permitted to listen to pop music growing up. Unbeknownst to his parents at the time, to whom many of his songs are dedicated, he began downloading popular music from the Internet once services such as Napster became available.

Within one month of releasing “Chocolate Rain” on the Internet, Tay Zonday was invited to appear on the Opie & Anthony Show, which led to subsequent media exposure soon after on Jimmy Kimmel Live, CNN, Foxnews as well as the front page of Sunday's Los Angeles Times.

The viral appeal and popularity of “Chocolate Rain,” which has been viewed over 28 million times on YouTube, hinged on a number of juxtapositions within the video. There is Zonday’s baritone voice in contrast with his youthful appearance; the repetitive, synthesized chorus of the song and its puzzling lyrics; and the amateur quality of the video itself, which appears to have been staged in a home recording studio and is captioned with the line, “**I move away from the mic to breathe in.”

Several Mash-Ups and spoof videos of “Chocolate Rain” also circulated on the Internet following its debut. Even established artists such as Green Day, John Mayer and Weezer took turns at parodying the video in their own works. More mainstream recognition followed Tay Zonday when he collaborated with Dr. Pepper to star in a commercial promoting the Dr. Pepper Cherry Chocolate beverage. Zonday was also featured in a commercial for Comedy Central's Last Laugh 07.

In addition to “Chocolate Rain,” Tay Zonday has released other original songs such as “Demon on the Dance Floor,” “Do the Can’t Dance,” “The Only Way,” and the autobiographical “Internet Dream.” From time to time, Zonday engages in discussions with fans about the meaning of his lyrics on his personal MySpace page.

Tay Zonday is a popular example of the YouTube celebrity phenomenon made possible in recent years through viral videos. Other YouTube velebrities include Obama Girl, The Star Wars Kid, and The Bus Uncle. While some viral video stars have become YouTube celebrities on the basis of candid videos or without their consent, Tay Zonday represents a category of YouTube celebrity that has capitalized on the viral nature of the Internet to achieve mainstream relevance and success.

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Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Nov 01, 2011

What I have always loved about Chocolate Rain is that it is not only a catchy song. It is also incredibly weird. Just about every one of the lyrics is a weird image or idea and they all come out so randomly. They clearly come from a very strange mind.

Also, has anyone ever heard Tay Zonday talking? His speaking voice sounds juts like his singing voice.

By letshearit — On Nov 01, 2011

What really gave this internet sensation legs in my opinion was the number of covers and remixes in different musical styles that other YouTube members recorded and uploaded; there were jazz, heavy metal, and many others.

I think what else is interesting about this particular meme is that Zonday's other songs I've seen on YouTube also appear to be quirky, yet not completely silly or anything - he has not become some kind of novelty artist or intentionally bad performer who's now in on the joke, like some of these other Internet sensations. Maybe that's why there is still there is still Tay Zonday love and respect to this day.

By lonelygod — On Oct 31, 2011

I remember after Tay Zonday exploded on the web and he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, just how bewildered the audience seemed to be as he performed "Chocolate Rain". Frankly, the song kind of fell flat on so grand a stage, which says something about these viral Internet sensations. They're more meant to be discovered on your own or passed on to you by a friend, it doesn't really work when it takes a major TV network to tell you about it and inform you that this is supposed to be funny. The song's maddening repetition and clumsy message about racism were clearly not meant to be funny.

By Mammmood — On Oct 31, 2011

@nony - I think Tay Zonday’s age was around 24 or something like that when he wrote that song. He’s another young Internet sensation that’s for sure.

See how easy it is to make it rich today? Just do something wild on YouTube and you could be making millions. Seriously, though, you do need some kind of talent.

Most of the viral videos on YouTube were those of singers or dancers, or singers and dancers (like in the case of Obama Girl). It takes talent – and the right idea – to make it big in the end, whether your platform is YouTube or Broadway.

By nony — On Oct 30, 2011

I’ve seen just about every viral YouTube sensation video include those of Tay Zonday. What made Tay Zonday explode on YouTube was the weird song “Chocolate Rain.”

You have to see it to believe it. What will shock you first is how young this kid looks, and how deep his voice is. The contrast is striking.

As for the song itself, there’s a hypnotic quality to it. It’s a song about racism and it’s very cryptic. Chocolate rain of course is the primary symbolism used throughout the piece.

As the article points out, Zonday took off after this piece and made guest appearances on various national television shows. The man’s a living legend, and I predict he will soon follow the footsteps of Justin Bieber, although with a different musical style of course.

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