A year ago, the EDM producer and DJ known only as Marshmello was one of dance music culture's most hotly discussed mysteries. At festivals, on dance floors, and across social media, fans wanted to know: Who was this anonymous musician with the sticky-sweet sound and the costume—a human marshmallow—to match? But he remained largely an underground phenomenon; averaging daily views in the hundreds of thousands, he had yet to make much of a dent on the popular consciousness.
What a difference a year makes. By May 5, 2017, Marshmello was showing a considerably improved track record: His latest video, “Moving On,” had been released the day prior, racking up 3.1 million views in a 24-hour span, and helping drive even more traffic to the masked DJ’s other videos. His daily total: 6.7 million views, a new personal best, handily beating his previous daily record of 6 million views on January 9, 2017, when his “Summer” video had debuted, racking up 2.5 million views on launch day.
Success stories don’t come much more stratospheric than Marshmello’s. His first big break came in June 2016, with the release of his “Alone” video: Within two months, his views had increased by an order of magnitude, going from six-digit daily play counts to more than a million per day. “Alone” has since racked up more than 645 million combined views across YouTube, and is still going strong.
“I don't think we realized how viral the song and video would go,” says Moe Shalizi, Marshmello’s manager. “It’s already certified gold and is almost at platinum, which far exceeded our expectations. But it goes to show when you have a positive message paired with good music, you get great results.”
In fact, in just over a year since launching his channel, Marshmello gained enough subscribers—4.7 million—to catapult into the top 500 most subscribed channels on YouTube. His success across the platform has made him one of the top 100 most viewed artists on the year thus far. Total, all-time views for all Marshmello-related material just surpassed 1 billion.
What accounts for Marshmello’s incredible success? Sure, early on he got a boost from some influential peers—Skrillex was an early supporter of his music, and one of his first official releases was a remix of Jack Ü’s “Where Are Ü Now.” Most important, though, might be the uplifting and empowering messages that Marshmello has woven throughout his music and videos. In the video for “Alone,” we see Marshmello as a dorky high school student who’s widely mocked and bullied—that is, until his classmates hear his music, at which point his talent for bringing people together comes to the fore.
Additionally, Marshmello’s videos so far have worked together to tell a bigger story: After the growing pains of “Alone,” “Summer” finds him falling in love for the first time, while “Moving On,” whose release was smartly timed to anticipate the end of the school year, is a celebratory graduation ceremony. Jen Stein, Day to Day Manager at Red Light Management, says, “These are stories that everyone can relate to, whether it’s feeling alone, falling in love, or moving on to a new school, a new job, a new group of friends. The message is that we are all Marshmello, and we can all understand these feelings.” In that sense, the performer’s persona as a kind of loveable superhero only contributes to his universal appeal. “It’s not about Marshmello himself, it’s not about being a celebrity—it’s about having these moments and the music that you share with people.”
Marshmello and his team have also built on his grassroots popularity as a main-stage entertainer par excellence by keeping up a steady stream of live recaps, in which fans get to experience the thrill of his DJ sets from right on stage. Sequencing a handful of killer drops and surprise guests into a minute or less, these high-energy highlight reels are expressly designed to be shared by fans. “Every city, state, and country has a different crowd with a different vibe,” Shalizi says, “so it’s always fun to show a recap of that.”
Much of his behind-the-scenes content reinforces Marshmello’s cuddly, positive persona. One video highlights the efforts of his followers in the Mellogang to raise money for charity; in another, the DJ surprises a three-year-old fan named Lethan.
“Lethan’s parents hit us up while we were in Texas and showed us a video of him djing with the Marshmello costume,” says Shalizi. “It melted our hearts, so we wanted to surprise him. We invited Lethan and his parents to our hotel and had Marshmello come in and surprise him while he was DJing. It was such an amazing experience to see that a 3-year-old understands and loves Marshmello.”
The wealth of fan-created content out there, from tutorials for making your own Marshmello mask to unusual cover versions of his songs, only helps his profile grow. “We love it,” Shalizi says. “Anyone can be Marshmello, so it’s awesome to see when the Mellogang takes the time to make heads and all kinds of crazy-cool merch.”
As for what happens after the graduation ceremony of “Moving On,” Marshmello’s team is staying mum. “But we have a lot of big things planned for the channel,” assures Shalizi. “At the moment the channel is growing at a pretty rapid rate due to the virality of some of our music videos and content pieces. The next steps are testing some different content ideas through YouTube to see how they do on the channel. It’s amazing how much you can use YouTube to your advantage to test things directly with your fans.”
One thing they have no intention of doing, however, is revealing Marshmello’s government name. (Fans may recall that last time the DJ promised a big reveal, he sent out Tiësto in a Marshmello helmet, for maximum trolling points.) “The identity of Marshmello means nothing,” says Shalizi. “As long as you understand the concept, we are all Marshmello. That’s all that matters.”