Taylor Swift knew it couldn’t be trouble. On the contrary, when she saw the YouTube clip of 50 young Israeli music students performing her pop mega-hit “I Knew You Were Trouble” in a hard rock orchestra format complete with a guitar army, she posted on the homepage of her website and tweeted that the clip “makes me so happy.”
Almost 600,000 viewers of the clip, performed by students from the Artik School of Music in Yehud, have had the same reaction since it was uploaded in late November. And now with their of the hit song from country/pop superstar’s album Red about to be released on iTunes, the school is hoping to reap the benefits of its international exposure.
“We expected a strong response, but we didn’t think it would be that big and huge,” said Roi Draizin, who founded Artik in 2004 with his brother Amit as an alternative “School of Rock” music center. “The clip made a big balagan [stir] around the world. It was unprecedented for someone as big as Taylor Swift to personally refer to it on her site and her Facebook page. And then Ryan Seacrest [of American Idol] tweeted about it and it took off from there.”
It’s no surprise that even those seasoned entertainment professionals were taken with the clip – it’s hard not to love, from the powerful live performance captured by nine cameras to the effervescent and attractive Israeli teens hitting guitar power chords, to the female chorus singing Swift’s lyrics with a tinge of an Israeli accent, to the particularly camera-friendly young drummer with his hair flailing away to the beat. It could be the greatest three minutes of hasbara (public diplomacy) since Claire Danes touted Tel Aviv as the most happening city in the world.
Draizin and his brother conceived of the clip’s concept in order to raise awareness of Artik and hopefully attract new students.
“With the new generation, if you don’t speak their language, you’ll lose them. And their language is totally YouTube and Facebook,” said Draizin. “It’s much closer to their hearts than anything else – kids would prefer to watch YouTube than go to see a live show, unless it was someone they really liked.”
He described the concept of taking a pop tune and creating orchestral rock out of it as attempt to create unexpected – or in Hebrew terms – hafuch al hafuch.
“At Artik, we don’t work with large ensembles, it’s usually small groups, that’s one element. And taking a song that’s the epitome of pop and turning into a big rock song with a guitar army, and having it played by a young rock orchestra, a framework that usually geared to classical music and older musicians, is the main opposite element.”
Recruiting 50 of the school’s students proved to be no problem, and the logistics of teaching the parts and filming the performance live also went off efficiently due to the motivation of the players, said Draizin.
“Within two weeks, we did everything, from teaching the parts to filming it. It should have taken months, but the kids were organized and totally committed.
Everything was done live, there was no overdubbing or correcting parts. That’s the beauty of it.”
Draizin touted Artik as a school for music students who have been spurned or disillusioned by established conservatories and private teachers.
“We’ve created a method and an environment that captures the student’s imagination and entices him to want to make a strong commitment,” he said, adding that the range of students currently at the school span from four years old to 67.
“We particularly like to take on students who have no musical background, or have been rejected by conservatories because they’re not ‘musical.’ It often happens with kids who have learning or concentration problems that a school will see it as an obstacle and use an excuse that the student isn’t musical. We see students like that as a challenge and actually as having the capacity to succeed more than someone without concentration problems.
“For example, look at drumming – you need to have two arms and two legs in constant motion – sometimes for a kid with extra energy, it’s much easier for him to focus on doing that.”
Artik’s approach seems to be working, based on the the quality of the students’ work on the Taylor Swift song. Since its release, Draizin has received several queries from around the world about setting up branches of Artik.
Meanwhile, Draizin and his brother are already planning their next YouTube breakout. The song is being kept secret, but given its track record, the cat will be out of the bag soon enough.