When Instagram Live launched in 2016, most people thought it was nothing more than another voyeuristic feature on the social media app to feed narcissism. But little did we know how essential it would become just four years later.
As live shows are cancelled indefinitely, venues remain closed and album rollouts are postponed, more artists are turning to Instagram to connect with fans. It's become a veritable global concert stage with the most intimate performances we've ever seen.
At the forefront of this phenomenon is Verzuz, a happy accident turned into a series that sees two hip-hop legends - with more than 20 hits under their belt - play songs back to back live on Instagram.
Created by Timbaland and Swizz Beats in March, Verzuz is now a global phenomenon. Ultimately, viewers decide on the winner in the chat, though in as little as two months, this concept has grown into so much more.
The series has already received its first accolade, a Webby Break The Internet Award. That's because, in a time where its impossible to escape the dire state of the world, Verzuz isn't just a distraction but an event that has millions of music fans excited to talk about music again.
"Me and Tim's mission is to bring happiness, to help everybody get past this hard moment because we're all being affected," Beatz told the Associated Press.
It all started with Timbaland and Swizz Beatz going head to head with each other on Instagram Live. The producers recreated their song-for-song clash performed at Summer Jam in 2018, taking turns to play songs from the comfort of their homes inviting fans across the world to tune in.
But it was T-Pain versus Lil John that grabbed the internet's attention with a vigour that the previous battles had not. T-Pain played his Kanye West collaboration, Good Life and his Flo Rida-assisted hit, Low while Lil John dropped Get Low, and Blow The Whistle by Too $hort - which he surprisingly produced.
It eschewed all the bells and whistles we've come to expect from full production. Without pyrotechnics, backup dancers, and surprise guests, all each artist had was a laptop, a phone, and a playlist of songs ready to go. But despite the bare setup, the thrill keeps bringing audiences back every Saturday night.
Though, Grammy Award-winning producer Teddy Riley decided he would take this concept to the next level. In his scheduled Verzuz battle with Babyface, Riley arrived with a full setup including a keyboard, several mics, a live DJ, an excitable hype man and a crew of people turning up on and off-screen. It wasn't just in poor taste - as it broke several social distancing rules - but it also caused a series of technical difficulties.
Feedback issues and Riley's inability to fix things ended up postponing the battle. Naturally, jokes about the messy broadcast engulfed the internet, with celebrities like Toni Braxton, Tyrese and Snoop Dogg asking for the issues to be addressed during the Live.
Somehow, in this arena the more frivolous the setup is, the less exciting the show tends to be. Case in point is the battle between Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. Over hours, fans watched the two incredible artists go back to back playing songs, sharing stories, and most of all nurturing one another with kind words and meditations that turned the battle into a healing moment. One fan was frustrated that the two stars were being "too nice," to which Badu quipped, "This is our thing, go elsewhere if you want some musical catfight." Badu and Scott's live stream drew more than 700,000 attendees at its peak and set a new viewership record.
Verzuz has injected new life into the music industry, demonstrating its ability to not only create community but its capacity to bring solace during such an uncertain time. This has given fans something to talk about, whether they're reminiscing about the best moments from the last concert or predicting which two heavyweights will be next.
As Instagram Live continues to be a successful concert space, others like Rihanna have gone as far as hosting multi-artist parties. Fenty Social Club went live on April 10 with a lineup that included Lil Uzi Vert, Octavian, Kitty Ca$h, Pedro and New York veteran DJ Stretch Armstrong.
Meanwhile, DJ D-Nice's Homeschool sets on the platform have turned Instagram into a house party of 170,000. Some of those viewers have included Diddy, Lenny Kravitz, Michelle Obama and Rihanna.
These concerts have also changed the way Instagram functions. Lives were initially restricted to a one-hour limit, but Fadia Kader who works on Instagram's music partnerships told Vibe that they had changed that to facilitate this burgeoning trend.
"When the feature was built, no one thought anyone would want to go more than an hour," she admitted. Testing out a new time limit will happen in "baby steps" and with a "small number of people" to avoid widespread technical difficulties.
The new push to create musical moments, whether that's concerts, DJ sets or battles on Instagram has been a breakthrough in how people can connect without leaving their home. It might not hold a candle to the feeling fans get at a live show, but it's vulnerability and intimacy is unparalleled — and right now, that's precisely what we need.