Proof That Lena Dunham Has the Power to Make Hip Songs into Huge Hits Now

Don't look now, and don't blame the bad karaoke, but Lena Dunham really cannot do wrong: According to recent numbers online and off, HBO's Girls has become a kingmaker to just-under-the-radar musicians, sending their record sales abuzz

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Don't look now, and don't blame the bad karaoke, but Lena Dunham really cannot do wrong: According to recent numbers online and off, HBO's Girls might just be the next Grey's Anatomy or Dawson's Creek — the kind of TV show that plays kingmaker to just-under-the-radar musicians and sends their record sales abuzz. Indeed, after Hannah Horvath soundtracked her bedroom dance party with "Dancing On My Own," the song's sales figures spiked. And Robyn's electropop anthem to singlehood just got its second boost in the wake of the Golden Globes, after it accompanied Dunham's multiple (long) trips to the podium on Sunday. Billboard's Keith Caulfield reports:

Label sources indicate that the song's daily sales tripled on Sunday from its normal daily average ... The song sold an estimated 7,000 copies—its best sales frame since May of 2012. That was when the cut was basking in the glow of its first Girls usage—in the show's April 29 episode. In the two weeks that followed the episode, "Dancing" sold 23,000 (week ending May 6) and 9,000 (May 13), according to Nielsen SoundScan. 

A wider look at music figures shows similar trends emerging for the cult songs instantly popularized on Girls​: YouTube views, iTunes purchases, Google searches — across each metric, songs get a sizable Girls bump after being featured on the much-discussed show. Manish Raval, the show's music supervisor, knows exactly how much power he wields. "If we post a link to a song on YouTube, I would see 15 pages of comments related to the song's use on Girls," he recently told The Hollywood Reporter's Phil Gallo. "It has captivated [an audience] in a completely different way."

It's not like Dunham goes around plucking unknown artists from obscurity and turning them into overnight sensations. Skimming the roster of artists on the show's new official soundtrack, most of the names (e.g. Santigold, fun., Fleet Foxes) are pretty familiar. Rather, Girls takes songs over that threshold between "stuff played in Urban Outfitters" and "songs everyone has on their iPod."

Take for, example, Vampire Weekend. Chances are most Girls viewers have at least heard of them. But Google Trends shows that they weren't searching for the preppy band's cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm Going Down" until it played over the credits during Sunday's season two premiere:

Brooklyn band The Echo Friendly had been getting love from the blogs before their big debut on Girls. But just look at the YouTube stats on their song "Same Mistakes," the mopey tune that wrapped up the fourth episode in Girls' first season. Notice that long tail of inactivity, quickly broken by a huge upward curve starting in May 2012. Guess when that Girls episode aired.

Artists don't even need to get their material in a proper episode to reap the rewards of a Girls bump. Just a spot in a Girls ad can do the trick. Ellie Goulding's "Anything Could Happen" didn't need help landing on the iTunes charts, but when a new Girls trailer hit the Internet on December 7th, 2012, Girls helped rush "Anything Could Happen" up the charts until it cracked the top 25.

If you trace the history of any song featured in the show, you're likely to notice this effect each time. Which seems to say something about how much paths to success have changed in music today. If you were an indie musician hoping to reach tons of listeners, would you rather be written up in Pitchfork, attract attention from major labels, or ink a licensing deal with Girls?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.