“Walked into CVS and forgot to pick up my antidepressants because ‘Africa’ by Toto was playing and I completely forgot about my mental illness.”
“My killer: Any last words? Me: Alexa, play ‘Africa’ by Toto.”
“If you play ‘Africa’ by Toto at exactly 11:58:33 p.m. on December 31st, the first “I bless the rains down in Africa’ will play at exactly midnight. Start off your New Year right.”
These are just a few of the memes that “Africa,” the 1982 pop song by American rock band Toto, has inspired. The internet’s interest in the ’80s hit has catapulted the song to the top of the charts and into the forefront of millennial humor.
But how do the members of Toto feel about their decades-old song becoming a slightly satirical meme for the avocado toast-obsessed?
“It’s hilarious,” Toto’s lead guitarist and vocalist, Steve Lukather, recently told Page Six while he was en route to a sold-out gig in Texas. “I mean listen, we recorded the song in 1981. It was a throwaway tune, like on our fourth album and I always loved the track, but I thought the lyrics were silly. I mean, but they are!”
He continued, “I think it’s a great honor. I’m tickled. It just makes me smile. I mean wow, that’s forever. When someone looks back at 2018, we’re going to be a part of that story. That’s pretty cool.”
Lukather, 60, says his band has “an amazing sense of humor about some of this s–t,” referring to the memes and parodies.
“That’s the one thing about my band that no one ever realized,” he said. “We’ve been together all these years and because we … put out thousands of records and all that s–t, they anticipate us to be the most serious people in the world when I’m probably one of the more insane people you would talk to.
“I have a wicked, depraved sense of humor, and when people come at me with these memes and stuff like that, I laugh my ass off — the worse they are or the better. Like, when people make fun of us, it’s fine. I get it. I mean one of them is a ‘South Park’ character. How cool is that? You know what I mean? How can I bitch at that? That’s the coolest thing ever!”
The one-part soft-rock one-part world-music melodic cocktail was written by band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro in 1981 and was released as a single in 1982. The following year, the song would reach No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Since then, with the help of the internet, social media and new streaming services, the song continues to flourish decades later.
“[‘Africa’] has been gaining. It’s kind of been a slow build over the last decade but it especially started to really proliferate in the last two years,” Billboard’s chart manager for social streaming and rock, Kevin Rutherford, told Page Six.
Between Aug. 10 to Aug. 16, Toto’s “Africa” sold 6,000 digital downloads and was streamed 5.8 million times, according to Nielson Music. Additionally, this week, the ’80s tune is the 53rd-most-sold song in the country out of any genre, and No. 17 on the Pop Digital Song Sales chart.
“Africa’s” consistency is rather remarkable considering the fact that every other song ahead of it is a current song or falls within the hip-hop-driven market (with the exception of Ben E. King’s ‘60s classic “Stand By Me,”) according to Rutherford.
“I think internet culture has kind of taken it and really shot it into the stratosphere because you’ve got different memes or vines … you can share all these songs and all these videos and people started bonding over their love of this song,” Rutherford said.
The chart expert tells us that various moments in pop culture created spikes in the song’s popularity, from being featured in shows like “Stranger Things” and “South Park,” to appearing in a viral video of Kristin Bell and Dax Shepard’s travels in Africa. Weezer’s recent cover of the track, which spends its third week on top of the Alternative Songs airplay chart, also launched Toto’s version back up on the charts.
And while Rutherford believes the song’s longevity has to do with its consistent presence in pop culture as well as the lyrics’ inoffensive vagueness, Lukather can’t quite pinpoint why it has attracted so many generations time and time again.
“I haven’t a f—king clue and you can quote me on that,” laughed the rocker, who described the song as “an enigma.” “But it’s got a great groove. I mean it’s a happy thing. The message of the song doesn’t have anything to do with ‘Oo baby I love you,’ so there’s no depression there. It’s not political, so there’s no depression there. It’s a fantasy song. It’s like a Disneyland song or whatever.
“We just went in there and had fun and made this record … People latch onto it. It’s kitschy enough that the lyrics are weird enough that people will remember it.”
Nearly 40 years after the band’s original formation, Toto is currently on tour, playing sold-out shows filled with baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials alike.
“This came out of nowhere,” Lukather said. “Our gigs are selling out, we’re having fun, I got a book coming out next month. It’s good to be us right now. You know, who knew that this would happen to us at this point, so we’re rather grateful about it.
“I would have never bet on it,” he added.
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