If you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you might not know that Marshmello is an electronic music producer and DJ. Even if that’s the case, though, you’ve likely heard his music because he collaborates with artists such as Selena Gomez and Bastille and CHVRCHES and Anne-Marie.
Each of the music videos for these songs with successful artists have reached hundreds of millions of views on YouTube — not surprising. How do we explain, though, the fact that the song Marshmello performs solo — “Alone” — has gathered more than a billion views? A BILLION!
I have some theories.
Let’s begin with the basics — there’s the look, for one. Performing as a DJ of note these days means concealing your identity by wearing a large helmet or mask over your head. Marshmello’s helmet is, naturally, shaped like a marshmallow, but the face is composed of a smile and X-ed out eyes. The image somehow elicits sympathy: he’s just a soft marshmallow trying to look happy, but his eyes can’t hide the pain he’s going through.
That’s an emotion our generation has come to know really well — wearing a mask and putting on a smile — because it’s how we cope with maintaining an image on Instagram or running the treadmill of a pre-programmed life.
And even though he wears a mask, Marshmello doesn’t fit in. Again, it’s an emotion we know all too well — everyone at school has their group, their connections, their friends, their place. Even the janitor, for crying out loud. Everyone fits in and has their sh*t together — they’re shiny, happy people. All, except Marshmello.
The lyrics to this song are strikingly simple — only four lines repeat:
I’m so alone
Nothing feels like home
I’m so alone
Trying to find my way back home to you
But Marshmello has a secret weapon: he’s working on a craft. After surviving the school day, he goes home and escapes into music. It’s a place where he can experience joy — where he can be himself, fully. Even though he’s in his house, this is how he’s finding his way back home.
Notice the strategy here. The solution isn’t a distraction or more media or alcohol — it’s self-expression and creating something new. Substance abuse, in particular, is a poor way to deal with these pressures. Just because you put something inside your body doesn’t mean it’s changing you on the inside. Finding a craft that brings you joy does — it makes you more you, not less.
And that’s what allows for a connection. The pretty girl arrives at his house and notices him being himself. If she had found him with blurry eyes from toking up, or glued to a gaming console, or crafting pictures of himself for his social feed, do you think she’d have noticed anything interesting?
In fact, she not only encounters something unique when she witnesses him producing music, she catches it, herself — she takes on part of his identity, in her own way, with a pillowcase marked with Marshmello’s face. The same happens with others — once they see more of who he is, students and staff at the school embrace his uniqueness. In no time, he’s *literally* running the show there.
The conversion of his peers at school happens quickly, which also rings true. Think about the guy who taunts Marshmello by biting into a s’more at lunch — two notes of Marshmello’s music, and he’s wearing a white bucket.
When you’re on the outside, the barriers to acceptance seem insurmountable. In reality, those barriers are there because of a common shallowness in a community. It’s precisely because people don’t have depth that it’s easy for them to exclude others. The people at school are not committed to putting Marshmello down — it’s just an easier way to feel like they’re on the inside.
The quality that transforms that inside/outside dynamic is authenticity. Marshmello will never fit in trying to play their game. He’s just a different guy. So he plays his own game, and others are attracted to him. Because he’s authentic and is creating a circle of inclusion, not competition, it’s easy for people to drop their old biases and join him. It’s just more fun to play along with him.
So, what accounts for well more than a billion views of this song and story? It tells a story many of us have experienced, ourselves — alienation, anxiety, loneliness — and it reveals a path toward transformation. It’s not just that the video has a happy ending — it’s how he gets there that has touched so many of us.