Adam Nyerere Bahner is an American singer, musician, voice artist, actor, and comedian. More widely known by his pseudonym Tay Zonday, he is one of the original YouTube stars from the early days of the platform and unarguably the first social media influencer whose fame transcended into the mainstream culture. A native of Minnesota, Bahner was an unhappy graduate student pursuing a PhD when his interest in music piqued enough for him to attend open mic contests at mom-and-pop shops. After creating the online persona Tay Zonday, he set up his YouTube channel in January 2007. Initially, the feedback he received was not promising but it changed after he posted the song ‘Chocolate Rain’, sung in a bass singing voice. It went viral, garnering Zonday international popularity. In the ensuing years, he established himself as a voice artist with involvement in projects such as ‘Robot Chicken’ and a multimedia presentation created to celebrate 50 years of NASA history. He has appeared as one of the co-stars in the sitcom ‘The Jack and Triumph Show’ and in films such as 'Internet Famous' and 'Laid in America'. Moreover, Zonday continues to work as a musician and singer and has released several songs since ‘Chocolate Rain’.
Bahner came up with the pseudonym Tay Zonday himself. To make sure the name was unique, he put it in quotes and searched Google, receiving no results. Immediately, he began opening accounts with the name virtually on every social media platform. This “deliberate branding choice” was apparently needed because he thought that his future academic life might entail publishing papers and that it would be prudent to have a separate online identity.
He created his YouTube account in January 2007 and uploaded the first video in the following month. His initial videos had original, music-related content, but failed to garner any momentum. Eventually, he uploaded ‘Chocolate Rain’ on April 22, 2007. It was the third upload after ‘Canon In Z" Original Classical Arrangement by Tay Zonday’ and ‘Love" Original Song by KOOBY feat. Tay Zonday’. Known for Zonday's dark tone and his peculiar mannerisms while singing, especially moving away to breathe in, ‘Chocolate Rain’ gained the initial popularity probably on 4chan, where it was circulating as a joke. It soon found its way into the mainstream culture and common people started listening to it.
Zonday later revealed that the song is a metaphor on racism against African-Americans. As of 2018, it has accumulated over 118 million views. It was named the hottest viral video of summer 2007 by CTV and won the 2008 YouTube Award in the category "Music". As of 2018, he has over a million subscribers on his channel.
The success and popularity of ‘Chocolate Rain’ have led to other opportunities. He has appeared on ‘Jimmy Kimmel,’ ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘America's Got Talent,’ ‘CNN,’ The BBC, Comedy Central's Tosh.0, Rachel Ray, and BET Awards. He worked in a commercial for Comedy Central's ‘Last Laugh 07’. In a promotion for Dr Pepper, Zonday put out a video called ‘Cherry Chocolate Rain’. He appeared alongside Leslie Hall in a commercial for Firefox web browser, singing a parody of ‘We Are the World’, called ‘Users Against Boredom’. He was featured, along with many other YouTube celebrities, in the music video for rock band Weezer's single ‘Pork and Beans’. The video won the Grammy Award for Best Music Video at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards.
Zonday has released several singles since ‘Chocolate Rain’; these include ‘Mama Economy’ (2013), ‘Gotta Catch 'Em All’ (2013), and ‘Explode’ in 2017. As a voice artist, he joined the cast of a multimedia presentation built to celebrate 50 years of NASA history. He also appeared as a character in Adult Swim’s ‘Robot Chicken’, spoofing ‘Chocolate Rain’. In 2017, he was cast as the voice of the Chorus of the Primes in ‘Transformers: Titans Return’.
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Bahner was born on July 6, 1982, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents are both school teachers and he has two older siblings. He is of half African-American ancestry. In early 2007, he was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was associated with the University of Minnesota as a graduate student, doing a PhD in American studies. According to Bahner, he was a bad student and did not like teaching and especially did not like research. At the time, he was focused on studying the history of performance and social change.
Sometime in 2006, he started competing in the open mic challenges held at local mom-and-pop shops. He would often perform in front of a crowd of five, two of whom would be absorbed in their newspapers. The rest would politely clap and offer some words of encouragement. However, according to Zonday, they were just being non-confrontational in a very typical Minnesotan way. He eventually became frustrated with dragging his keyboard and amplifier around in the middle of winter and set up his YouTube account.