Want to understand why 2,800 fans sardined themselves shoulder to shoulder in the middle section of an amphitheater, raised their open palms and pumped their arms up and down in unison?
Want to understand why dozens of those fans were lined up eight hours early to get the best spot?
Want to understand that athletic, dark-hair guy in the black New Era cap and “Just Do It” T-shirt?
Ready to understand Jake Miller?
To truly get Miller, the 22-year-old rapper/songwriter who calls his genre “hip pop,” you’ve got to do more than simply watch the performances like the one he delivered Saturday night in a free show at Darien Lake Theme Park.
You have to watch how he tweets, and whom he tweets, and how he makes his fans feel like they are the stars.
Miller’s hour-long performance at Darien was mixed with music from his early days – a.k.a. four years ago – and today. In his late teens, the Florida native built a strong audience on YouTube performing cover songs and his own compositions, which blend John Mayer-like melodies with Mac Miller-influenced rap. (The longer-established Mac is no relation to Jake.)
As fans began reaching out to him with their stories, letting Miller know how the positive messages in his music helped them emerge from dark times, he began writing more songs designed to uplift his fans. Miller’s Darien set was full of them, from “I’m Alright” to “First Flight Home” to “A Million Lives.”
To an onlooker (translation: anyone not in Miller’s core audience of tween girls to college women), it’s difficult to discern the meaning of one Miller song from the next. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the differences in the messages.
Earlier in the day, as 80 or so fans queued up at 10:30 a.m. to be first in line for the open seating inside the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, people started tweeting pictures. By noon, more than 300 fans were gathered for doors, which still were hours away from opening.
While that was happening, Miller was monitoring fans’ tweets. He caught one from a 12-year-old named Gionna, who joined the line at 11:30 and tweeted a picture of her 6-year-old sister, Eliana. The littler girl, her long brown hair pulled back in the sun by a white headband, was wearing a dark T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Future Mrs. Jake Miller.” Miller retweeted the photo with the comment, “Cutest thing I’ve ever seen! If you see this girl waiting in line today tell her I love her.”
What happened next? Eliana started posing for photo after photo with fans. And more than 3,000 of Miller’s nearly 600,000 followers favorited or retweeted the picture.
That’s the power of Jake Miller: A simple mention or share hits thousands, hard and deep. Miller knows it, of course, and uses that influence masterfully. Recently he decided to pick a fan each show via social media to come onstage and rap his most recent radio hit, “Dazed and Confused.” At half past 10 on Saturday morning, he sent a direct message via Twitter to 23-year-old Nicole Kesel, a fan from Syracuse who’s been following Miller for three years from bar gigs to mall appearances to headlining shows like this one.
Miller told Kesel he wanted her onstage that evening to perform “Dazed and Confused” with him. “He said, ‘I want someone who can present it well,’” said Kesel, who came to Darien with three friends who were standing in the front row. “This is my 20th show so he knows that I know it.”
And so Kesel, dressed in a strapless black-and-white top and dark shorts, joined Miller onstage for the duration of the song. She knew every word, danced to every beat, and seemed right at home.
That’s because she was. Jake Miller’s stage isn’t just his. He makes it belong to all his fans – even if the experience of getting close sends them into a frenzy.
“My mind was blown,” Kesel said moments after stepping offstage and giving Miller a parting hug. “I was about to lose my mind.”