One hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. On Nov. 30, 2011, four minutes and six seconds of those hours belonged to George Ezra, an 18-year-old British folk singer. They would make him world-famous.
The video of a dorky young Ezra singing with the voice of Ray LaMontagne mixed with Hank Williams went viral. Before long, labels came calling and Ezra was signed to Columbia and well on a path to success. Four years later, that's exactly where he is. His song "Budapest" has been viewed more than 29 million times on YouTube and has rocketed to the top of the charts across the world.
Ezra's music has been a hit with young people the world over because it's authentic and it's restless. After he got his deal, the singer embarked on a solo train trip throughout Europe in hopes that it would inspire an album. It did; the resulting Wanted on Voyage has caught fire all over the world and is just starting to break in the U.S. It's already No. 1 and certified gold in the U.K.
The record is a bold first release. It takes on the usual heavy subjects of love and growing up with refreshing levity and curiosity. It's easy to forget he's only 21.
"I found out people used to write ['wanted on voyage'] on their luggage when they were boarding boats, like years ago," Ezra told Fuse TV. "You would write 'wanted on voyage' on what you wanted [with you], and everything else would go into the cargo, and you wouldn't see it for the journey. I like the idea of people wanting the album on their journey."
Very quickly, it has become clear that people all over the world want Ezra on their journey. Even in that first viral video, Ezra's raw, bluesy song is a beautiful homage to folk legends of the past, while the subject matter reveals that he still is trying to make sense of the world around him. But what is really remarkable is that he has continued to honor his commitment to folk since. Wanted on Voyage did not turn into a folk-pop hybrid, as is custom for many folk bands à la Mumford & Sons or the Lumineers who seek to fit more into the mainstream. From light, bouncy "Listen to the Man" to the grumbling sinister quality of "Did You Hear the Rain?" Ezra has proven that he's not only devoted to folk, but will continue to wade deeper into it. That is what sets him apart from the young, cookie-cutter generation the current crop of up-and-coming musicians. It's what makes him an authentic voice that might well last for quite a while now.
He first delivered on his promise to transport his listeners with "Budapest," which he wrote after he missed his train to Budapest because he had been drinking in Malmö, Sweden, the night before. The wistful love ballad went on to top the charts in multiple countries besides America and the U.K., including Australia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Now he's just wrapping up his quite literal journey across North America with fellow British crooner Sam Smith. He will soon embark on a solo European and American tour later this year.
But though Ezra's rise to fame has been rapid, he isn't in it for the popularity. This, perhaps, is the best sign of his commitment to authentic music. In a recent interview with NPR, the singer made a point to note that audiences are fickle and that he's savoring every last second of his success.
"I always say, if this is the only album I get to release, so be it," he told NPR. "I've had the best time. I'll continue writing and creating. [...] If I can sit here when I'm 60 and [be] talking about my 15th, 20th record, well, happy days, I'd love that. "
Who knows what will become of Ezra's career 20 records down the line. But from where he's setting out, it seems the voyage could be a long one.