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What happens when you go viral? Utah daddy-daughter duo on their unexpected rise to fame

Mat and Savanna Shaw can’t help but ask the question they’ve pondered every day for the past eight months: “How did this happen?” 

After unexpectedly going viral in March for their rendition of “The Prayer,” Mat and Savanna Shaw have developed a massive following and released two albums.
Russ Dixon

After they announced their debut album, Mat and Savanna Shaw quickly found themselves buried deep in an avalanche of CDs.

They had ordered 10,000, thinking they could maybe sell them all in six or seven months. But to their surprise, the preorders flooded in at a rapid rate. By their release date two weeks later, they were completely sold out. They had to order 10,000 more.

“We had no idea that we would sell that many CDs, because I didn’t even know very many people still had CD players,” Mat Shaw said with a laugh.

That twist is just the latest example of how the unexpected has defined the Shaws’ lives this year. In March, the daddy-daughter duo unexpectedly went viral performing a song from their kitchen table. They quickly became a nationwide sensation with an avid social media following, drawing attention from Broadway producers, “Good Morning America” and “The Kelly Clarkson Show.”

Eight months in, and they still don’t know how it happened. But they do know CDs don’t ship themselves.

So their Kaysville home has become a warehouse. Last month, family members formed an assembly line in the living room and kitchen, packaging each album and sealing it in an envelope. The older kids got some spending money for helping, and sometimes, 6-year-old Pennie Jean Shaw would come in and draw her initials and a little heart on the label.

Thanks to their small but mighty army, the Shaws shipped out every single preordered album by their Oct. 23 release date. But things didn’t exactly calm down after that.

The album, “Picture This,” went on to chart No. 1 on both the iTunes classical and pop charts. In early November, Billboard named the Shaws No. 1 on its emerging artists chart.

Now, the Shaws are doing this all over again with their Christmas album — which hit No. 1 on the holiday charts. This time, though — and much to the joy of Mat Shaw’s wife, Brooke — the shipping operation has moved to the basement.

As their family spends most nights down in the basement packaging the CDs — to date, they’ve sold about 12,000 Christmas albums — Mat and Savanna Shaw can’t help but ask the question they’ve pondered every day for the past eight months: “How did this happen?”


One video, 8 million views

On paper, it’s easy enough to see how it happened.

It started with a video. A somewhat shy Savanna Shaw, then 15, grabbed her dad from the backyard and asked him to join her in singing “The Prayer.” It was her way of keeping in touch with choir friends during a time of isolation. But what they thought would only reach the ears of friends and family has now reached nearly 8 million views on YouTube.

“If I would’ve known how big it would get, I probably would’ve been a lot more nervous,”’ Savanna Shaw previously told the Deseret News. “I’m kind of glad I didn’t know that.”

From that one video, the Shaws gained a massive following. With one video, they’ve achieved more success than many people who go on shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice.”

That one video has led to several videos, two chart-topping albums and big concerts — including a livestream show with Broadway star Sierra Boggess on Nov. 28 and an arena show with Gentri on Dec. 5.

It’s not easy to go viral. A 2017 Forbes article noted that 5 billion items of content are posted daily on Facebook, so there’s a lot competing for attention. Going viral is also easier when you already have a built-in following. But this was Savanna Shaw’s first social media post — ever. Going viral in that way is extremely rare, according to Forbes.

And going viral doesn’t always coincide with lasting success. But eight months after their first video, the Shaws continue to embrace the moment and have maintained popularity. Their debut album remains on the iTunes top 100 pop albums — they were No. 74 on Nov. 25, coming right after Katy Perry’s “Smile” and two spots before Ariana Grande’s “Positions.”

“Every day we’re just in this state of bewilderment because we just don’t get it,” Mat Shaw told the Deseret News Tuesday night, as his family packaged Christmas albums in the basement. “It continues to surprise us honestly every single day. It’s just this little dad and daughter from small town Utah.”

But they can speculate how it happened. Savanna Shaw, now 16, believes performing as a daddy-daughter duo — especially during a pandemic when families aren’t able to get together as much — is a big draw.

“I honestly think that sets us apart from other artists. That’s not common at all,” she said. “I think people just really enjoy seeing that connection, just seeing the friendship.”

“It came at a time when people were hurting and afraid,” Mat Shaw added. “It’s a tough time for a lot of families who are separated from their family members. A lot of times you can feel alone, and to see a dad and a daughter singing wholesome, uplifting music together, with good messages, I think just kind of reminds people of what’s most important and reminds them of those they love the most and gives them a sense of family and togetherness.

... But I really have no idea.”

After unexpectedly going viral in March for their rendition of “The Prayer,” Mat and Savanna Shaw have developed a massive following and released two albums.
Russ Dixon

And now, that dad and daughter — and their entire family, really — have had to adjust to unexpectedly going viral. Trips to Costco now include run-ins with fans and photo-ops in the parking lot. Balancing work, school and music has become a serious juggling act.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Mat Shaw said.


Riding the wave

The Shaws often wonder what they did for fun before they went viral. In a whirlwind eight months, they’ve forgotten what they used to do with their free time.

As music with his daughter has kicked into high gear, Mat Shaw has continued with his longtime real estate business. The job slowed a bit at the onset of COVID-19, but in more recent months, his business partner has helped carry the workload as Mat Shaw spends most of his days rehearsing, recording in the studio and packaging albums.

“Sometimes it feels like I have three full-time jobs,” he said with a laugh. “It is very busy, but it’s a fun busy, and it’s a meaningful busy.”

Savanna Shaw, meanwhile, shifted to online school (her entire high school has since also shifted to remote learning) so she could have the flexibility to focus more on music — she plans on knocking out a bunch of schoolwork after the big livestream concert on Saturday.

In the past, she’s been shy when it comes to sharing music — her own friends had no idea she could sing the way she did until “The Prayer” went viral. But in the months since that first video, Savanna Shaw has become more confident and more outgoing.

“I feel like my life has completely changed,” she said. “This whole music thing has given me a voice that I definitely didn’t have before. It’s given me a confidence that I’ve never had in my life before.”

Although Mat Shaw said he and his daughter don’t necessarily have “huge ambitions” regarding their music, they do plan to keep riding the wave of their unexpected success and performing for their fans. In fact, their musical arranger, Stephen Nelson, recently told them he has a list of 80-plus songs he wants to arrange and record.

“We’ll just kind of see where it goes,” Mat Shaw said. “But we feel the responsibility of using this platform to share hope and spread joy. That’s meaningful and fulfilling and rewarding work to be involved in.

“And for us, if we lost all our fans tomorrow we’d still sing, because we love it,” he added. “We’d love it just the same.”