Sometime in 2011, a group of scientists working in a top-secret Canadian laboratory uncovered a formula to maximize the addictive qualities of a pop song. In September, the formula was leaked, by way of a song called “Call Me Maybe” and performed by a 26 year-old Canadian Idol winner named Carly Rae Jepsen.
A month before the song infected American audiences, a handful of college-age kids produced a homemade music video for “Call Me Maybe,” made from lip dub footage shot on their laptop webcams. Kind of like Lana Del Rey’s thing, if Lana Del Rey had a bunch of friends.
Dressed in the YouTube celebrity uniform of expensive sweat pants, knit caps, perfect make-up, and fake mustaches, the kids appear to be having a Glee-style dance party at one of their parents’ pre-fab SoCal homes. The boys vogue with billiards racks and the girls perform stripper moves expertly and with mock embarrassment.
The climax of the video occurs during the bridge, when one teen mouths the words, “It’s hard to look right/at you baby,” as she gazes into the profile of a young man, who looks away.
As he turns, coyly, to meet her lips, his face is revealed. It’s eighteen-year-old pop heartthrob Justin Bieber! And the girl serenading him? His girlfriend, nineteen-year-old Selena Gomez, a Disney Channel alumna now filming a Harmony Korine movie. From the looks of it, Mr. Bieber (who fills stadiums at an average ticket price of $129.50), and a half-dozen or so of his friends made a free music video for an up-and-comer from his native Canada—just for kicks. And that’s not their parents’ McMansion; that’s the house their exploited youth built.
Although the kids appear wholesome and happy enough to make us forget about the tragic child performers (Britney Spears) and evil child managers (Lou Pearlman) who paved the way for them, the video is not exclusively fun and games. Ms. Jepsen signed to Mr. Bieber’s record label, Schoolboy, last month, after Mr. Bieber heard “Call Me Maybe” on Canadian radio and tipped off Interscope execs. Recently both artists made a joint promotional stop on The Ellen Degeneres Show.
And if the video is a wily marketing scheme, it’s working. The lip dubbers’ star power, coupled with the song’s catchiness, has attracted almost 28 million hits on YouTube (more than twice as many as Ms. Jepsen’s official video), a number surely inflated by people like us, with a “Call me Maybe” tab eternally open, playing the video over and over because we’re too ashamed to download the song.
But if (again, like us) you fell out of touch with the Disney channel set sometime around The Bimbo Summit, you will be hard-pressed to identify all the other grainy PYTs in the video. Helpfully, it ends with credits of the stars’ Twitter handles, which The Observer has used to compile a dossier on the video’s supporting cast. We went deep, reading months of updates from tour and the gym, to discover how these very life-like robots are connected, socially and professionally, and to wildly extrapolate with some conspiracy theories on how they fit into Disney-Nickelodeon’s nefarious youth culture industrial complex.
Click through the slideshow for our paranoid who’s who.
Selena Gomez, 19, and Justin Bieber, 18
You know these two. Justin Bieber: R&B protege of Usher. Selena Gomez: his girlfriend. She starred on a Disney channel show, "Wizards of Waverly Place," now she’s a singer ("Love You Like a Love Song") with Disney’s Hollywood Records.
@selenagomez: Happy birthday to my best friend in the world world!!! Have a great birthday baby! [Link to picture with Justin]
@justinbieber: yeah so it’s true...i got a lil haircut...i like it...and we are giving all the hair cut to CHARITY to auction. Details coming soon
Conspiracy theory: Disney has dispatched honeypot Ms. Gomez to get Mr. Bieber’s platinum voice on a few Hollywood Records singles.
Ashley Tisdale, 25
Starred in proto-"Glee" Disney Channel franchise "High School Musical." Went public with her nose job, which we respect. Hard to distinguish from Haylie Duff, sister of fellow Disney channel alumna Hilary, but that might change soon. Ms.Tisdale was recently cast in the pilot of Louis C.K.’s CBS sitcom.
Emblematic Tweet: @AshleyTisdale: Can't believe I dragged my butt to the gym in this rain...
Conspiracy theory: Disney still retains her services as undercover babysitter, to make sure Mr. Bieber doesn’t knock up Ms. Gomez.
Martin Johnson, 26
Ashley Tisdale’s rebound boyfriend. Frontman for pop-punk band Boys Like Girls. Lucky for him, he also cashes checks on cannily canned pop songs for Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana.
Emblematic Tweet: @martinsays: #hypesauce.
Conspiracy theory: There to figure out why some no-name Canadian had “Call me Maybe” and not Selena Gomez.
Alfredo Flores, 23
Video director and editor who has done behind the scenes and concert videos for Mr. Bieber. Also appears to be Mr. Bieber’s Instagram biographer. Widely claims to have invented something called “Beast Mode.” Easily the most charismatic person in the "Call me Maybe" video.
Emblematic Tweet: @alfredoflores: Working on something that I think a lot of you are going to enjoy *inserts evil laugh here*
Conspiracy theory: Unpaid Bieber content generator.
Carlos Pena, 22
No, not the Rays first baseman. Carlos Pena "sin tilde" has been acting since his very promising turn in a Super Soaker commercial, according to his Wikipedia page. Now he's on a Nickelodeon series about hockey players who are recruited to form a boy band, which ended up as a real life band with records and tours and such, as these things do. It’s/they’re called Big Time Rush. Prolific YouTuber, published “Call Me Maybe” video.
Emblematic tweet: @thecarlospena: New vid on http://YouTube.com/carlospenatv !! Check it out
Conspiracy theory: None, still on Nickelodeon payroll.
Samantha Droke, 24
Ashley Tisdale’s sushi sidekick, Carlos Pena’s girlfriend. Actress, in the sense that she was in the Disney channel movie “Princess Protection Program” with Selena Gomez. Also in a web series about college kids called "Poor Paul."
Emblematic Tweet: @sammydroke: Friday!!!!
Conspiracy: Paid to make Ms. Tisdale not feel too old when she’s making sure Justin/Selena aren’t making babies.
Logan Henderson, 22
Also in Big Time Rush. Childhood BFFs with Disney's enfant terrible Demi Lovato. No discernible girlfriend, although he leaves LA sushi restaurants with pretty girls. Good for him.
Emblematic Tweet: @1loganhenderson: Be thankful and enjoy every moment you have! Live everyday like it's your birthday and your last day! Cheers
Conspiracy Theory: Although he's technically a Nickelodeon employee, Disney may be pumping him for intel on Ms. Lovato, who has become a vocal critic of the channel's effects on girls' self-image.
Kendall Schmidt, 21
Another Big Time Rush bro. Was Haley Joel Osment’s body double in “AI: Artificial Intelligence,” for what it's worth. In a side project band called Heffron Drive. Brother Kevin co-stars with Samantha Droke in “Poor Paul.”
Emblematic Tweet: @HeffronDrive Still have a little jet-lagg left over. Can't get my body clock back to normal yet! Either way..resting up.
Conspiracy: None, still on Nickelodeon’s payroll.
Dustin Belt, 24
The last Big Time Rush bro, the guitarist and the only one of the lot who looks his age. For women who loved Isaac Hanson. Guest starred on Samantha Droke’s “Poor Paul.” Also in Heffron Drive with Kendall Schmidt.
Conspiracy: None, still on Nickelodeon’s payroll.
@dbeltwrites: If Prince wore a wig he would be Paula Abdul.
Moises Arias, 17
Disney Channel workhorse, guest starred on “Wizards of Waverly Place,” “Suite Life of Zack and Cody”, and “Hannah Montana”. He and his brother, Mateo, are co-starring in a movie called “Motocross Madness.” Also filming "Ender's Game," with Hailee Steinfeld. They go to P.F. Chang's sometimes too.
Conspiracy: None. Still brought to you by Disney.
Emblematic Tweet: @imnotmoises: On a real level, most amazing short film documentary I've seen in a long time. Make Kony famous. #StopKony
Mateo Arias, 16
Moises’s younger brother, has his own martial arts-related Disney show, “Kickin’ It.” Quirky looks, goofy dance moves, and angsty Twitter suggest he might have the interiority to survive the youth culture machine.
Emblematic Tweet: @officialmateo: It doesn't make a difference what temperature a room is, it's always room temperature.
Conspiracy Theory: None. Team Disney.
Kimberley Crossman, 23
By far the most mysterious “Call Me Maybe” star. New Zealand cheerleader, soap star, and “hostess.” Of what, we don’t know. Was chaperoned by Samantha Droke on a meticulously documented visit to New York for a Big Time Rush concert.
Emblematic Tweet: @kimcrossman: Busy day and exciting auditions .. Then ... Flying home to NZ tonight to film something pretty exciting.. Then bak to LALA land!! X
Conspiracy Theory: Paid ambassador of Disney/Nickelodeon to English speakers on the opposite hemisphere. Or maybe just trying really really hard to get her own Disney/Nickelodeon deal.
Carly Rae Jepsen, 26
The "Call Me Maybe" performer (she also has a writing credit on the song) is not featured in the video that made her famous in the U.S.. :( Often described as "Justin Bieber's protege." Coping admirably.
Emblematic Tweet: @carlyraejepsen: My first impression of @justinbieber: he is passionate, talented, charming and did I mention talented? He writes hits like its easy. Wow.
It's hard not to look right at you babies.