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.