a guide to forgotten internet heroes
Tell me here, where are you now that I need ya?
Image via Youtube
Picture the scene; it’s 2006, and everybody in the school canteen — for some inexplicable reason — is thumping the table and chanting about shoes, betch. Huddles of students line the corridor discussing that incredibly angry holistic vocal coach who auditioned for The X Factor last night, and the lead article in the newspaper urges pupils to leave Britney alone. It’s viral video inspired chaos.
Back then was a simpler and more democratic age where any budding comedian with a webcam, a decent catchphrase and some basic editing skills could broadcast their sketches to dial-up connected desktops all over the world. It was also a time when reality television was still in its prime and starred everyday people; the manicured, half-scripted shows we watch today didn’t exist.
With all of this opening up the playing field when it came to gaining five minutes of fame, a few pioneering heroes found their well-deserved moment in the spotlight, paving the way for ‘Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That,’ ‘David After Dentist,’ and countless other clips which hinge on personality above everything else. Here are some of the greatest internet heroes that you may have forgotten.
In a way, it’s easy to understand where Ariel Burdett was coming from when she inadvertently claimed the title of [adopt dramatic voice-over] The X Factor’s...ANGRIEST… CONTESTANT… EVER! Admit it; you’d be a little bit shirty if you’d wasted hours of your free time meticulously warming up your body, doing “quite a bit of” meditation, and composing an original piece of artwork for the judges that defies all bounds of conventional genre, song structure, or form, only to be promptly shown the door.
Then again, that’s about where the bounds of empathy expire. Ariel’s audition didn’t get off to a great start, to be honest; after peeling off her contestant number and flinging it at Dannii Minogue, she told a fairly shaken Cheryl Cole that she clearly didn’t understand the concept of rock ‘n’ roll (Girls Aloud fans may beg to differ, here). After shambling through one of the most chaotic musical mashups to grace primetime television, she then morphed into a parody version of a first year music student at Goldsmiths. “It wasn’t a song!” she told Simon Cowell. “The piece I have just performed to you is an academic construction!” Ok, hun. Ok.
Speaking to the Wakefield Express after her infamous audition, Ariel claimed that, "It was all a big wind-up. At first I went on for a bit of a giggle but then thought I could make a bit more out of it. I thought you have to be in the system to abuse it.” In hindsight, the woman’s a comedy genius.
Amy, The Indie
Moving on to a heroic individual with a razor sharp grasp of satire, Amy The Indie pissed off an entire nation of harrington jacket-wearing Libertines worshippers with her notorious appearance on the BBC’s Them project. Exploring “teen labels” around the UK circa 2008, the series also spoke to nu-ravers, moshers, and scene kids about their cultural obsessions.
Ten years on, it’s crystal clear that Amy knew exactly what she was doing when she enthusiastically bigged up the alternative credentials of Topshop and claimed “I only listen to vinyl, because it’s quirky”. Doing a spot-on imitation of a character we all know well in life -- a man who owns at least five record label tote bags, gets turned on by the smell of a freshly-fitted belt drive, and buys his distressed Sonic Youth t-shirts from Urban Outfitters -- Amy’s takedown of indie tropes was absolutely savage, and like most avant garde art, highly misunderstood at the time.
Her vocal appreciation of Razorlight, and the tongue in cheek statement that most of indie “is male-fronted” — along with a sly Ronan Keating plug! — angered certain music fans so much that they started entire threads dedicated to moaning about the video. None of the posters involved seemed to notice the profound irony when their debate about hating try-hard indie kids slipped into a heated discussion about the best brands of 120mm film cameras, either. According to various intel sources (mutuals posting in YouTube comments, a variety of ex-schoolmates/people who she was friends with on MySpace) Amy the Indie was actually created by Amy the Ingenious-Prank-Queen, and she well and truly played the hipsters at their own game.
Eleven years ago, a teenager called Chris Crocker was very upset with the media’s treatment of Britney Spears, and took to YouTube to deliver a 4-minute monologue. “How fucking dare anyone out there make fun of Britney after all she’s been through!” he said, crumbling and crying on camera. “She lost her aunt, she went through a divorce. She had two fuckin’ kids, her husband turned out to be a user, a cheater, and now she's going through a custody battle. All you people care about is… readers and making money off of her. SHE’S A HUMAN!” he roared angrily.
Back then, the platform was only a couple of years old, and his video quickly went viral. Campy and over the top, it’s hard to determine whether Crocker’s acting out an exaggerated version of his Britney fandom, or being authentic; both scenarios are equally brilliant. Crocker told Rolling Stone a decade later that Leave Britney Alone "was a slice of the real me." He added that around the time he filmed the clip, his mother had just returned from serving as a soldier in Iraq, had become addicted to meth, and had been cast out by his family as a result. Tackling the criticism around Britney Spears, he says, was a medium to say something about his mum to strangers on the internet; long before confessional vloggers were a thing. "I've always looked up to Britney, and the other woman in my life who I looked up to, my mom, was falling apart,” he said. “I didn't know how to explain that because I knew people wouldn't take me seriously."
Crocker also had another point, too. Over a decade on from this video, countless shops are still selling mugs adorned with ‘If Britney can survive 2007…’ slogans; a reductive low-blow that makes fun of a woman in the midst of a public breakdown. As we’ve seen time and time again since, the media treating mental health, addiction or instability as one big laugh can have fatal consequences. Crocker’s presentation might be melodramatic, but TBH, the content is right on.
Cody the crying 3 year old
Cody might only be three years old, but to be honest, we can all learn something from her quiet sense of confidence. Yes, she might be crying buckets over a boy — specifically, world famous Canadian pop star Justin Bieber — but it’s not because she thinks that her latest crush is unrequited. “I know he loves me back!” she grizzles through tears. Cody just loves Justin Bieber so much it’s overwhelming, she doesn’t get to see him every day (or any day, in fact), and worst of all, listening to his music won’t help! “That’ll make me cry again!” she howls. In fairness, I feel the same about my crush on Harry Styles.
If ever there was a prime example of somebody flicking a switch and veering from immense sadness to elation in a perfectly timed second, it’s Cody. Just as it seems that her tears will get the better of her, she switches effortlessly into a director’s role, and tells her mum to carry on recording. The crying resumes, the phone rings, and she freezes with surprise. “I bet that’s Justin Bieber”. The certainty in her voice, plus the comedy timing, is second to none.
In the end, Cody’s faith paid off; she ended up meeting a floppy-fringed circa 2010 Biebz on Jimmy Kimmel. Dreams really do come true.
Liam Kyle Sullivan
If Carrie Bradshaw had taken an alternative path in life, and traded in freelance journalism for ghost-writing pop songs, it’s easy to imagine her being the brains behind Shoes. A banging single with a very memorable chorus (sample lyric: “shoes…. shoes”) the song’s lead character Kelly deals with her stress in a similar way to everybody’s favorite chain-smoking sex columnist. Ie. by spending truckloads of money on designer footwear the minute she feels wronged. For whatever reason the self-directed music video also features fire dancers and an awkwardly staged pool party.
As a protagonist, Kelly (played by Liam Kyle Sullivan) is positively iconic. A fashionista’s acid trip — all wonky camera perspectives and webcam pop-art effects. Shoes is the distilled essence of 2006 encompassed in a single clip; it’s no wonder it was one of the first ever viral videos. As for the delivery itself, it’s deadpan as fuck; over the top teenage angst canned up and super-concentrated. “I was definitely inspired by Peaches,” creator Liam Kyle Sullivan told Vice ten years after first putting Shoes online. “She was huge for me, as well as Chicks On Speed. I remember hearing them and they just captured the attitude so well. They were so expressive, but not doing too much.”
Liam Kyle Sullivan was one of the first comedians to put out his material on YouTube, and the haphazard, disconnected nature of his video, along with the sophisticated stupidity of it all — let’s be real, there’s zero scene continuity — predated the arrival of countless other internet heroes after him.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.