Pop stars, be warned: Bart Baker is coming for you.
With more than a million subscribers and nearly 500 million views, YouTube's resident king of parodies is an audacious viral sensation. With a "take no prisoners" attitude, Baker has crafted some spot-on musical roasts of such current chart-toppers as Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, and One Direction. Never one to spare the artist's feelings, Baker's razor-sharp wit has been both celebrated and vilified in equal measure, and it's clear the young star loves every second.
Although Baker's videos have been featured numerous times on The Huffington Post, the artist hasn't had an opportunity to sit down and talk one-on-one with me until now. I managed to catch Bart on break during his busy schedule to discuss his humble beginnings in his parent's backyard, what it takes to recreate some of pop music's most current videos, and why he just can't stop dressing up like women.
Ladies and gentleman, Bart Baker.
Let's talk beginnings. Your videos are very elaborate productions now, but I know from prior conversation that you pretty much started making videos in your parent's backyard. How did this all begin? What prompted you to start making that first video?
I went to film school at the University of Miami in Florida, and I wanted to do something that had to do with video or film, I just didn't know what. When I got out of college, my parents were like, "You need to go get a job or an internship, or something." That sounded as boring as hell. I didn't want to work for anyone." (laughs) I was inspired because I saw Lonely Island, and they were killing it on YouTube, and I thought, "That's really cool. This music thing... it works." So, I started doing videos in the backyard on green screen, which cost nothing. It's all digital, and if you're a good editor, you can make that look good.
The first video I did was called "Look Into My Eyes While I Masturbate," and it was the story of these dudes in outer space who had to jerk off because all the girls were robots. It got a 100,000 views, and back then that was like 10 million in my eyes. That encouraged me, and that's why I decided to keep doing videos. I thought it was really cool.
You started with original songs, what made you decide to transition to the world of parodies?
The second video I did was a parody. It was clear that there was much more traction with parodies. The search-ability on YouTube was much higher. If people were looking for the original, they'd also find the parody and watch both. It was a no-brainer. I figured if I could do it right, my videos could do amazingly well. I think if you find something that works, you need to stick with it, because people want to subscribe to a channel they know has a certain programming structure. Mine is parody videos, and people love that.
A hallmark of your parodies tends to be criticism of the original artist. I'm curious, are these loving tributes? Or is part of your work taking celebrities down a peg?
Honestly, the stuff I say, whether it's negative or rude, can piss people off. And, it does. It pisses artists' fans off, for sure. But, I actually like the songs I parody. I wouldn't be able to stand it, listening to the song a 100,000 times in a row, if I didn't actually like the track. A lot of these artists that I'm making fun of/portraying, I actually like their music. You just can't be nice in a parody. I don't want to be mean and make them feel bad, but I want to make people laugh... and that's the best way to do it.
You've seen strong reactions from fans, but have you ever gotten a reaction from one of the music artists themselves?
A long time ago, before I started doing real parodies, I wouldn't make fun of the artist, so much as just do weird versions of their songs. Which, I think the real artists liked much more. I did this "California Gurls" parody that was full of 90-year-old men performing the song. It was pretty messed up. Perez Hilton picked it up and posted it on his site, which caused Katy Perry to see the video. She tweeted it, which was great. But, you know, her tweet was only the link to the video, with one word: "Disturbing." (laughs) I mean, I don't blame her. It's a 90-year-old dude dressed as her!
Let's talk about the first viral video. What was the moment that you knew this was more than you just making videos in the backyard? When did you say, "Oh my god, this is going to be huge?"
Actually, the "California Gurls" parody was really huge. It was the first one I ever did that got a million views in a short amount of time. But, I still wasn't monetizing anything at that point, so I wasn't actually sure if I could make it into a career. Then, I did this parody of "Friday" by Rebecca Black, and for some reason that's the first one I monetized. It got over a million views in a week, which was really fast for me back then. I thought, "Wow, I can make money to essentially party and make videos. This is a sick concept... I want to do this full time."
What's your process like? Your videos have really high production value, so what goes into making a Bart Baker parody these days?
It starts with seeing what's the most popular music video at the moment. After that, we sit down with the production team and say, "Can we build this set? Can we do this? Can we do that?" We look at costumes, everything. I have great people who figure it out. I would have no idea how to do something like building a wrecking ball that hangs from the ceiling myself. *Laughs* After that, I write the whole thing, which takes a while. I have to research these people. It's like I'm doing a college paper on Lady Gaga. After the research, I record the song at a studio. Then, we'll cast the video, if we need to, and we shoot the thing. I usually edit the video in two days, which means not a lot of sleep, and I have them posted by the Saturday of the week we shot the video. Saturday's always my upload day.
Speaking of Lady Gaga, you're becoming disturbingly good at portraying women. How is the whole drag process for you?
I wish there were more pop stars on the charts. I'm telling you right now. I'm getting sick of playing a woman every video, but they are owning the charts, and there isn't anyone else to do. But, I'm pretty comfortable doing it at this point. Also, the subscribers seem to like it a lot. It's still kind of out of the ordinary, so people find it funny. But, I do wish there were more Justin Bieber or Robin Thicke songs to mess with, because I'm getting sick of fake boobs all the time.
You've made a lot of videos, and your parodies have run the gamut, but if you had to pick one and put it in a time capsule for future generations, which is your favorite?
This is tough. If I had to pick, I really like the "Blurred Lines" video. That's one of my favorites. It's between that and my Austin Mahone parody. It's funny, because he's less known, but I just love that video, because the creative aspect was hilarious to me. It comes down to the writing. If it's a super creative plot, it will really sell the video. That's why I really like "Blurred Lines," because there's a twist at the end where he wakes up next to this old guy, which implies something naughty. So, yeah, it's between that and the Austin Mahone video, for sure.
Final question: What's next? Is there someone you've yet to parody that you'd really love to do?
Yes! There are a couple people that I want to do, because they really piss me off. (Laughs) Definitely Pitbull. I mean, he's killin' it, but every single song is the same thing, you know what I mean? There's so much to rip on him about. I think he's got a video with Ke$ha coming out in a few weeks, so I'm definitely doing that one. Oh, and Kanye West, bro. I mean, come on.
Check out Bart Baker's latest, NSFW parody of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball":