Maybe it's our generation's addiction to a "look at me!" culture. Maybe it's our devotion to an ever-expanding pantheon of pop music divas. Maybe it's just YouTube.
But something has caused an unprecedented (and for that matter, unusual) slice of the American population -- including athletic teams, Marines, models, fraternity brothers, and cadets -- to join together en masse in emulating music videos by the likes of Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Ke$ha, Katy Perry, and Kylie Minogue, all with the intent of posting the evidence online for countless viewers to watch at will.
That something behind America's swelling obsession with lip-dub videos is gay men.
Long before a group of Harvard University baseball players found YouTube fame lip-syncing to Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe," gay men were uploading pop-princess parodies of their own -- albeit to the beat of a slightly more fabulous drum. As is often the case when society finally swings around to granting something collective coolness, gays got there first: Back in 2009 in a historic section of Fire Island called the Pines, eight New York City friends vacationing together broke out a Flip Cam, disco'd-up their dance moves, and transformed Miley Cyrus' summer anthem, "Party in the USA," into "Party in the FIP."
"We all loved the song and thought it would be fun to do a video to capture the essence of our summer at the beach," creator David Fudge told Aussie gay mag DNA after the video went viral in less than a week. "I've had a LOT of people that I haven't heard from in a long time -- and hundreds of people that I don't know -- reach out to me. It's strange to think that something I did as a fun project with my friends has been seen by so many people." One of those people was Miley Cyrus, who shared the sun-kissed lip-dub with the rest of her fans, tweeting, "I am OBSESSED with this video! Let's make one!" Even Disney, which could have yanked the video for copyright infringement, joined in on the fun when then-president Rich Ross personally phoned Fudge.
"I was like, who?" Fudge recalled for the The New York Times. "He just said that he loved it and wanted to tell us that. He was extremely nice."
That scenario, between groups of men and the stars they spoof, repeats itself time and again as throngs of lip-dubbers join the nation's meme-obsessed zeitgeist. "It's hysterical," explained Katy Perry in an interview with The Advocate about "California Gays," a homofied twist on 2010's "California Gurls" from budding filmmaker Ryan James Yezak. "For me, what signifies that a song works is when cheerleaders are making up cheers to it or when people are making parodies of it, putting in their own personal time and sometimes money to make a video and put it on YouTube. That's when I really know a song is going to be of some value," she said. Indeed, the value for Yezak came when he landed a job at MTV shortly after -- having left, now, two years later to pursue his proven ability for "entertaining you."
It's hardly novel for gay men to lead the charge toward popular interests and trends -- just look at the current dominance of dance music or the swelling support for President Obama's bid to regain the country's trust or the death of pleated pants. Gays, it seems, have something in common with Helen Mirren's masterful anticipator in Gosford Park: "I know it before they know it themselves."
Certainly, the range of factors influencing the queer community's manifestation of these communal diva tributes is deep and wide -- from strong bonds with female performers, to drag queen stage culture, to the high percentage of out professionals in creative and media industries. And, yes, participation in lip-dub videos reaches all segments of society (an airplane full of U.S. Olympians, for one example), not just men with particularly extroverted tendencies. Still, there has to be something to explain why America's traditional bastions of whitebread, heterosexual masculinity have usurped (though somewhat diluted) the viral YouTube habits of gay men.
Worth further eyebrow raising are the sub(or maybe not sub)conscious intentions of soldiers who film themselves covering Britney Spears and Ke$ha, Mariah Carey and Lady Gaga, when only a generation ago that same "Oorah!" enthusiasm now churning out Top 40 Spirit Spots would have crushed such obvious affronts to prevailing heteronormativity. Should we, just maybe, understand this shift in gender expression as somehow tied to the slow disarmament of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the quietly prevailing preference for marriage equality?
Maybe, if the DADT repeal is upheld and love is finally given its day in court, the gay community will have something more to thank Britney Spears for than an album or two of legitimate music and that sudden, kinetic volt one feels when it's 3 a.m, you're four drinks past caring who sees, and the DJ unleashes "Oops!... I Did It Again."