Viral video has produced a great deal of entertaining mashups and memes but few actual hits or stars. Last year an attitudinal gay black man named Antoine Dodson rescued his sister from a would-be rapist in an Alabama housing project and Autotune the News morphed his snappy interview with TV station WAFF to an R. Kelly-ish hip-hop rant, the most brazen public service announcement in pop history. “Bed Intruder Song” reached #89 on the pop charts and became the most viewed YouTube video in 2010, at over 67 million hits. The video responses came swiftly, and with surprising variety: a virtuosic red-haired guy on a koto, a Norah Jones-like ballad, and the most elaborate, absurd cover version to date, the North Carolina A&T University Blue & Gold Marching Machine’s version.
The swiftness of the responses, which are still spawning—“Bed Intruder Christmas,” “Orchestra version”—seemed like evidence of the sensation’s freshness. Not since the disco days of Sylvester had gay black ghetto attitude been packaged for mainstream consumption in the music business with the notion that it might succeed, perhaps with the exception of dance crew Vogue Evolution’s turn on America’s Best Dance Crew.
Any hint of victimization or exploitation of Dodson on the part of the Gregory Brothers, who constructed the song around his soundbyte, evaporated quickly as well. First of all, Dodson was a hero—he’d defended his sister’s honor, and unlike some actual rappers, he had a right to his indignant boast. Second, he’d clearly been practicing all his life for that catchphrase-laden TV performance, though no one could have predicted its arrival. We must have missed a zillion brilliant lectures of that kind before he got Autotuned.
Dodson’s participation in the project might have been unwitting at first, but rather than getting offended or overwhelmed by his sudden notoriety, he immediately began playing the part of a star. He straightened his long hair and adopted a far more polite mien for an interview with Katie Couric. Royalties from the song made it possible for him to move his family out of the evidently dangerous area in which the incident occurred. American mythology was transformed by Dodson’s performance—the ghetto success story became a matter of using the right tone with a news crew. If only the attacker had the balls to come out with an answer record!