Today I'm kicking off an occasional Machinist feature -- let's call it "Famous on YouTube," wherein a curious and stunned Web-addled journalist talks to the unlikely talents propelled to stardom in an age of video sharing. Today, while doing a bit of follow-up research to my post on the difficulty of finding an online clip of Britney Spears' VMA performance, I came upon something I'd be remiss not to dig into: "Leave Britney Alone!" teenager Chris Crocker's cathartic and stirring defense of the pop star from her many detractors.
I called Crocker this afternoon -- as did ABC News, MSNBC and others -- to discuss the possibilities and perils of YouTube fame, as well as the Sisyphean difficulty of his goal, getting the world to leave Britney Spears alone.
Before we get to that, I'll give you a moment, first, to watch Crocker's treatise, posted above.
Crocker, who is 19, asked me not to publish where he lives because he's been getting death threats from homophobes. (Chris Crocker is not his real name.) He was famous on YouTube even before his pro-Britney rant -- among the 66 videos he's posted since the start of the year, his "Bitch, please!" received more than a million viewers, as did "This & That," his very first video. Crocker says that "This & That" got 8 million views on MySpace, but that the count was later hacked; now the view count on Myspace is 2,394,000. In May, Crocker was the subject of a lengthy profile in the Seattle weekly the Stranger.
The Britney video is another huge hit for Crocker -- in just one day, he's received more than 2 million viewers. I spoke to Crocker on the phone this afternoon. Down below, after the interview, I've posted some of his biggest YouTube hits.
Can you tell me why you made the Britney Spears video?
I made the Britney video because I thought that Britney fans needed a voice. The cruel things that are being said about her are not acceptable. I was friends with Perez Hilton and we're not even on speaking terms now because of this. The idea of bashing someone not only on her performance but also on their weight and how they are as a parent is not acceptable so it kind of broke my heart for her.
What did you hope to accomplish with your video -- do you think that people will leave Britney alone?
No, I don't think they'll leave Britney alone, but you know it still felt good to kind of let everyone know that she does have real fans out there. I think it's important as an artist to know that you have fans that like you for real reasons, and I hope that she knows that.
Do you think that Britney Spears might see your video?
I was told she's seen it, and I know that she talks to TMZ a lot, and I was on their Web site, so ... But I don't know for sure.
In the YouTube comment thread, people are saying that you aren't really crying -- they can't see your tears. They're saying that you're just acting and that this is a way to make yourself famous. What do you think about that?
Well my channel started out as video blogging, and then it kind of turned into acting, and overall my channel is a combination of those things. This was a blog straight from the heart. As for the tears, I filmed it in front of the window, and the lighting kind of washes out your face. If you watch it in full screen, you can see my tears.
I wasn't being disingenuous in any way. And I wasn't in any way being sarcastic or cynical. I love Britney, and that can be seen in another video of mine entitled "Back up, Britney haters!" in which I have thousands of Britney magazines and memorabilia on my floor. Obviously I didn't hire someone to come over with a Britney dump and just dump it. I'm a real Britney fan.
But some of your videos are performance art?
Yes, and I can see why people would be confused. But if they do their research and watch my other videos, they'll see this is for real.
Why do you do the YouTube videos? Are you trying to break into the entertainment business?
Well, I didn't do the Britney to cross over to mass media. My very first video got 8 million views. And I don't usually do videos about celebrities -- I think it's tacky. I did this because I care about Britney and I'm a fan. But if anything, I thought it would turn off my audience because they're not used to me talking about celebrities and pop culture. I talk about everything from AIDS to pubic hair. I don't just talk about celebrities; it's kind of sad that this is my introduction to mass media.
But do you have some larger aim with these videos -- what do you hope will come of them?
I do them for the same reason people write songs. I do them for the reason people write movies. I have something to say, and whether people are receptive to it doesn't really matter. I'm speaking from my heart.
I read somewhere else that you do want to be an actor. Do you see being on YouTube as a way of getting into that?
I would be grateful and I would be happy, but I'm not betting my money on it. Me getting 8 million views on my very first video ever was a big deal to me, if not a bigger deal than being on CNN.
Were you just on CNN?
I've been on CNN, I've been on Fox News, I've been on MSNBC, the "Today" show, I think they're talking about me on "The View" tomorrow. I did "The Howard Stern Show" this morning and Ryan Seacrest. It's kind of a whirlwind tour for me. I feel like I'm getting more exposure than Britney.
Maybe people will leave Britney alone and start talking about you.
Right -- focus on me, leave Britney alone.
Did you make any money from this in any way?
Not at all.
I think it's a kind of crazy that a video can propel you into superstardom like this.
Well, you know, I'm used to it, though. I kind of said to myself, I was like, "Why now?" And then I realized, "Well, Britney's established. They have something to tie it to."
Be sure to watch these Chris Crocker hits:
Why I'm Gay
Kids SHOULD Cuss
This & That