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Boys who Lip-Sync on YouTube

Tue 23 Jan 2007 In: Television View at NDHA

"Haha," reads the description, "me and chris got a little bored today so we thought we would make a classic video!" And 18 year old Jake Walmsley and Chris Green from the UK city of Derby did just that. They posted their lip-synced version of Moldovan boy-band O-Zone's 2004 Euro-hit 'Dragostea din tei' (also known as 'Numa Numa') on YouTube and at least 125,000 viewings later the video is currently ranking amongst YouTube's most watched. Not that it was the gay-playing but straight-defined teens ('PS: We're not gay') first taste of Internet fame. They'd already gone global with more than 1.5 million viewings of their lip-synced 'Barbie' and 'Gay Barbie' songs. And they'd even been photographed and interviewed by international style-guide I-D magazine for a feature story on boys who act gay but who are really straight. For the dedicated follower of the duo there were numerous other lip-synced videos plus 'The Making Of…', plus background on Jake and Chris available. There were Jake and Chris topless in 'Mortal Kombat'. And they'd spawned a host of imitators. But it is their lipsyncing of 'Numa Numa' that achieves a level of greatness that Jake and Chris' previous productions strove towards but never quite reached. The song itself is almost a joke. It is one of those gimmick songs (a quirky Moldovan boyband, singing in Moldovan?) that seems destined for temporary fame and then a life of remainder bins. However the song, despite itself, has an irresistibly catchiness and it spent two years bubbling up and down on the European charts, reaching number 3 in the UK and number 1 on Eurochart. British-born Jake and Chris, seated in front of their webcam, perfectly lipsyncing in Moldavian is an achievement in itself. They've also choreographed the to-and fro of the lyrics and their own moves. Handsome Jake does the deep-voiced lead. Quirky Chris does the falsetto. They both work the webcam. It's not just a recording device, it's the focus of their attention. It helps that Jake is very easy on the eye in a youthful Belami sort of way and Chris has his own appeal. It helps that the camera loves Jake and Jake, in his turn loves the camera. After the experiments of their other videos, they've got the lighting just right and the matching white T-shirts just enhance the general effect. But possibly the greatest thing about Jake and Chris' classic video is that it captures the moment perfectly. While practice has made them near-professional, the immediacy of reality keeps on intruding. There are fits of the giggles. There is their own amusement of being able to watch themselves on simultaneous play-back. There is the absurdity of the Moldovan lyrics, the song itself…and them doing it. Then there is also that indefinable X-factor. There is the duo's sheer exuberance which all the resources of a video-production house could never recreate if it was not there. The moment they swing into the final chorus is one of the video's transcendent moments. It's also Jake hanging on the edge of laughter. It's Chris' serious rendition of the some of the bizarre lyric-swings. And, of course, there is that physical awareness of each other and an obvious shared chemistry that gives Jake and Chris' 'Numa Numa' something more than meets the eye. They are really working within a now well-defined genre - a Youtube video of two boys on webcam lip-syncing to a song into which they've put in serious work. The genre has produced hundreds of Youtube contributions. The genre is also, to be frank, 'gay'. The boy-duo videos seem to have to have a gay subtext to really push them up there in those carefully measured Youtube stats. Without it, you're just a non-watched video. 'Two Chinese Boys' were the first Youtube boy-duo to go global. In fact they were part of Youtube's rise to success and that billion dollar sell-out to Google. 'Two Chinese Boys' video of a Back Street Boys track, 'I Want It That Way', complete with a very gay end-blooper edit, was uploaded to YouTube when YouTube was still in its Beta-version, prior to official launch. 'Two Chinese Boys' were Wei Wei (the 'big one') and Huang Yi Xing ('the 'little one') and they were sculpture majors at Guangzhou Arts Institute. Within weeks of upload, the video was featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the USA, the duo had gained Motorola sponsorship (note the use of mobile phones in their later videos), and had become spokespeople for, China's largest internet portal. They took both Youtube and themselves to the notice of millions of people. They made the power of the internet real and they were the real proof you could take your talents to a global audience, even from a crowded student dormitory in Guangzhou. As long as you had the concept, the execution, and you got it out there, it seemed there was no limit to what you could achieve. Practically speaking, 'Two Chinese Boys' created the 'lip-syncing boys' video genre and the styles that a year later, in the UK, Jake and Chris have so successfully used. There were the matching t-shirts and the use of a static webcam. There was the fact the whole performance was done seated in front of a computer. There was the exuberant lipsyncing to a circumstantially absurd song, putting their heart and soul into the production. 'Two Chinese Boys' doubled the stakes by their use of a background fellow-student, with his back to the cam, ostensibly playing 'Counterstrike' and apparently ignoring the mayhem happening across the other side of the narrow Chinese dormitory. Then there was the plaster cast on Huang Yi Xing's arm in some of the early videos. There were interruptions. It was all very human. They also very successfully exploited the lo-rez qualities of YouTube with their colour-choices and the side-to-side motion which is so vivid on computer screens. It was design and choreography for the PC And there was that sense of gay chemistry in evidence in the interaction between Wei Wei and Huang Yi Xing that was a definite part of their appeal. It was even more obvious in some of their later tracks, like 'Bu De Bu'. There was their butch and femme qualities. There was the ease of physical contact. There was a whole air of flirtation. And they weren't afraid, just like Jake and Chris, to lipsync to singers of the opposite gender. In an age when immediacy is everything, 'Lip-Syncing Boys' as a genre seems to be here for a while. It's always fun to be present when a new cultural style is created. Then there is that ongoing sense of delight in the variations each new star can place on the genre-conventions. These videos have a cross-over audience, as evidenced by the variety of comment on the Youtube boards, but the gay sub-texts, physical interactions, and intimacy are a large component of their success. Just as drag elevated lipsyncing to a gay art, these boy-duos have taken it even further out there but with the qualification that they are 'straight does gay' - or are they really? The line between straight and gay is very effectively straddled. And the question 'are they or aren't they?' is an intrinsic part of the appeal. So the pleasure in watching these 'Lip-Syncing Boys' videos, while we are experiencing the technological thrill of observation and delight in a practiced performance being presented with very real human flaws, is also because we are witnessing the birth of a new type of gay genre, one that isn't just buried in the gay world but which has a universal audience. Watch Again? Sure will. David Herkt - 23rd January 2007    

Credit: David Herkt

First published: Tuesday, 23rd January 2007 - 12:00pm

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