Bad Lip Reading: An Interview With the Man Behind The Beautiful Nonsense

Herman Cain, only slightly less coherent when given the Bad Lip Reading treatment.
For several months, it's been hard to take a stroll around the internet without tripping on the Bad Lip Reading video series, which overdubs new speech onto familiar popular videos.

The results bear a superficial resemblance to the Autotune the News empire, but are much more interesting. Where Autotune the News is based on finding the music hidden within the bland pronouncements of politicians and talking heads, Bad Lip Reading dispenses with their tedious meanings altogether, tearing open a surreal hole in reality through which much stranger and more improbable things can pass. So Rebecca Black's "Friday" video is seamlessly re-imagined as a narrative about a gang fight, Mitt Romney speculates on the benefits of Madonna marrying a giant, and Rick Perry grudgingly offers to share his Kwanzaa CDs with the press corps.

Psycho Crooner: Michael Buble wants to kill a Russian Unicorn.
Watching the videos, we had a lot of questions: Who made these things? How did they get started, and what was their process?

The identity of the creator, unfortunately remains a mystery. When we spoke to him on the phone this week, he told us he doesn't want to be identified because he doesn't want the levity of the Bad Lip Reading series to impact his more serious work.

All he'll say is that he lives in Texas, is "out of college," and works primarily as a music producer, songwriter, and musician.

As for the other questions though, he had a lot to say:

Village Voice: So what's the origin story on this whole project?

Bad Lip Reading: The seed of the project was the fact that my mother, a few years ago, when she was in her 40s, suddenly lost her hearing. She suffered rapid and complete hearing loss. It was pretty traumatic -- she had been a musician. It was hard for everyone, but it was very hard for her. But she learned to read lips very quickly. It was very impressive to watch. It was remarkable how quickly she picked it up and how skilled she became at it.

And so what I started doing occasionally, as a way to sort of simulate what she was going through, or to see what her life was like. I would mute the sound on the television to see if I could do what she was doing. And I was just awful. I would see things that it definitely looked like they were saying but that they definitely could not have been saying.

Rebecca Black is a bloody-minded monster.
Those were sort of the first interactions I had with the concept, but it really started earlier this year: In march I was hired to film some talk radio hosts on air and one of the hosts, when one guy was talking, would stare at him and silently mouth words, It's hard to understand how disconcerting this was to watch. The other host was just used to it, but to us it was so strange. The guys that I was shooting with, we were all sort of mesmerized by this. So when I got the footage back to the studio and I was watching it all again, I was thinking "Maybe I can figure out what he's saying." Were they random mouth shapes? Was he speaking on topic? And so I tried to do the lip-reading thing on that, and again, the same thing happened, where I started pulling out strange word combinations. Things like "bacon hobbit," you know, weird stuff: "Poke me. Moose, I'd do it." It was making me laugh, and so I grabbed the microphone and I recorded those into the computer. And when I played it back, it looked like he was saying "Bacon hobbit." I titled the video "What He Really Said" and sent it to my friends, and it just destroyed them. They said "Do more!" So I did some more, but only of that guy, and they would only circulate between us. It was an inside joke. But that's where that started.

Right at that same time, Rebecca Black's "Friday" video came out. Like everyone else, we were bewildered by it. And it was right when I had realized that "Hey, I can do this weird thing where I look at mouths and come up with words... Does it work with songs?" So I muted her video, it looked like she was saying "gang fight." And it was just so incongruous. I love how out of synch it was. And because I'm a musician and producer, I was able to write and record an entirely new song from scratch with this new set of lyrics from her mouth-shapes. Again, I was just doing this for my friends, to make them laugh. I never thought anyone else would hear it. They encouraged me to make a YouTube channel. So I made a channel, and I named it Bad Lip Reading, and then it just kind of went crazy. In two or three weeks, it had passed a million views, and it had over 20k subscribers, which I hadn't really anticipated. And they wanted more content. So I started doing more of them.

Beyond the novelty aspect and the parlor trick aspect of it, it was interesting from the standpoint of context - how I could change the way the images onscreen were perceived dramatically by changing the audio. Even though nothing had changed on screen, what you felt about it, and the people, changed a lot. I was also fascinated by fact that they still function as pop songs, even with those ridiculous lyrics. People still want to listen to them. People are listening to these songs in their cars and when they work out, away from the computer and the visual component. So that's an interesting thing. It's interesting to me to create this little alternate universe of music videos. They're things that look and sound at first glance like they should be real things, but they're not. They're just strange things.

[After the jump, Bad Lip Reading moves from pop songs to politics]

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