Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hello, American Pie! Why a 40-Year-Old Song Became This Weekend’s Viral Video

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen this, and if not there are very good odds someone will forward it you soon. It’s a 9-minute “lip dub” of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” a 1971 classic that’s enjoying a renaissance this weekend, via the citizenry of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It’s racked up some 700,000 views since it went up on Thursday, and lots and lots of press coverage, which means plenty more views are on the way:

Fun video, but truth be told I would have only made it halfway if I didn’t have a professional obligation to finish. So why are so many of us watching it, or part of it, now?

  • It’s fun to watch single-take shots of anything. CGI can put anything from talking dogs to Green Lantern on a screen, and we’ve seen all that, a lot. But getting a bunch of people to act in concert, for an extended period of time, doesn’t require a lot of resources–just a lot of patience. That’s pretty cool.
  • This one went up before a holiday weekend, which means there’s not a lot of news going on. But we’re still checking the Web, and Twitter, and Facebook, etc., and we need something to look at. Presto!
  • There’s a good backstory to the clip: It’s a stunt by a Grand Rapids booster in response to the city’s inclusion in a list of “America’s Dying Cities.” If you know that, the clip gets a lot better: Look at all these vibrant Midwesterners telling those media elites to shove it! (Even if the media elites say they never meant to say that, anyway.*)
  • That backstory means that the clip has a built-in fan base with incentive to promote it: The hundreds of people in the video itself, and many thousands who pushed it on Facebook, etc.
  • It’s a good song. And again, it’s a three-day weekend. We’ve got the time.

Did you know Madonna made a terrible cover of American Pie 11 years ago? Me neither. But that’s sort of what Wikipedia is for.

*’s staff passes the buck twice on this one. The site says it wasn’t their list to begin with, but one it picked up from, a unit of And that in any case, the people who work at now didn’t run it–their predecessors did. “It uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn’t endorse and wouldn’t have employed. It certainly doesn’t reflect our view of Grand Rapids.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik