This tale begins, like so many stories about rock music, in Mississippi, at a historically black college just east of the state’s eponymous river and an hour and a half west of its capital in Jackson.
The Golden Girls, an all-female dance squad at Alcorn State University, are a fixture of the school’s football games and events such as Mardi Gras parades, where the roughly dozen or so dancers move to the sounds of a drum line and marching band playing pop songs.
In early March, a popular Instagram fan page for the Golden Girls, @_forevergolden, posted a short clip of the squad entering the college’s Jack Spinks Stadium before a game and dancing to the 1993 R&B hit “Stay.”
It was an old clip, from the team’s opening game in September, but a pseudonymous meme-maker on Twitter found the footage about a week later, layered the Fleetwood Mac song “Dreams” over the footage of the women dancing, with a jokey caption about people who say that the 1970s rock band’s music is so boring that “you can’t even dance to it.”
The “color guard” meme took off, drawing thousands of retweets and millions of views. And the video was so widely seen that it catapulted “Dreams” — more than 40 years old — into the top 20 on Billboard’s rock music chart. Streams of the former No. 1 Billboard song from June 1977 were up 24 percent to 1.9 million the last week of March, Billboard reported, in a testament to the wide reach of viral images.
Counter-memes about the dancers and Fleetwood Mac emerged. Some people complained that they could suddenly not dislodge “Dreams” from their heads. Others wondered whether Stevie Nicks, the band member who wrote the song, had seen the meme. She did not respond to a request for comment.
Elexis Wilson, the troupe’s captain, who features so prominently in the video, said in a phone interview that she was surprised that it became so popular.
“I was shocked that actually somebody watched that video,” the college senior said. She said the video was taken after Alcorn State’s first game of the season in early September, her first as the team’s lead dancer. She was nervous and hot in the sun, she said, and didn’t think much of it.
The Golden Girls are part of the school’s marching band. A 20-minute video that the short clip was apparently taken from shows the troupe dancing into the stadium, along with the school’s drum majors and marching band from the blocks outside. Wilson leads the way.
Since the video went viral, friends, family and others who are familiar with the Golden Girls have been flooding her with messages after they recognized the dancers in the meme.
“People have been emailing me and just telling me, did you know your video got 7 million likes?” Wilson said.
Andy Baio, a blogger who helped build Kickstarter, said that he took offense to the meme in a post on Twitter in late March.
“I love Fleetwood Mac, but it feels disrespectful to take video of these women, re-dub it with an all-white rock band, and turn them into a meme,” he wrote.
His opinion seemed bolstered by the fact that the Golden Girls have not received much credit or notice, despite the heaps of attention, from both Internet users and news media companies on the video. The group was never cited in the meme, though source material is rarely credited in the typically slapdash genre, leaving only the most inquisitive watchers and others in the know to figure it out. And some of the media coverage seemed to imply that the Golden Girls had actually been dancing to Fleetwood Mac.
But Wilson, 21, a sports management major who hopes to start her own dance company, said she wasn’t bothered by the meme.
“You know how the Internet is,” she said.
Mark Villasana, 19, who answered messages sent to the @bottledfleet Twitter account, described himself as a Fleetwood Mac superfan who made the mash-up to be funny. Some 6.6 million people, the last count of views on the video on his tweet, seemed to agree.
Villasana said he did not know the origin of the video initially but had since heard that it came from a university.
“Whoever she was, she was very fierce,” he said.
Marching band traditions at historically black colleges in the South are legendary, immortalized by films such as “Drumline” and the music of Southern artists such as Outkast. Some bands compete just as intensely as the sports teams they usually accompany. Wilson said the troupe practices five days a week and sometimes on Sundays.
“Band is life, so practice is every day,” she said. “You need to have the head for it.”
The team typically dances to pop hits — “Make It Funky” by will.i.am, Michael Jackson’s “Slave to the Rhythm,” Sean Paul’s “So Fine” — and Wilson, who said she’s been dancing for 16 years, said she had never danced to a Fleetwood Mac song before. But she wouldn’t rule it out.
“Music is not boring,” she said. “If you’re a true dancer you can dance to anything. A true dancer can make it work.”