Over the weekend, 30-year-old Ontarian Chelsea Ranger did something millions of people do every day: She sang along to a song on the car radio. Salt-N-Pepa’s “None of Your Business,” in this case.
But since her husband secretly filmed the 40-second clip and uploaded it to YouTube with the title “The cutest gangsta I know, my wife,” Ranger’s solo sing-along has been viewed a startling 3.3 million times. For perspective, that’s roughly 26 percent more people than inhabit the entire city of Toronto — where Ranger and her husband, Paulo Salomao, live.
Of course, it’s not unusual for the Internet to make celebrities of ordinary folks. (We are living in the #AlexfromTarget age.) But even by Internet standards, the virality of Ranger’s clip seems, well — undeserved. It’s just 40 seconds of a woman rapping in a car. Not even rapping a difficult song. Not even rapping particularly well! If you are a human with a smartphone, access to a motor vehicle and even semi-theatrical/performative friends, you probably have such a video yourself.
And yet, in another example of the Internet fame machine’s never-ending randomness, this particular video has been chosen for viral fame. Why?
“I think the inside view of a couple enjoying each other’s company is the main thing,” said Salomao, who’s still a little shell-shocked by the video’s success. “Maybe with so much vulgarism and people trying to gain attention online, when something true and innocent comes along, it gets the credit it deserves?”
Salomao definitely wasn’t seeking attention when he filmed his wife singing; the couple sings and goofs around a lot, he says, and they often film themselves or take photos for fun. (Incidentally, Salomao works in digital media — he’s the creative director and co-founder of the studio East End Project.) Recently, they posted two photos of their cat on reddit which racked up 60 comments. Salomao was amused enough to post this new video, too, just to see what would happen.
Within the span of a few hours, it had been viewed thousands of times on YouTube — and made the No. 2 spot on reddit’s highly trafficked front page.
“The whole ‘going viral’ felt a little scary — by scary I mean, not knowing what to do really or what’s happening or where it will lead,” Salomao said. “If you are like us, and don’t know anyone famous or don’t have any friends who have gotten so much attention like this, it can be quite surprising.”
Ranger, for her part, is largely unperturbed by her newfound Internet fame. (“She’s a very down to earth and gentle soul,” her husband says.) They have, however, been reading comments on the video, which are overwhelmingly appreciative. The comments have inspired them to think about making more short videos that “share positive simple moments in life.”
It’s a nice idea, but an inherently weird one — after all, it would require the couple to film private, ordinary moments for the purpose of sharing with millions. It’s no longer just Salomao and Ranger singing in the car; it’s Salomao, Ranger and an unseen Internet audience. In some ways, it’s a version of what the Economist once called “the people’s panopticon” — the tech-enabled possibility, or anxiety, that everything can be recorded and shared all the time. (“Our technology is stealing the romance of old conversations,” fretted Quentin Hardy in the New York Times, “that quaint notion that some things are best forgotten.”)
But personally, Salomao doesn’t see it. We’re already accustomed to recording everything, he says, even when we’re just around family and friends. And if sharing those recordings makes some commenter happy, he’s willing to go for it.
“I do agree with you that phones are everywhere and we can be exposing a lot online lately,” Salomao said. “But like in all things, if you find a good thing to say and can add a tad good into this world, wouldn’t you take a chance?”