In the fall of 1996, as a high school senior at Colorado's Lakewood High School, I stripped off my shirt, donned a coconut bra and a hula skirt (for reasons that I can't remember or have perhaps willfully forgotten), and helped lead a pep rally in the school's gym. This week, pop star Katy Perry will take the stage in that same gymnasium -- likely wearing something similar -- and reward the Lakewood Tigers of 2013 for their mastery of the art of the lip dub.
So far as I -- and Wikipedia -- can tell, lip dubbing is about 6 years old, beginning with this rough video of Vimeo co-founder Jake Lodwick walking around mouthing the lyrics to a tune by Apes and Androids in 2006. Lodwick then pushed the genre further by initiating the full office lip dub meme with this take on Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" that you probably saw at some point in 2007.
By 2010, the office lip dub tradition had reached NBC's American version of the sitcom "The Office," with one episode actually starting off with the employees of Dunder Mifflin attempting their own lip dub to post online. By this time, the phenomenon had already hit college campuses, with over 170 Montreal university students taking this lip dub of The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" beyond 10 million views.
Today, that hit video looks a little sparse compared to the organized chaos that students and teachers from Lakewood managed to pull together using more than 2,000 human bodies, lots of silly string and banners, and just one practice run.
Lakewood High was selected by Perry from more than a thousand entries from schools around the country as the winner of a contest to produce the best massive group lip sync video to her song, "Roar." The winning video, embedded below, went viral long before even being selected as a finalist for the competition and features a single continuous shot that runs through the high school and appearances by the entire school body of more than 2,000 students. The grand prize will be a private performance by Perry on her birthday, this Friday, October 25, in Lakewood High's gym.
Things have changed a bit since I attended Lakewood in an era where lip dubs were still a decade away, and we were impressed by even un-animated GIFs. At that time the school was aging; enrollment was near an all-time low; and programs seemed to be getting cut all the time. It was just before the tech and real estate booms would literally bring millions of new residents and opportunities into Colorado in the span of just a few years. In the mid-1990s, Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" permeated the halls before home football games, which we usually lost.
But even then there was always a stronger supply of school spirit and optimism than cynicism and angst in the working-class neighborhood around LHS. The seeds of the turnaround had been planted even before I graduated -- a new International Baccalaureate program was challenging students and opening new doors, just as Lakewood's city center was undergoing major urban renewal.
Lesson to be learned?
Less than 15 years later, Lakewood High School had a beautiful new facility, thousands of students and was among the top-ranked high schools in the United States. They started winning football games, too. I remember an assistant coach my senior year in 1996 when we lost nine games in a row who would slap me on the back of my helmet every time he caught me hanging my head -- "Your head should never be down! Not now, not ever!" he would scream at me with an intensity that even the biggest mistake on the field couldn't provoke.
In 2011, that same coach -- this time as head coach -- would lead the Tigers to the state championship game for the first time in decades.
I could be going overboard waxing nostalgic here, but it seems to me there's some sort of lesson to be learned about persistence and hard work from my alma mater that's also hard to miss in the lip dub video for "Roar," which represents a certain kind of triumph of organization and cooperation. Did I mention that this wasn't Lakewood's first attempt at such a huge creative group endeavor? LHS actually organized another Katy Perry lip dub two years earlier, apparently just for the heck of it.
Persistence gets tigers their lunch.
Watch for yourself below and let me know in the comments if I'm just being overly biased.