The Flagpole Sitta Lip Dub Turns 10

Ten years ago today, Amanda Lynn Ferri posted this video on Vimeo, launching the budding “lip dub” meme into the mainstream, and inadvertently creating the best recruiting video in startup history.

I vividly remember watching this video from my cubicle at Yahoo, desperately wanting to drop everything and go work with this bunch of young, goofy kids making shit in New York. Judging from the comments, I wasn’t the only one.

Five months earlier, Jakob Lodwick coined the term “lip dub” in a video he posted on Vimeo, the company he co-founded in 2004.

“I walked around with a song playing in my headphones, and recorded myself singing. When I got home I opened it in iMovie and added an MP3 of the actual song, and synchronized it with my video. Is there a name for this? If not, I suggest ‘lip dubbing’.”

Jake posted dozens of lip dubs in the following few months, and the meme spread to other Vimeo employees, and then to everyone at parent company Connected Ventures (and their subsidiaries College Humor and Busted Tees), and then to friends and fans of everyone working there.

At first, the lip dub was a solo activity.

People have lip-synched to music for decades, but the lip dub was something different: it was a performance in public, where only you heard the music. Start a song on your iPod, record yourself lip synching the song, preferably in a public place, and then post a video dubbed the original MP3. It blurred the lines between public and private.

The Flagpole Sitta lip dub subverted the conventions of the meme.

When the video starts, Amanda Lynn Ferri mimes pushing “play” on her iPod, earbuds in place, and it seems she’s the only one in the office that hears the song.

Until the chorus, when Chris Collins and future Muxtape creator Justin Ouellette turn around in their office chairs and sing the background vocals, and it keeps escalating, until the entire office is dancing in a frenzy and collapses into a pile, and you realized you were watching something totally new.

To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Flagpole Sitta lip dub, Jon Feldman posted a “making of” video, showing behind-the-scenes footage of Jakob Lodwick directing everyone in the office.

Watching the original lip dub video again ten years later, it’s striking just how similar everyone looks. The team looks almost uniformly white and in their mid-20s. I’d like to think that diversity efforts have reshaped tech startups a decade later, especially in New York City, but I’m not too sure. This is the default of a group of young college students hiring all their friends.

One other interesting footnote: After the explosion of the lip dub meme, a consortium of record labels tried to sue Vimeo for copyright infringement, complicated by the Flagpole Sitta video and others like it created by Vimeo employees on company time. Vimeo ended up prevailing under the safe harbor provision of the DMCA.

After that, the lip dub wasn’t something made alone—it was done in groups, the bigger the better.

Startups competed to make the biggest and strangest office lip dubs, and soon high schools and universities followed with hundreds or thousands of students following cameras in endless tracking shots spanning whole campuses in the university lib dub. Eventually, city tourism boards allocated marketing budgets—the current world record is 9,300 in a video for Lindsay, Ontario.

People proposed in lip dubs, and then made wedding lip dubs. Lips dubs appeared on The Office. The Simpsons, and Girls. (Thanks to Jake for those links.)

New lip dubs are uploaded to YouTube every day, a truly global meme. They seem particularly popular for Indian wedding videos, at the moment.

If there’s one thing all lip dubs seem to share, it’s a sense of infectious enthusiasm—the intersection of collaboration, an exhibitionist love of music, and the feeling like you’re participating in something bigger than yourself.