From the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings
Andrew Cohen sat near the window of a south Vancouver coffee house, scribbling notes on flashcards to study for an urban geography mid-term. The fourth-year University of British Columbia student grew restive, so, naturally, he took to watching YouTube videos.
Before long, he came upon a video made by students at the University of Victoria. It was a so-called lip dub, a style of video in which students dance and mouth the words to a popular song in an enthusiastic show of school pride. Cohen put his books away within seconds.
“I stopped studying,” recalls Cohen more than a year later. Now 22 and done school, what he saw that day inspired him to become a filmmaker in Vancouver. “That totally changed my life.” He immediately started planning his own lip dub for UBC.
Student-made videos focusing on university life and school spirit have been popping up at campuses all across the country. In September 2009, students at Universite? du Que?bec a? Montre?al caught the attention of U.S. networks with their lip dub of Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling, which has since racked up more than 10 million YouTube views. In 2010, Yale put out a cheesy, Broadway-style song-and-dance video called That’s Why I Chose Yale that set a new standard for production value and grandiosity. Since then, students at other Canadian universities have put out heavily choreographed lip dub videos of their own, while schools like the University of Delaware, with Delaware: The Musical, have tried to match Yale in Disney-esque fervour.
But aside from fostering a friendly race for enthusiasm and hilarity, student-made school- spirit videos are positioned to be effective university recruitment tools. “The university itself could never pull off something like this,” says
Louise Cowin, vice-president of students at UBC, speaking of Cohen’s own lip dub video, which involved about 1,000 students, a heli- copter and six months of arduous planning. “I think this really was successful and relayed the authentic message in the student voice, because it was organized from start to finish by students, for students.”
UBC donated about $7,000 to the production of Cohen’s lip dub. At a total cost of more than $10,000—which went towards the music rights for Pink’s Raise Your Glass and Celebrity Status by Marianas Trench, equipment rentals and production-day pizza for hundreds of student performers—it is one of the most ambitious lip dubs to come out of Canada. Since its release last April, it has racked up more than 1.8 million hits on YouTube.
“I’m so unbelievably proud of this video and the response it got,” says Cohen, who’s received emails from viewers all over the world, some expressing a desire to attend the Vancouver school. “There are seven-year-old girls in New Jersey that now want to go to UBC,” he laughs.
But with the ability to make enthusiastic videos about university comes the potential for less obviously effusive reflections. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., the school’s sketch comedy group, Queen’s Players, made a satirical video last October called I Go to Queen’s, which poked fun at the institution’s stereotypical reputation for upper-class snootiness and lack of diversity, and its quality of education. “Here, we cram you into a lecture hall with, like, 1,000 other people,” quips one of the video’s actors. “You want to learn something in your lectures? Go to Everest or something.”
Daniel Gold, the fourth-year film student who directed the video, says the university’s administration posted on Twitter that it had nothing to do with the production, and asked him to remove the Queen’s logo from the clip on YouTube. “I think they just wanted to diffuse [controversy] as quickly as possible,” says Gold.
For Gold, making videos at school isn’t about rubbing the administration the wrong way; it’s about spreading positivity (even through slightly uncomfortable jokes). Cohen couldn’t agree more.
When he debuted the UBC lip dub video at a party in downtown Vancouver’s Robson Square last year, Cohen says he felt like a rock star. “It kind of felt like there’s soda beneath your skin, and it’s bubbling and fizzing,” he says. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”