We’ve all been there. A joke that you casually tossed out went over like gangbusters. You didn’t think much of it at first, it really wasn’t even a fully formed idea, but now that it’s out there and doing so well, the only thing to do is ride the wave and see where it takes you.
That’s where “melodic comedy rapper” Hovey Benjamin found himself when he first shared a taste of his music video for “Sweet 16.” Built around the Hillary Duff track that served as the theme song for MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 — and documenting the struggles of an up-and-coming drug dealer as he tries to comprehend the metric system — the track is airy and funny. But that’s not what MTV or the numerous pop culture sites that got duped into thinking that Hovey’s track was a legitimate new theme song for a reboot of the beloved reality show thought.
Watching the video now, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could watch this fictional family of three hoovering drugs in an empty backyard and think it was reality. But the video didn’t exist in a vacuum when Hovey first shared it. You see, Benjamin might have made a fake press release for the song. And that release definitely directed to a fake press site. And that site might have claimed that the drug-filled song and clip were from a My Super Sweet 16 reboot.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s ask the same question that folks in the Viacom offices were no doubt asking when his teaser clip went viral: Who the hell is Hovey Benjamin?
Until recently, Benjamin was just another nameless dude working a data entry job. He says that he stumbled upon the idea of making goofy rap songs as a way to distract himself from the grind of his day-to-day work.
“I had this terrible office job and I just decided to do anything that would make myself laugh,” Benjamin said. “Anything I could do to break up the monotony of my miserable data entry job in Virginia.”
“Sweet 16” was one of the first ideas to come out of Hovey letting his mind wander away from the databases. Two or three months after he began rapping as a hobby, the sticky-sweet theme latched onto his brain and wouldn’t let go.
“Basically, I had this theme song stuck in my head for like a week,” he said. “It’s such a catchy song. It was driving me insane.”
Luckily, Benjamin knew exactly how to excise Hillary Duff’s voice from his head.
“I thought, ‘I should sample it,'” he said. “Then I thought ‘How can I make this into a song that I would find funny?’ It’s such a pretty sample, so what if I turned it into this f*cked-up nightmare about selling drugs and not understanding the metric system?'”
After the song came together, Hovey shot a music video with some of his friends on a budget of roughly zero dollars. The idea for the clip came from the same place as the song. What if someone took the conceit of My Super Sweet 16 and made it a drug-addled nightmare?
“We had no resources to make it at all. We just wanted to do something funny that told a story,” he said. “So we made this debauchery fest, just this completely messed up Sweet 16. A parent’s worst nightmare.”
The video was filmed in the backyard of “some random friend’s parents house in rural Virginia.” Given its barebones aesthetic and over-the-top drug use between children and parents, it’s easy to see how Hovey could believe that everyone would understand the clip was a joke from jump.
When news got around that MTV was casting for a reboot of the birthday reality show, he cut together a teaser trailer that he thought would be understood as a well-timed goof. To really sell the joke, Hovey’s clip went out with a fake press release that led to the super-legit-sounding website mysupersweet16trailer.com
“I wasn’t even thinking of it as a hoax,” he said. “I just thought how funny would it be if we used this like the actual footage? I didn’t think it would fool anyone. It was more like ‘How funny would it be if this were the actual show?'”
Benjamin overestimated the critical thinking skills of an internet news economy desperate to be on top of the story first. Though the press release contained a fine print notice that it was intended as parody, nobody bothered to stop and check.
Soon, the trailer was running as the real deal everywhere from Perez Hilton to Alternative Press and back again.
“My friend’s started texting me about it,” Benjamin said. “Galore had posted it like it was the real thing and they were so shocked. They thought MTV was trying too hard to be edgy, which was kind of the joke anyway.”
It wasn’t long before Viacom’s legal team got involved, sending a cease-and-desist letter that forced the removal of the trailer as well as the press website. But the internet is like the Iron Islands, what is dead may never die. And with that in mind, we’re premiering the full video for “Sweet 16.” Check it out below: