Fake News? 4 Music Tales That Went Viral

viral

Monday’s report in the UK’s Daily Mail about the death of “Canadian actor" and K-Pop artist Saint Von Colucci quickly spread around the world – even though its legitimacy was just as quickly called into question. (Update: The Daily Mail pulled the story off its website on April 26.)

“My hunch is that this is all a pile of crap," tweeted Seoul-based freelance journalist Raphael Rashid. “All I see are red flags, and surely these should prompt further investigation before spreading unverified stories.”

On Monday night, iHeartRadio.ca reported on inconsistencies in the Daily Mail article and the possibility that Saint Von Colucci does not exist.

But why did so many other media outlets – including Page Six and TMZ – pick up the story? One word: Clicks.

In many newsrooms, experienced journalists have been replaced by “content producers” tasked with pumping out “clickbait” that is not checked by editors or fact-checkers. Social media, meanwhile, has conditioned many people to never read beyond the headline.

The Saint Von Colucci hoax is only the latest in a string of bogus music-related stories spread by news outlets.

In January, the media was duped by the non-existent TCMA: Trans Cultural Mindfulness Alliance, which claimed in a tweet that Aretha Franklin’s 1967 song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is offensive to trans people.

TCMA got coverage around the world when it called for the song to be removed from streaming services because it “perpetuates multiple harmful anti-trans stereotypes" and said “there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ woman” and claimed that the song “has helped inspire acts of harm against transgender women.”

“Not ONE media outlet contacted me prior to reporting this s**t,” said the person behind the bogus account, who told iHeartRadio.ca at the time it was intended as a commentary on "woke" culture and "media stupidity.”

Of course, the media doesn’t always take the bait. 

In December, the Australian social media personality Jesse Noonan posted a video on TikTok that he claimed showed him getting “Miley Cyrus” inked on his face. In late March, he reposted the video, this time with the caption “if anyone knows Miley can they please tag her please?” and a list of hashtags that included “#viral” and “#blowthisup.” 

Reached on Monday via DM, Noonan wasn’t keen to talk about his effort to go viral. “This sounds like a prank to me," he quipped.

Here’s a look at some music-related pranks and viral tales from the past few years – and the people behind them:

A 2019 headline at blogto.com

In August 2019, Drake went viral after a screenshot of a purported DM showed up on the Instagram account @drake_wedding.

“Hey Drake! My fiancé (sic) and I are getting married on September 22nd and she is your biggest fan and I wanted to surprise her,” read a message to the Toronto rapper from someone using the name Jacob Hawk. “How many likes or follows for you to perform a couple songs at our wedding. It would mean the world to us!”

According to the screenshot, Drake responded: “First off, congrats on getting married! And 1 million likes and 100,000 follows. Good luck.”

The Instagram account quickly racked up over 1.5 million “likes” and hundreds of thousands of followers – as well as plenty of skepticism.

Less than two hours after iHeartRadio.ca listed reasons "The Drake Wedding Guy” was likely a hoax, the real Drake shared a screenshot of a DM he received from the person behind it (who claimed to be a 16-year-old from San Antonio) and captioned it: "Instagram is a disturbing place.”

FLASHBACK: Drake Confirms 'The Drake Wedding' Guy Was Playing Us

As noted by iHeartRadio.ca, the Instagram account @jacobhawk22 was revised to “@couldbevinny.”

iHeartRadio.ca tracked down Vinny of Elkin, North Carolina this past weekend to talk about his moment in the viral spotlight.

“I didn’t think that it would be like viral viral, if you get what I mean,” he said. “It was kinda eye opening how fake the media can be.”

Vinny said he was 17 at the time and claimed he pulled off the prank with the help of Joe, a 16-year-old he met through Xbox. “He had control over the account and started the whole thing,” said Vinny. “He brought me on when it got like 100k likes.”

He said the fake groom-to-be’s surname was inspired by skateboard icon Tony Hawk.

Joe is now 19 and studying mechanical engineering and working in a bar. He told iHeartRadio.ca that he ended up selling the @drake_wedding account for $1,700 U.S.

“At 16 that was a lot of money to me, especially because it was all in a week,” he said via text message from a Corpus Christi, Texas number.

It wasn’t the first time Joe hatched a plan to monetize an Instagram account. “I always did them because I was pretty bored and it was a way to make money,” he admitted.

Joe said he chose the Canadian rap star because of his popularity. “I actually don’t even like Drake."

Vinny said his voice was deeper than Joe's at the time so he did an interview with Toronto radio station KISS to talk about the bogus offer by Drake to play at his wedding. But after Drake exposed the hoax, Joe did a follow-up interview and told the station: “I’m sorry to all the people who believed in it … I never expected it to blow up this big.”

Joe admitted that his apology wasn’t sincere. “It was an innocent prank so I didn’t feel much remorse,” he said, adding that he was surprised Drake called him out. “I was in Spanish class and a buddy was like ‘Yo, Drake posted you on his Story!’ and we got super excited because that’s really cool. I got a little paranoid I was going to get legally in trouble. I don’t know for what.”

Joe said he DM’ed Drake to thank him for the shoutout and got blocked.

Vinny pointed out that, In the end, no one got hurt. “The prank kind of made [Drake] look like a good guy.”

 

A 2021 headline at nypost.com

UK resident Thomas Dodd went viral in early 2021 following a Dec. 30, 2020 tweet in which he claimed that “at some point over Christmas I’ve had one too many vinos and legally changed my name to Céline Dion!”

In the midst of a pandemic, Dodd’s tale was a welcome distraction from reality. “I’m glad it’s entertaining people,” Dodd told Birmingham Live at the time. “Hopefully it will give people a laugh even if it is at my expense.”

Media outlets and talk shows around the world ran with the story. Dodd was even invited to share his tale on Ellen, where he was gifted with $10,000 U.S.

But, as iHeartRadio.ca reported, all Dodd really did was order a “deed poll” from a private company indicating that he wished to change his name to Céline Dion. The documents he received in the mail – and showed off on Twitter – did not legally change his name.

Twitter suspended Dodd’s account (@ThomasDodd1) after he changed the name on it to “Celine Dion.” According to Twitter, users are not permitted to “impersonate individuals ... in a manner that is intended to or does mislead, confuse, or deceive others.”

FLASHBACK: Did UK Man Really Change His Name To Céline Dion?

Today, Dodd is still Thomas Dodd. On a new Twitter account, he identifies himself as a “Senior Channel Marketing Manager.”

In December, he tweeted at British Gas that he was “literally living in the cold & dark!” and complained about how Norfolk Police treated him after a wrongful arrest (“I was told by a custody sergeant my mental health issues was a waste of his resources … I was 100% failed by your duty of care”).

In March 2022, Dodd got media attention in the UK for organizing “Letters of Kindness,” an initiative in which students wrote letters to people fleeing the war in Ukraine. “I’m heading over to the Ukrainian/Polish border at the end of next week to deliver the items from the collections and the letters,” he told the Daily Record. (It’s not clear if he made the trip.)

Dodd evidently didn’t take kindly to having his Céline Dion tale debunked by iHeartRadio.ca two years ago. Reached last week via Twitter, he declined to answer questions about the experience. “Make sure you let everyone know I’m in rehab and doing well,” he replied.

 

A 2020 headline at people.com

In February 2020 the world went nuts for one of two professional singers who appeared in a YouTube video from Kevin Freshwater, a self-described “social media prankster, entertainer and purveyor of comic content.”

In the video, Freshwater approached people and asked them to “finish the lyrics” to popular songs.

Stephen Barry and Charlotte Awbery were the only two who appeared while in an acoustic-friendly subway station. He belted out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and she sang “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Both appeared to be caught off guard and started singing tentatively before perfectly delivering a full verse and walking away.

It was Awbery, though, who got most of the attention. Her clip made the rounds on social media and was pounced on by media outlets and talk shows everywhere.

On social media, reactions included “this was 100% planned,” “this is scripted af” and “so so so very staged.” One person commented: “What a coincidence all the ‘good’ singers are in a metro station with good echo.”

FLASHBACK: Singers Stephen Barry, Charlotte Awbery Showcased In Viral Video

In the weeks that followed, Awbery skillfully managed to avoid directly denying that the video was staged. Appearing on Ellen, she sat silent as DeGeneres declared: “I think a lot of people think that was staged. It was not staged.”

A scheduled interview with iHeartRadio.ca was cancelled by Awbery’s publicist after it was reported here that her performance may not have been random. (Freshwater did not respond to an interview request at the time.)

Where is Awbery today? Still singing, according to her social media posts (she released a single titled “Pale Moon” in February) and still not talking about how her viral moment really happened.

Reached via email earlier this month, Barry told iHeartRadio.ca that “nothing really changed” for him after the video went viral. “Few extra social media followers,” he said. “That’s about it.”

Asked to confirm it was staged, Barry was diplomatic. “I can only speak on behalf of myself obviously. I met Kevin that same day and he asked if he could film me,” he recalled. “So apart from him asking permission there wasn’t anything staged on my end.”

 

A 2018 headline at eater.com

In 2018, many mainstream media outlets went nuts when a paparazzi-style pic of Canadian pop star Justin Bieber biting into a burrito… sideways… showed up on social media.

“Do Canadian celebs not know how to eat everyday food items properly?,” asked Vancouver’s Georgia Straight. 

“Bieber eats his burrito like a real nut,” read a piece at Vanity Fair. “Look at him. Look at him eat a burrito like he’s never seen food before.”

Even Chipotle weighed in on social media.

Conor Browne, who goes by Conor Castle on social media, posted the pic on Reddit and then did a series of media interviews to spin a tale about how he snapped Bieber in West Hollywood Park. “I never thought the photo would get this much attention! I just thought it was a funny pic,” he told Vanity Fair.

FLASHBACK: No, That Wasn't Justin Bieber Eating A Burrito

Only days later, the YouTube personalities behind Yes Theory posted a video showing how they pranked the world. 

“We wanted to prove a point – that staging a story, as goofy as it was, can be done much more easily than most people can imagine,” they explained.

The bogus Bieber was Cambridge, Ont.’s Brad Sousa. Where is he now?

According to his Instagram account, Sousa has tried to break through as a music artist since his moment in the viral spotlight. He was booked to open for Stereos on a cross-Canada tour in 2022.

His YouTube channel has nearly 93,000 subscribers and he has 157,000 followers on Instagram and more than 15,000 on Twitter.

Reached via DM by iHeartRadio.ca, Sousa declined to answer questions about the Bieber prank and referred inquires to his manager.

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