The maintenance worker chose a weird time to walk by.
At that moment, the Johns Hopkins University’s mascot — a furry-suited blue jay with sneakers and a big gray beak — was lying on his back on Gilman Hall’s tiled floor, encircled by surgical masks as he posed for a videographer capturing the moment from the staircase above.
It was a confusing scene to stumble upon. But if the background track had been playing — with its electronic beats and thrumming chorus of “there’s a mask on this mouth” — maybe it would have been clearer to the worker that he was walking through the set of the school’s latest public service announcement, a parody of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP.”
After the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health debuted the video on its social media accounts Tuesday, it quickly gained traction, racking up hundreds of shares, including a retweet from California’s surgeon general. The parody urges people to “Wear A mask Please” — a simple step that research has shown reduces the spread of the coronavirus.
Given the video’s goofy lyrics and dance moves, Nick Moran, the associate director for audience engagement at the Bloomberg School, said it’s probably more likely to energize folks who were already wearing masks than to change hearts and minds. But Thursday morning, he wondered whether that could change if a certain rapper gave it a platform.
“The pie-in-the-sky hope for the video, all along, was like, ‘What if Cardi B retweeted it?’ ” said Moran, who produced the video.
Then, some 10 hours later, it happened. With a “Sksksksk,” Cardi shared the video with her 15.6 million followers.
Earlier that day, Aliza Rosen — the university’s social media manager, who directed the video and wrote its lyrics — had joked that Cardi’s endorsement would mean that she’d have peaked.
Though Moran called Rosen the “mastermind” behind the parody, Rosen said that might be a bit of an exaggeration. She’s been coming up with parodies with her dad from the time she was little, writing sarcastic or silly takes on popular tunes to make people laugh. So, when she saw the letters “WAP,” she wondered whether there might be something there. Shortly thereafter, she messaged Moran with the opening verse of what would eventually become “WAmP.”
“He was like, ‘This is great,’” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘All right, that’s all I need to hear.’”
From there, she wrote out the rest of the lyrics and bounced them around to some of her colleagues, trying to make them fit the original song’s rhyme scheme and rhythm as much as possible. She also sent an Instagram message to the Mental Notes — a comedy a cappella group at Hopkins — to see whether its members would be down to record the song and appear in the video.
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When Nikki Ucheya saw the message, she sent it to the club’s group chat. The response, she recalled, came quickly.
“We were all like, ‘Hell, yeah,’ ” said Ucheya, a sophomore enrolled in Hopkins’ creative writing program.
Ultimately, six club members recorded themselves singing snippets of the song for the video. To drown out the noise coming from outside her apartment and her heater, Ucheya says, she pulled a blanket over her head. The club’s music director, Millan Patel, says he squeezed into his closet, where his clothes blocked out any competing noise.
Club members who were in the area then drove out to the university’s Homewood campus Nov. 16, where a university videographer shot them lip-syncing the lyrics and dancing with Jay.
Since the parody came out, Ucheya, Patel and others in the club have watched their friends and classmates geek out over it on social media. They say it feels like the video has brought a sense of unity to the school’s community — a rare event in a semester that’s been mostly online.
So, even though it might not convert any fervent anti-maskers, at least there’s that.
“At the very least, I hope that people who are wearing masks get a good laugh out of it because, you know, we’re living in kind of a bleak time,” said Noah Johnson, a senior computer science major who appeared in the video. “I hope that people can see that there’s still fun to be had, and they’ll smile at the video.”