It was the American developer and one of the “the fathers of the Internet,” Vint Cerf, who first referred to the world wide web as a mirror. He argued that the great technological invention is merely “a reflection of our society,” and that if we don’t like what we see online, the only real option is to change ourselves.
Well, if the Internet is in fact a mirror, then Lubalin Vibe Emporium is the guy who drew a cartoon mustache in the middle of it. Honestly, it looks good on you...real sexy Zoro vibes.
In December of 2020, the 31-year-old Montreal musician and creator exploded onto the TikTok scene with “Internet Drama PT 1,” a hilarious interpretation of some low-key friction in the comments section of a Facebook Marketplace post.
The post quickly went viral and, in doing so, crowned its creator as the unofficial composer of the Internet’s comments sections. With no shortage of inspiration on the smudged and cracked mirror that is the Internet, Lubalin went to work trying to replicate the post’s success. The resulting video would lead to one of the greatest clapback lines of 2021: “keep my name out your thin mouth.”
Today, with a TikTok following of 3.1M and a YouTube sub list of over 100,000, Lubalin is finding new successes and challenges in his career as a musician and entertainer, including with “not-so-funny” original tracks. His newest such song and video, “double helix,” part of the upcoming EP, is out today.
We linked up with Lubalin for a conversation about making ends meet as a corporate musician, how he selects the best Internet beefs, and more.
Where’d you come up from? And how’d you get into music?
I’m originally from Ottawa and moved to Montreal something like eight years ago… I’ve always been making music. It’s kind of a recurring theme. I get really obsessed with a lot of different projects and hobbies… I kind of pick a thing and deep dive in and you can’t really get me to do anything else for better or worse during that period of time.
I started rapping when I was 12. I saw Eminem on MTV and thought, “oh, I could do that maybe.” And then I needed beats, so I started getting beats from this website called Sound Click. Then I was like, “these beats are kind of whatever, I feel like I could do better ones.” I couldn’t… that was a good thing cause it made me download FL Studios. Things evolved from there.
I found other people who like making music… we made a lot of music together and it evolved to the point where more recently in the last few years I was doing music for corporate videos and ads… finally figuring out how to make money out of it. And then I made a couple of TikToks. Now it’s like a whole different ball game.
What was your first TikTok video?
My very first TikTok is from way before I was trying to crack it, where I was dipping my toes…. I think more than a year ago. It was just me in the hallway flicking the lightswitches of opposite rooms cause my arms are really long… with the music from X-Files playing. It didn’t do very well. I think it got a couple of hundred views.
Are you still doing corporate stuff?
It’s more brand deals, some other little things that aren’t public-facing but are still asked on the fact that I’m TikTok famous. The money around that is way more interesting than the money around anything that doesn’t relate to me being famous… So I’m just taking advantage of that. TikTok does throw a lot of work my way, so that’s pretty cool.
How do you feel about the word influencer?
I guess because the word is embedded in our language now, I really don’t think about it at all. It’s like, that’s cheese, this is a door, and I’m an influencer.
It’s a cool position to be in. I’m also constantly flip-flopping between being stoked and worried about keeping it up. You know that on some level, the thing that gets you to one place is not necessarily going to carry you to the next. At some point it’s going to run out of steam. I don’t know how many of these I can make before people are like, “Alright, I think we get it.”
Do you feel pressure to keep being ‘that funny TikTok guy’?
You can’t just do anything forever… what people want from you is pretty specific. It does feel like there’s only so far I can stray in terms of keeping the momentum. I can slow the momentum down and put this into cruise mode and be probably comfortable, but I do feel pressure to keep going.
“So much dumb stuff does blow up on TikTok for good or bad reasons. I think you have to understand that just because something is great, doesn’t mean it’ll work on TikTok, and just because something works on TikTok, doesn’t mean it’s great.”
Where do you find your beef? Where does the drama come from?
My partner and I will sit down together for two, two-and-a-half hours and we will scour the internet… taking different stabs at different subreddits and Buzzfeed listicles. Part of the formula from me was let’s make sure the internet already thinks it’s funny and that way I don’t have to worry about whether it’s my weird sense of humour… I know it’ll connect with at least some people on just the content. Then we’ll put our layer of stuff on top of it.
To me, it’s always built on something proven. TikTok is already kind of like, “Let’s hop on this trend.” Someone starts something, people connect with it and then we build on top of that and often by the time it reaches you, it’s seven layers deep of things built on things, like that dance move came from there, this sound came from that.
Are people often suggesting beefs?
Yeah, it’s a constant flow in my DMs, which I don’t really look at that much… every now and then I’m like let’s see what’s in here. There’s some really nice messages. Sometimes [the drama is] really good and usually if it is, a lot of people have sent it to me. Other times it’s people’s personal convo screenshots.
I definitely appreciate the crowdsourcing of content, but so far I dont think there’s anything that’s come through that I have used. But that’s also because I’m very picky. Not only does the internet have to find it funny, but I have to find it very funny. There’s that Venn diagram… it has to work as a song, fit inside 60 seconds… there are so many factors.
So once you’ve found the drama, are you building custom music to fit the feel of the piece?
I’m always starting from scratch. I usually fire up a piano patch… it’s the easiest thing to compose and get a chord structure out. I start playing different chords and trying to sing. Usually I’m trying to pick a part of it that I think will be really important to get, like a punchline, or I’m starting at the start, sometimes that’s easier. I’m just trying to make myself laugh with the melody.
If I can sing it in a way that makes me laugh in that moment then I know I’m onto something, so I’ll put that down and then loop out a chord progression. Sometimes the chords will change at certain parts. [I] just flesh out the rest of the top line from there… work backwards from whatever part I figured out.
Contrary to the rest of my work in music, I think every single one so far has been a one-shot thing. Once I found that first initial idea and built out from there, usually I have to start things over and try different angles. So far every time it just clicks. I think part of that is I have no concerns about sounding original or worried about, “Oh, is that special enough?” Already the content is so funny that the more I sound like something that already exists, the better almost. I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring that fearlessness over to my actual music.
Do you have any idols in this genre of musical comedy?
There are definitely some greats that we’re standing on the shoulders of. Even if we go back to Weird Al and then I’m thinking of the Lonely Island… were huge. Flight of the Conchords… brilliant. [They] surely influenced me cause we were super into Flight of the Conchords back in those days. Bill Wurtz is a genius. Jack Stauber also is in that realm of just brilliantly strange.
I realized after I did it, how many of these kinds of artists that I’ve enjoyed over the years. I wasn’t thinking of them when I was making the first one, but they were for sure there.
What can you tell me about your new release?
It’s a song called “double helix,” which we shot the video for recently. It was like a one-shot thing with Congo Blue Productions. He does crazy lighting setups for shows and music videos. We had smoke and lights… it was really cool.
What advice do you have for all the kids out there trying to get TikTok famous at the moment?
I think part of what happens when you look at TikTok as a means of promoting your music, you kind of go like… you have to do something stupid or do not what you like doing. So much dumb stuff does blow up on TikTok for good or bad reasons. I think you have to understand that just because something is great, doesn’t mean it’ll work on TikTok, and just because something works on TikTok, doesn’t mean it’s great. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have both. It’s just a much finer line… it’s that overlap between the two, and that’s what you have to find.
Any secret sauce?
Who fucking really knows but this is my theory on it. Find something that you think will work with the algorithm, which means it’s got that hook at the beginning, which doesn’t have to be crazy. Sometimes it’s just the camera zooming in… that cinematic language that holds their attention long enough for you to get to the meat. Then if you have something good there that’ll hold them there through to the end, because it’s all about watch time on this platform… at least the way I understand it.
So if you can do all of that and you’re proud of what you made… you put your talent and your skills into it… I think that’s where the money is. If you just do some goofy shit that doesn’t relate to your skills, it’s going to be hard to get people to cross over. And if you’re really talented, but you’re not getting that structure right… the audience is fickle on TikTok. The friction for skipping your video is way too low, but the flip of it is, TikTok is amazing because you get to put that first few seconds in their faces. On YouTube, you got to get them with the thumbnail and the caption… get good at writing clickbait. TikTok is that one… you have that opportunity.