The Grand Rapids Lip Dub: A Giant Street Party Set To Music : Monkey See More than a thousand people in Grand Rapids, Mich., turned out to participate in a massive music video to promote the town. It's gotten a million views in only a few days, and some high-profile support.
NPR logo

The Grand Rapids Lip Dub: A Giant Street Party Set To Music

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Grand Rapids Lip Dub: A Giant Street Party Set To Music

The Grand Rapids Lip Dub: A Giant Street Party Set To Music

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of song, "American Pie")

Unidentified People: (Singing) I started singing bye, bye Ms. American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry...

That's Don McLean's song "American Pie," and it figures prominently in our next story. A Michigan city is trying to put a positive spin on a negative story published by Newsweek earlier this year.

As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reports, the people of Grand Rapids have put together a remarkable music video set to "American Pie," and it's getting rave reviews.

LINDSEY SMITH: It was late in January when Newsweek published a seemingly innocuous article listing America's top ten dying cities. The list was based on total population loss and the loss of those residents younger than 18.

It's really no surprise that three of those cities were in Michigan, which was hammered hard by the recession. Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids all made the list.

So what can you do to refute that your city isn't really dying? Here's what these guys in Grand Rapids did.

Unidentified Man #1: If you're a featured extra or a featured character, stay where you are. Otherwise, I need extras in Rosa Parks Circle, thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOE PIESZ: Hi, my name's Joe Piesz.

Mr. PAUL LONGUSKI: I'm Paul Longuski. We're definitely trying to get used to how fast we have to go to keep up with the camera today.

SMITH: Joe and Paul are two of the nearly 5,000 people who took part in the Grand Rapids lip dub video. Just imagine a whole lot of people singing karaoke to the same song at the same time.

The hard part is shooting a video of them lip-syncing the song in a continuous shot: one take, no edits. It's kind of the holy grail of videos, and it's not easy.

Mr. NICK LAVEL: I'm Nick Lavel. We're all a part of the crew. And it's our job to manage and organize our separate event areas. We have a section with the fire department, a section with pillow-fighters, a section with zombie fighters. All of these different events need to be organized across Grand Rapids.

SMITH: There's also a section of the lip dub with kayakers, Nerf-gun shooters, marching bands, explosions, even a helicopter take-off.

Mayor GEORGE HEARTWELL (Grand Rapids, Michigan): My name is George Heartwell. I'm the mayor of Grand Rapids, the greatest city in the galaxy. And my roll in lip-dub is to ride in the back of this car.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Unintelligible).

Mayor HEARTWELL and Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Oh, and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space, with no time left to start again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor HEARTWELL: Fortunately this is a lip-dub, and Don Mclean will be singing it instead of us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Heartwell has been railing on Newsweek ever since it published the dying cities list. Here he is in his State of the City speech.

Mayor HEARTWELL: Just last July, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded Grand Rapids its Siemens Award for the most sustainable midsized city in America. Now, put that in your pipe, Newsweek, and smoke it.

(Soundbite of applause)

SMITH: Grand Rapids' population did decline over the past 10 years, by about two percent. But the lip dub video's director Rob Bliss says that certainly doesn't mean Grand Rapids is dying, though in making his point, he insults another Michigan city.

Mr. ROB BLISS (Community Organizer): Its culture is growing so rapidly that I think that's what just surprised people. I mean, I think Flint was like, nine or something like that. So to think we're just like a step away from Flint just I think was ridiculous.

SMITH: Bliss and his buddy Scott Erikson had to raise close to $40,000 to pull off the lip dub video. When it was released late last week, fans plastered the lip dup all over Newsweek's Facebook page.

Newsweek quickly issue a statement on their page asking people to spread the word that the magazine loves Grand Rapids, their editorial staff doesn't agree with the dying cities list, that they didn't even create it, only published it through a content-sharing deal with another website.

Considering the video has over a million views, Erikson says they don't even care Newsweek hasn't said the words we're sorry.

Don McLean is the original singer-songwriter of "American Pie." The rock-folk song topped the charts for a month in 1971. Now, 40 years later, film critic Roger Ebert is calling the Grand Rapids music video the best ever made.

For NPR News, I'm Lindsey Smith in Grand Rapids.

SIEGEL: And you can see the Grand Rapids lip dub video at

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.