You may have seen a recent viral video of a guitar-wielding woman serenading passengers on a delayed flight. Or maybe you saw a woman breaking out into song after getting stuck in an elevator full of people, and then again after getting stuck on a train.As it turns out, all of these viral videos were created by the same TikTok user: Canadian singer-songwriter Jessica Pearson. And now, she’s stuck in her own kind of algorithmic loop as she chases online fame using her own formula while dealing with abuse from trolls.
It all started when she posted a video performing for passengers on a grounded Icelandair flight. The text overlaying the video reads, “We got stranded on our plane in Iceland for 10 hours due to 115 km winds…luckily we had our instruments on the plane and decided to start a sing-a-long.” Pearson said the pilot had approached her and her bandmates and asked if they would play music for the passengers. The video racked up nearly 3 million views on TikTok alone.Pearson told Motherboard that the plane video is real—she and her bandmates were really stuck on a plane. “We actually weren’t allowed to deboard the plane because the winds were 115 kilometers an hour,” she said.Pearson described her other videos—one of Pearson serenading people while “stuck” on a train, and one in an elevator—as a form of satire. And yes, they’re staged. Even the pissed-off looks on the faces of the extras in her videos are intentional, she said. Pearson staged the elevator video at a music conference, she said, asking everyone in the elevator to appear annoyed as she strummed her guitar and sang, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”“Doing this video gave me some form of control over my own narrative, rather than trying to explain myself because no one would listen,” she said. “It was a way for me to laugh at myself.”She said she had also asked train passengers for permission before filming, and that participants were happy to be a part of it. “People who were there really did enjoy the experience and thought it was really funny,” she said.
As the plane video and subsequent satires circulated, the humorous element went over some viewers' heads, she said, prompting a slew of negative comments. The plane video circulated heavily on Twitter, drawing 13.5 million views after being posted by user @ProtonInspector with the caption, “Dear god please never let this happen to me.” The user has since taken the video down and tweeted that they regret posting it. Some TikTok users have dubbed the scenarios as “hell.” Filming yourself intentionally annoying people in an enclosed space—even if it’s for laughs, and staged—is bound to attract some haters. But some of the comments directed at her have been extreme. Pearson says she has been called a “fat cunt” and “inconsiderate cow” in response to her videos. She’s also received death threats. “People have told me that I should have jumped out of the plane,” she said.“People had assumed that I kept the plane captive for 10 hours and forced everyone to listen to the music, which was not what happened,” Pearson said.Not every response has been negative, however. “A lot of people were like, ‘OK, this is how you clap back at the haters,” she said.She said she is considering creating similar videos in the future. As an independent artist trying to cultivate a social media presence, she said there is a conflict between pushing to see how many viral videos she can generate and being perceived as inconsiderate.
“There's the business side of you that wants to take this opportunity of getting viral videos and getting known,” she said. “But I don't want to build my image to be someone that is hated.”Though responses to her videos have been particularly severe, Pearson’s dilemma is not necessarily unique at a time where viral success is much sought-after, and opaque algorithms tend to repeatedly reward certain types of content.In a well-known 2021 satire, artist and internet personality Summer Emerald (@salesforcechild) critiques this decidedly modern predicament in character as a woman whose sole purpose in life has become tending to her pet lizard’s viral Instagram. She laments between cigarette drags that she is “so fucking stressed out from running her pet Lizard’s Instagram account” and she’s “about to have a nervous breakdown.”Pearson said that her band, Jessica Pearson and the East Wind, will head back to Iceland at the end of the month to perform for Icelandair crew and passengers on a trip sponsored by the company. In the meantime, she is brainstorming ways to make her videos “even more outrageous and ridiculous” to convey their satirical nature, while contemplating whether she is willing to face another round of potential criticism.“I'd love to somehow make it something that people can not be hateful of,” she said. “I'm not quite sure how to do that yet”