Watching one of MattyB's videos feels a little like watching Kidz Bop, or Justin Bieber's pre-fame YouTube clips. Songs you know are sanitized and made kid-friendly, with an impossibly cherubic tweenage boy front and center, belting them out. "This kid's pretty good," you might think. "Maybe he'll find an audience someday."
Then, you notice the seven- and eight-figure view counts on nearly every one of his YouTube videos. His latest upload, a cover of Chris Brown's woman-hating anthem "Loyal," has 2 million views. A version of Bieber's "Boyfriend" uploaded in 2012 has 79 million.
So who the fuck is this kid? And where did all of his fans come from? One corner of the internet, myself included, became aware of MattyB this week. The Wire points to a Vine of the Chris Brown video, which went semi-viral, was mistaken for Kidz Bop, and got several people's outrage machines going at the prospect of children singing along to a domestic abuser's song about disloyal hoes.
The song is edited considerably: "these hoes" becomes "that girl;" Brown's first verse, with its references to weed and white girls with fake titties, is rendered unrecognizably clean. The message — that some women are not to be trusted — remains essentially unchanged.
MattyB does original songs, too, but the strangest, most compelling videos on his channel are the covers. There's something surreal about the precise way he mimics each rapper's cadences and ad libs, from the iconic monologue that opens Outkast's "Sorry Ms. Jackson," to the nasal grunt that's become Jay Z's late-career trademark in "Run This Town." It's like watching the audio-animatronic robots at Disney World, only instead of hillbilly bears singing bluegrass, it's a lily-white 11-year-old doing rap hands, talking about his "baby's drama mama" and calling out the lames who hate on his social networks.
Some digging reveals MattyB was invited to perform on Dr. Phil in 2012 and The Wendy Williams Show in 2010, and his website boasts that he was selected for Billboard's Top 21 Under 21 list last year. He has 5.5 million likes on Facebook and 545,000 followers on Twitter, and soon he'll be on tour, with a show at San Diego's House of Blues next month.
Is it possible that Matty or his people did a little goosing of those numbers?According to a fake follower check, up to 12 percent of the Twitter followers are bots, and 41 percent are inactive users. The fact that Bangkok is his most engaged city on Facebook is fishy, but many of the comments on his timeline appear to be real.
He's talented, he has swoopy bangs, and clearly, there's at least one adult with a lot of money and energy to expend working with him behind the scenes. America, are we looking at our next Justin Bieber?