Classical crossover singer Chris Mann is a showbiz veteran who has experienced multiple career highs and lows: He’s had a couple failed record label deals, his own PBS holiday special, and the title role in Phantom of the Opera, and he’s probably best known as a top four finalist from The Voice Season 2. “We're just going to cut to the chase here. The music industry is a horrible place. The end,” he chuckles. “This is called the nine lives of the entertainment business — and we're on number nine, I'm pretty sure.”
But no one, especially Mann, could have predicted how his “ninth life” would pan out. “Have I attempted a 20-year career as a legitimate artist? Yes. Did I set out to become viral-famous for singing into toilet paper? Well, no,” he laughingly tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume.
It all started about a month ago, when society went into shutdown mode and Mann’s upcoming concerts were canceled one by one. “It became, ‘Oh wait, my entire livelihood is based around crowds.’ I never even thought of it that way before,” he muses. It was in this panicked mindset that Mann “went to do that first grocery store run, where we all spent 400 bucks and bought everything we could, and I couldn't get a goddamn parking space, I was afraid, I wasn't used to the masks, I had gloves on, and I was so just uncomfortable with the whole thing.”
That night, after he unpacked his groceries and put his toddler son to bed, Mann decompressed by writing a spoof lyric to the Knack’s new wave hit “My Sharona,” now retitled “My Corona.” And the rest was history.
“I don't know why I did it. I recorded it in GarageBand, recorded a video in one take on my iPhone using props that we just had lying around… I literally grabbed the basketball because the NCAA had just been canceled, and I grabbed the wipes and I grabbed the empty toilet paper rolls that were right there. And I put it up online, like I've done countless other times before [with other music videos]. And I walked away.
“Four days later, I had 20 million views. I was looking at [the numbers], like, ‘What in the actual f*** is going on? Is this happening?’ This had never happened before.”
As of this writing, “My Corona” has 22 million views on Facebook and more than 6 million on YouTube; its popularity no doubt has something to do with that catchy “I need toilet paper, toilet paper, toilet paper” refrain, which Mann, who used to dub in vocals for the Warblers on Glee, credits to his a cappella days. “I think that the reason my version went to the top is because I put something over that bassline which is such an iconic hook. I couldn't leave it alone,” he laughs. “Just all of these lyrics are coming quite easily for me. I'm not overthinking it. So, ‘I need toilet paper’ — I don't know, it rolls right off the tongue.”
Mann has since become sort of the “Weird Al” Yankovic of the coronavirus age, following up “My Corona” with such sheltering-in-place anthems as the “Vogue” parody “Stay Home” (which he filmed against a Delta flight blanket taped to his bathroom wall), the Lizzo spoof “Bored As Hell,” and a remake of Adele’s “Hello” retitled “Hello (From the Inside).” The latter is closing in on “My Corona’s” success, with 11 million YouTube views and about 10 million on Facebook.
“I didn't see that one coming. This one for sure is the biggest globally,” Mann says of his Adele parody. “But I had just done the two uptempos, and I had a thought that since I am actually a singer, and that is what I do, it was time for a ballad.
“But really, I just wanted to go out to eat, and that's pretty much where this entire song came from. I was like, ‘I'm really tired.’ Like, it was fun for a minute, this whole ‘let's cook!’ thing, but then I was just, ‘I don't want to. I really want someone else to make me something that they put their hands all over, and then I'm going to put that in my mouth.’ And so that's where this song came from. It went to the bottom of the nastiest [foods] I want, which is queso dip from Chili's that has brown speckles in it that are apparently meat. I wanted that so bad. And so, I sang about that to Adele's heartbreaking melody.”
Mann’s brand-new video is “Daycare Closed,” an “Old Town Road” parody about the perils of homeschooling. “This one goes out to everyone parenting in quarantine. It's time to acknowledge and address the s***show that is what we're going through. So maybe moms and dads, while they’re day-drinking, can jam out.” He’s also toying with the idea of spoofing a song he once performed on The Voice, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” or reworking Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” as another grocery-run anthem. (Sample lyric: “Take what's left, take what's left/Everything that's left on the shelf, take what's left.”)
But he’s also recorded a serious version of Alanis Morissette’s “Thank U” dedicated to healthcare workers and first responders, and he stresses that any proceeds he might make from his viral videos will go to charitable causes. “I'm not being an a**hole who's trying to make out with this crazy success during a horrible time,” he says.
And that brings us to the obvious question: How has Mann managed to strike the perfect balance of providing much-needed comedy during a dark time, without being tone-deaf or offensive?
“I think part of it just comes from who I am — like, I take this seriously too,” he says. “We've been quarantined ourselves. We're not thinking this isn't real or anything like that. So that is probably the core. And then I also have friends who are working in hospitals right now who I've spoken to personally, who I know are tired, who don't have the right equipment. Some of them who sent me videos of them in the hospital for the ‘Thank U’ video. So I'm fully aware and taking this seriously… but secondly, the rest of us who are lucky enough to stay home, we’re dealing with our own bats***-crazy things, and that also is relevant.”
Mann adds: “I'm pretty happy about the fact that though this is a really serious subject, and it's been important to me to not make light of the situation, I am in fact I'm reinforcing what the government and medical officials are asking us to do as best practices, which is stay home! These videos are literally PSAs that are funny.”
So far, the response to Mann’s “PSAs” has been overwhelming positive. “I’ve been very, very humbled by the comments, because it's not normal the way that people are reacting to these videos. There's literally over a hundred thousand comments, and there are virtually none that aren't positive. And that is unheard-of in this day and age. I don't really know why that is, but I'm very proud of it. And I have looked through the comments section — which I normally would never do, because it would be so sad — and people are loving each other, uplifting each other, supporting each other, laughing with each other. They're sharing it with each other. It's incredible.”
Later this month, Mann will release an original song that was recorded and ready to go before the pandemic, “Old-Fashioned,” but for now he admits that’s he enjoying the current unexpected “Weird Al situation” that’s been keeping him busy. “I've been doing this for 20 years. My first deal with Sony in 2008; I made a record and then I got dropped,” he begins. “That was my first down experience after being really high, and then working with the David Fosters and then working with Clive Davis and not getting signed. I felt like I was always trying. And then doing The Voice, I compartmentalized myself really intentionally, to try and be a ‘cast member’ of that show.
“But now I have made five videos where I literally didn't worry about if I was going to offend somebody, if I was going to come off a certain way, if I was going to look a certain way, if I curse, if I was going to lose audience members — and then all of a sudden, people are listening and asking for more. That's the first time that I feel like I've been truly honest as a writer and have received this kind of reception. … And I am very thankful for that.”
The above interview is taken from Chris Mann’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.
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