Cops filming high-quality productions of themselves mouthing the words to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” have become this season’s hottest (and most questionable) viral videos of the summer. The feel-good “copaganda” fever hit a new high with a bracket poised to decide the country’s best cop lip sync challenge video of them all.
Last week, USA Today launched a bracket pitting 16 cop videos from four regions (the West and East Coasts, the South, and the Midwest) against each other in hopes of giving “one department ultimate bragging rights.” Voting for the top eight ends at the end of August, boiling the competition down to four, then two, then the most entertaining, gut-punching, belly-aching cop boogie video of them all. The bracket has received nearly 70,000 votes so far.
“Police officers and firefighters showing their silly side in sometimes highly-produced, often hilarious and always-entertaining lip sync challenge videos,” the publication’s post on the bracket reads. “Nearly each of the lip sync videos that hits social media goes viral making everyone (viewer and video-maker alike) a winner. But we want to give one department ultimate bragging rights, and we need your help!”
But as Daily Dot contributor Brenden Gallagher previously pointed out, the intention of these videos is to boost law enforcement’s image and show that not all cops hurt the people they’re supposed to protect—that cops can have fun too and, more importantly, are on your side. It might have been one of the more entertaining internet challenges this summer if it wasn’t literally created to make cops appear less threatening and more palatable to the public, despite Black and brown Americans being unreasonably met with lethal police violence in their interactions with cops.
According to ABC News, the viral “lip sync challenge” began in Texas in June, when the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in San Antonio posted a video of deputy Alexander Mena convincingly mouthing along to “Fuiste Mala” by the Kumbia Kings. Mena frequently made lip sync videos on his own but had sent one video to his sergeant, who then passed it along to the social media team. Since the video’s posting, Mena’s video has been viewed 1.5 million times.
“With some of the things that happen in law enforcement and with the media …we wanted something more positive and for the community and our deputies to kind of connect together,” Mena told ABC News. “I did not think that it was going to blow up the way that it did.”
Following Mena’s video, Texas police departments began challenging each other to lip syncing competitions initially place in their cruisers. From Frozen’s “Let It Go,” to Baha Men’s “Who Let The Dogs Out” with a K-9 in the back seat, the videos grew in intensity, involving sponsors, partners, and professional production crews. A Facebook page has been dedicated to the challenge and shares videos posted by departments across the country of cops dancing with detainees, jumping into pools fully clothed, and even doing the “In My Feelings” challenge. On the more concerning end, one video shows police busting into a family’s home after a little girl calls them to report her father beating her mother.
Some of these videos could have been genuinely entertaining if they weren’t almost poking fun at police brutality, the very cause that activists are attempting to address. In one of the entries for USA Today‘s bracket, cops dance around after arresting a man and leave him pinned to the ground for minutes, lip syncing along to Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On,” asking if he’s going to “let ’em hold you down and make you cry.”
In another, featuring Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an arrested man begs to be let go from the back of a squad car, shaking his cuffed fists in the air. The cops, singing as the chorus, will not let him go (in another video from a different department, a cop leads an arrested woman into the prison while singing “Another One Bites the Dust”). An obvious act of police brutality? No, but it’s hard not to see the parallels between not listening to the pleas of a fake detainee and someone under arrest in real life, such as Eric Garner when he told a New York City cop choke-holding him that he couldn’t breathe prior to his death.
USA Today did not respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.