Since being unleashed Nov. 7 on YouTube, “It’s Thanksgiving,” a risible music video produced by Patrice Wilson and sung by 12-year-old starlet Nicole Westbrook, has racked up more than 9 million views … and loads of vitriol.
It’s been branded the “New Worst Song Ever” by ABC’s Good Morning America, and so inflamed a generation of tweens, they’ve issued a fatwa against it on Twitter. On YouTube, it has far more “dislikes” (135,000-plus) than “likes” (18,000-plus). Some haters even feel it deserves its rightful place in the annals of trash-pop infamy alongside Kevin Federline’s “Popozão,” The Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out,” and “Friday,” by Rebecca Black.
The latter song by Black, which accumulated more than 40 million YouTube views, also was produced by Wilson and subscribes to his viral formula of a cutesy teenage girl chirping a happy-go-lucky anthem over ersatz beats.
“A month before Thanksgiving, I thought, ‘You know, there’s no Thanksgiving song out there!’” Wilson tells The Daily Beast. “And my team mentioned the Adam Sandler ‘Turkey Song,’ but we wanted a big anthem.”
The music video for “It’s Thanksgiving” opens at a house party with JoJo doppelganger Westbrook singing its infectious chorus: “Oh-Oh-Oh … It’s Thanksgiving. We-We-We are gonna have a good time. With the turkey—HEY!—mashed potatoes—HEY!—It’s Thanksgiving.” Later, she raps a few bars before engaging in a slew of sight gags, including singing into a turkey leg, getting served ribs, and Wilson randomly popping up in a turkey costume.
“It’s all about having good, clean fun,” says Wilson, with a chuckle. “There’s no ribs on Thanksgiving but I had ribs in the song, so it was a fun little twist. The turkey outfit was a last-minute decision suggested by someone on my team, so we ran out and rented it the day of the shoot. And one of my directors, Chris, suggested Nicole hold the turkey leg like a microphone.”
“This is my first time singing into a turkey leg,” adds Westbrook. “I’d never seen anyone do it, but I guess it’s just like singing into your hairbrush … but with a turkey leg.”
Westbrook, 12, moved to Los Angeles from St. Louis four years ago with her family in order to chase her dream of being a pop star. Her mother, who sells paper-shredding machines, relocated her job out there, and her father, a former pro soccer player, teaches high school and club soccer. Westbrook initially struggled to break into the music industry, booking jobs with Kidz Bop, a series of compilation albums with child musicians performing contemporary hits; a few toy commercials; and starred as a young Amish girl in the Lifetime original movie, Amish Grace.
“When we first moved out here, none of us knew what we were doing or getting into, so it was really hard starting out,” she says.
In January of this year, Wilson was holding a large audition in looking to cast a group of young singers for a reality show documenting the plight of up-and-coming musical talents in L.A. Nicole, who, he says, “has the right look and can rap, which is rare,” impressed him, and he subsequently cast her in a cameo role in his music video for “Happy,” billed as “the official sequel to ‘Friday.’”
The cheery Wilson, who sometimes goes by the nickname “Pato,” was born in Nigeria. His father was a chemical engineer and his mother opened a Christian school, Wilson Prep School, which he attended. He’d sing in the choir of his mother’s church, and was very religious. He later moved to Eastern Europe, where he worked as a youth pastor in Slovakia and toured there as a backup singer for Slovak pop star Ibraham Maiga. After moving to the U.S. in 2001, he attended Whitworth University and relocated to Los Angeles in 2007 hoping to start a music business. In 2010, he co-founded ARK Music Factory with Australian producer Clarence Jey, which produced pop videos for tween stars. After the tremendous popularity of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” which he co-wrote and produced, Wilson formed a new company, PMW Live, in 2011 with a similar aim. According to Wilson, the company has worked with about 15 artists since January, including Westbrook.
“Lots of people say they want to sing, but we need to make sure their head’s in the right place and we like to work with parents who are grounded—not stage moms,” says Wilson. “After the screening process, it can cost anywhere from $5,400 to $7,000, and what that will get is an entire production: song, music video, makeup artist, image consultant, choreographer, etc. Sometimes, with these videos, it goes over budget, but we hope with those it benefits from iTunes revenue.” He adds, “I don’t receive iTunes revenue and it all goes directly to the artists.”
Since Wilson writes all the songs, he retains the publishing rights to the tracks. He also collects the video’s YouTube revenue—a lesson he learned after not receiving any from “Friday” due to contract stipulations.
“With ARK, every eighth video would go viral,” he says. “Now that everyone is trying to copy us, with PMW Live, it’s about one out of every 15 videos goes viral. With all the formula elements that me and my team put into all these videos, we have a good feeling of which will go viral and which won’t.”
The music video for “It’s Thanksgiving” was shot in one day at the Westbrook family home in L.A. Because Wilson’s team didn’t need rent permits or to hire actors—all the kids in the video are Westbrook’s friends—he estimates the video cost just north of $4,000 to produce, mostly for all the food and filming equipment.
“It was really fun! It was my house, my bedroom, and my friends, so it made me feel really comfortable,” says Westbrook.
Wilson learned a great deal from the “Friday” experience, including the relentless cyber-bullying that comes with these amateurish viral hits.
“One of my main concerns when I release a young artist is all the negative comments they receive,” he says. “I always go over with the parents that, working with Patrice Wilson, people are going to talk, so I make sure they’re okay with that.”
Westbrook, however, hasn’t been too concerned about the song’s reception—including a recent critically maligned live performance on Access Hollywood.
“It’s just been such a great experience,” she says. “I’m very happy with the song and how it turned out. I haven’t read any of the comments—whether they’re good or bad—I just stayed away. I think it’s really helped me because I haven’t felt depressed or regretful.”
According to Wilson, the music video for Westbrook’s follow-up will be shot in the next couple of weeks and features “more rapping in it” as well as a possible cameo appearance by Pato. And Wilson, for his part, isn’t too worried about the backlash either.
“It’s my dream to give young talent the right platform to succeed,” he says. “I can’t listen to the haters; I have to do what I love. It all comes with the territory.”