Miranda Sings is an Internet character created in 2008 by American comedian, actress, singer and YouTube personality Colleen Ballinger. Ballinger displays videos of the comically talentless, egotistical and quirky character on her YouTube channel under the username Miranda Sings. In these videos, the character sings badly, gives "tutorials", recounts her daily activities, discusses current events that she often misunderstands, collaborates with other YouTubers, and rants about her critics, reading examples of hate mail directed at the character on social media; she responds to them with her catchphrase: "Haters Back Off!".
Ballinger created the character as a satire of the many bad but arrogant singers who believe that posting their videos on YouTube will lead to them breaking into show business. As of December 2014, the Miranda Sings YouTube channel had surpassed 275 million views and 2.8 million subscribers. It is ranked as one of the 100 most influential YouTube channels, and the No. 7 comedy channel on YouTube, by data compiler Social Blade. The character also has an active presence on other social media.
Beginning in 2009, in addition to her internet videos, Ballinger has regularly performed live comedy acts, in character as Miranda Sings, at cabaret spaces and theaters in New York, London, and other cities in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. Her acts include Miranda's signature off-key singing of show tunes and pop music hits, with introductions focusing on the character's backstory. Her delivery is full of malapropisms and spoonerisms, and the acts often incorporate giving a "voice lesson" to, or singing a duet with, Broadway or other musical celebrities, reading hate mail, interaction with audience volunteers, and singing while being stabbed through the neck in her "magic trick". The character has appeared in web series, in radio and internet interviews, and in an episode of the TV show Victorious. In 2014, Ballinger was nominated for a Teen Choice Award for her performances as Miranda Sings. The same year, she guest-starred on an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld and appeared on The Tonight Show.
Since January 2008, Ballinger has posted more than 350 videos, as the character Miranda Sings, on the YouTube channel Miranda Sings. The character is a satire of the many YouTube videos featuring mediocre or even bad, but egotistical, singers who film themselves singing in hopes of breaking into show-business, despite the realistic or cruel comments of "haters" regarding their videos. Miranda is supposedly a home-schooled young woman who lives with her mother and uncle in Tacoma, Washington. She believes that she is famous and is obsessed with show business fame.
In the videos, the Miranda character sings in a comically off-key, yet plausible, voice and covers show tunes and pop music hits, with introductions focusing on the character's backstory. Sometimes she discusses current events, which she usually misunderstands, or gives "tutorials". She uses spoonerisms and malapropisms, is irritable, ludicrously self-absorbed and self-righteous, socially awkward, and has a defiant, arrogant attitude. The Times describes the character as "self-obsessed and immune to criticism". To viewers who take the videos seriously and offer criticism, she responds with the catchphrase, "Haters back off!", telling these critics that they are "just jealous" and that "haters make me famous".
The character displays facial traits such as unusually active eyebrows and a crooked smile described as a "side smirk". Her head is cocked to one side, and her pronunciation quirks include an emphasis on the use of a prominent hard 'g' (in such words as 'singing' and 'song'). In place of lyrics that she cannot remember, the character "scat" sings. She wears bright red lipstick drawn beyond the borders of her lips, dresses in mismatched out-of-style clothing (such as a men's shirt buttoned to the neck with red sweatpants), and often dances stiffly to the music she is performing. Miranda's views of society and morality are politically incorrect, and she displays a strong aversion to anything risque, which she calls "porn". Some of the videos show Miranda duetting with well-known singers or instrumentalists, and since 2013, Miranda has frequently collaborated on videos with other YouTube personalities that are shown on their channels, often accumulating millions of views.
Live comedy act
Beginning in April 2009, in addition to her internet videos, Miranda Sings has performed her one-woman live comedy acts at sold-out cabaret spaces and theatres in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Dublin, Edinburgh and other cities in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Norway and elsewhere. In 2009, BroadwayWorld.com called her "the hottest, freshest and oddest breakout star in the musical theatre/cabaret scene".
In the live comedy acts, Ballinger begins the show as herself and then transforms onstage into Miranda. Miranda typically sings pop hits and some musical theatre songs in her signature off-key style (one reviewer called this "deranged versions duly delivered with gawky, gurning panache"); gives "voice lessons" or acting lessons to Broadway or West End stars, such as Sutton Foster, Andrew Rannells, and Shoshana Bean, to Broadway casts of shows such as Billy Elliot (to which cast she also gave dance and acting "lessons") and Rock of Ages, and to pop stars such as Ariana Grande, in which she is hypercritical of the stars' performances, often telling them that they should leave show-business; sings one or more duets with established (and bemused) musical theatre singers; indignantly reads hate mail (bleeping out any profanity) that she has received on her YouTube channel and other social media; interacts with audience volunteers; uses projected presentations containing terrible spelling; and sometimes improvises a song based on audience suggestions. The act has autobiographical elements from Miranda's backstory. In her holiday act, in addition to some of the above, Miranda has recreated the Christmas story "complete with the Three Kings, the Drummer Boy, and Santa Claus, as well as a shockingly dissonant 'Carol of the Bells'" and other Christmas songs.
An example of the character's delusional arrogance, Miranda stated in her early acts that she expected to perform the role of Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway. During 2009, as part of her act, she announced that she planned to date Cheyenne Jackson (who she did not realize is openly gay) or to find another boyfriend, who must be talented and famous. She was photographed and videotaped together with Jackson at Broadway on Broadway 2009, confronting him about their "relationship", and finally receiving a "first kiss" from him. In 2010, she stated in her videos and comedy acts that Jackson is no longer her boyfriend (because he never called her for a date), and so she was seeking a new, famous, talented, handsome boyfriend, such as Zac Efron or Justin Bieber. In July 2013, Miranda began "dating" former Amazing Race competitor and YouTube host Joey Graceffa, whose last name she cannot pronounce, but she maintains several other "boyfriends".
In 2009, Miranda proclaimed that she was not just a "triple threat" entertainer, but a "four threat", because she is also a model, as well as a singer/actor/dancer. Since 2010, she has asserted that she is a "five threat" talent, adding "magic" to her list of skills, and in videos she has combined inept magic tricks with singing. A regular part of her live comedy acts since 2010 includes a "magic trick" where Miranda sings while appearing to be stabbed through the neck by a sword, sometimes by magician Christopher Ballinger or her "assistant" Rachel Ballinger (Colleen Ballinger's real-life siblings). The joke is that she sings better when the sword is inserted through her neck. In 2012, Miranda Sings was one of the headliners at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, presented by WaterTower Theatre in Addison, Texas. Miranda's May 2012 Birdland cabaret act was filmed by Seth Rudetsky and appears on his site www.SethTV.com.
In her 2014 "Selp Helf" tour, she instructed her (mostly young, female) audience on how to get a boyfriend by being more Miranda-like. "To break up the horrendous musical numbers, Miranda incorporated a series of segments that took the four daily concepts of porn, bullies, love and 'haters' and transformed the subject matter into ... comical banter that relied heavily on audience participation ... she worked off everything the volunteers said and did, improvising and creating punchlines on the spot. ... Ballinger, the genius behind Miranda, is so convincing in the role, you ... will likely forget that there is a normal person behind the red lips". Miranda's more risque stage business is performed "in a way that will have parents laughing and children oblivious." "There was some great physical comedy. Miranda's alternative to twerking has to be seen to be believed and her recreation of her own birth, singing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way", was a hoot. As she told us, she was always famous, it's just that everyone else knows it now." "But [the show] is deeper than it initially appears. ... She is funny and a strong role model, with a healthy disdain for pop’s oversexualisation. .... The satire is not exactly mindblowing but the message is undeniably positive. Plenty of interaction keeps everyone interested and lends proceedings an inclusive feel ... when there was an appeal for volunteers almost every hand shot straight into the air."
As the popularity of the character has increased, Ballinger has been able to book longer sell-out runs of her live comedy acts, at larger and larger venues, including, in 2013, a six-performance run at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, seven performances in Australia, and, in 2014, a performance at the Best Buy Theater in New York City and, among many others, three shows in London's Cadogan Hall. A Buffalo, New York reviewer commented: "Miranda's stage show – a quixotic blend of melodramatic pathos, lightning-speed wit and cultural literacy – is no mere ... reproduction of her Internet channel. It is as theatrical as it is musical, comedic as it is inspirational." A London reviewer concurred:
Miranda [is] hilarious, and I was struck on several occasions by what an accomplished creation the character is – with her own vocabulary, idiosyncrasies and bizarre (not to mention increasingly sinister) backstory, you've never seen anything like her, and the commitment with which Ballinger embodies this strange, strange girl is nothing short of admirable. Bridging both personas, the moment she transforms into Miranda, on-stage and mid-song, is an absolute joy – I'd struggle to recall hearing an audience erupt to such an extent, and I couldn't help but join in.—BroadwayWorld reviewer Kevin Sherwin
Ballinger gave Miranda shows in 57 cities in 2014.
Genesis of the character
Miranda's creator, Colleen Ballinger, based the character partly on young women that she knew in the performance department of her college, Azusa Pacific University. She told The Times of London, "There were a lot of cocky girls who thought they were really talented, and they ... were so rude and snotty, it drove me nuts. Then I saw all these girls trying to make a career out of putting videos on YouTube [of themselves singing in their bedrooms] ... clueless to the fact that they were terrible." Ballinger said: "I thought it was so stupid, because I didn't think anybody got famous off of YouTube." At first, the "Miranda videos were meant to be an inside joke" among Ballinger's friends. Ballinger's YouTube channel received little traffic for more than a year, but in March 2009, she uploaded a video called "Free Voice Lesson" that quickly became a sensation. The video consists of advice to use, and demonstrations of, techniques that real voice teachers would warn students to avoid, delivered in Miranda's arrogant, off-key way. Miranda's videos drew predictably sharp criticism on YouTube, and as they became popular, Ballinger modified the character in response to the negative comments, adopting the catchphrases "Haters Back Off" and "Haters Make Me Famous": "People would make fun of my hair, and I made it worse. ... I took what people hated and exaggerated it more in the next video."
After this first viral video, Ballinger was briefly unsure what to do with her newfound internet fame. In April 2009, Jim Caruso invited her to perform as the character at Cast Party, a weekly show at his Birdland jazz club in New York City. Ballinger recalls, "I went from making a minute-and-a-half video in my bedroom to doing an hour-and-a-half live show". Members of the Broadway theatre community had quickly embraced the character's videos and were eager to be a part of Miranda's live comedy acts. Frankie Grande, who was then in the cast of Mamma Mia!, invited Ballinger to join the cast as Miranda at the Minskoff Theatre in the 2009 Broadway Cares Easter Bonnet competition charity benefit. Broadway celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda also performed in videos with Miranda. Ballinger was also invited to perform in London. At the Leicester Square Theatre in 2010, Miranda taught "voice lessons" to, and performed with, such West End theatre stars as Leanne Jones, Scarlett Strallen, Daniel Boys, Julie Atherton, Ian ‘H’ Watkins, Anna-Jane Casey, Jon Lee and Noel Sullivan, and the London casts of Naked Boys Singing, Wicked and Les Miserables. Since the summer of 2009, Miranda Sings has also been featured in radio, television and internet interviews where the interviewers explore the personality traits of, and play along with, the character.
The Miranda character receives negative comments to her videos from viewers who are fooled by the character and believe that they are watching a serious video by a bad entertainer. Ballinger told Back Stage: "It's sort of like an Andy Kaufman thing. You wouldn't believe the hate mail. ... You would never say that stuff to someone's face, but you can type anything online." TheaterJones commented that "perhaps because the Internet is some crazy postmodern distortion of reality, people ... felt it was their duty to point out how woefully untalented [Miranda] was, in the most horrific ways. ... Her hate mail, which she reads some of on stage, is an art form all its own." Ballinger noted: "The whole reason Miranda went viral is because people were making fun of how stupid it was. If I didn't get hate mail, I wouldn't have a job." The online critics were so harsh that Miranda became a "hero of the anti-bullying movement". Her young fans have told Ballinger that they find the character empowering.
The Times commented, "there is another, sweeter side to her travails. Miranda loves singing and, despite – or perhaps because of – the satire, becomes an evocation of something all humans love to do and have done since before we discovered language. The very act of singing, however dire the sound, makes us feel good." Ballinger noted that the TV show Glee (to which Miranda submitted an "audition" in 2010) is causing a resurgence of interest in singing in schools: "Everyone is talking about Glee and choirs and musical theatre, igniting a flame that has been dimmed for a long time. ... Live performance and musical theatre were almost a lost art ... people need to be reminded that it takes a lot more effort to sing than just watching movies or TV shows." Miranda followed up on this idea, saying: "Since I became so famous ... everyone is watching more music and singing more – because everyone wants to be more like me." As the Miranda character matured, its popularity grew especially with younger audiences of the Glee generation, with most of those attending her concerts being teenagers or in their twenties. Ballinger says that she gets the most satisfaction from her live performances.
In December 2009, Ballinger released a Christmas EP entitled "Christmas With Miranda Sings". In 2010, she appeared as Miranda at the Nightlife Awards, and Miranda was a presenter at the CYT Directors' Choice Awards in La Mesa, California. Later that year, at the Rose Center Theater, Miranda co-hosted a benefit concert, "Broadway Memories" (which included a Sutton Foster "voice lesson"), for the Alzheimer's Association and the Capistrano Center for the Performing Arts. The same year, Miranda appeared in an episode of the web series Apartment Red. Also, from 2010 to 2012 Ballinger posted 86 Miranda video blogs to a second YouTube channel, Mirandavlogz, featuring Miranda giving tutorials and offering "opinions", or taking internet "challenges" like the cinnamon challenge. In 2012 Ballinger returned to posting all of the Miranda videos on the main Miranda Sings channel. Miranda sings in character on two tracks of the 2011 album Self Taught, Still Learning, by Chris Passey. The character also appeared in a 2012 comedy film, Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads.
Miranda Sings appeared in a Season 3 episode of the Nickelodeon television show Victorious, a one-hour special titled "Tori Goes Platinum", which was first broadcast on May 19, 2012. In the episode, Miranda is one of the auditionees for an awards show, singing "Freak the Freak Out". She also "interviewed" Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy. Also in 2012, Miranda gave a "master class" at the Boston Children's Theatre, followed by a talk by Ballinger about how to use social media to promote yourself as a performer. The character appeared in episode 6 of Dr. Fubalous, a 2012 web series that featured Ballinger as nurse Royal Bobbin in a cast that included Donnivin Jordan, Flava Flav, Danny Trejo, GloZell Green and Lindsey Stirling.
In August 2012, Miranda announced, in a YouTube vlog, that she was running for President of the U.S. to offer an alternative to the two candidates nominated by the major parties. She offered a brief analysis of the presidential race in the video. In an October vlog, she laid out her campaign platform. Miranda appeared in the first episode of Dance Chat, an Australian web show, in 2013. Miranda appeared as a lunch lady in the "Unlimited" 2014 back to school videos by Old Navy, one of which received more than 5 million views online. The character has an active social media presence, where she has more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram, 1 million followers on Twitter and 800,000 page likes on Facebook.
Miranda guest stars on the season 5 episode, "Happy Thanksgiving Miranda", of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld, which became available for streaming on November 27, 2014. Seinfeld called Miranda "a very well-developed character ... it was just as funny to me as it was to my daughter, who is 13. ... This was on a different level comedically for me. ... I think [the episode is] kind of a miracle. It’s one of the best shows of Comedians in Cars we’ve ever done." An Uproxx review compared Miranda to Andy Kaufman, calling the episode "a pretty fun experience". On December 1, 2014, Miranda appeared on The Tonight Show playing Pictionary with Jimmy Fallon, Martin Short and Jerry Seinfeld. Us Weekly called the segment "the most hilarious game night ever". Entertainment Weekly called it "a riveting game", and People magazine wrote: "It's the most wonderful trainwrecked game of Pictionary you'll see this holiday season".
Since early 2009, Ballinger's character has enjoyed widespread popularity, especially (initially) among musical theatre fans. Later, her fan base expanded particularly among teenagers. Her live comedy acts have been in demand at cabaret clubs and theaters in New York (Birdland Jazz Club, Best Buy Theater), London (Ambassadors Theatre; Leicester Square Theatre), Australia (selling out every performance in her 2013 tour) and elsewhere throughout North America, in Britain and Scandinavia, at venues where her teenage fans, who call themselves "Mirfandas", are admitted. Since 2010, her shows have generally sold out; after her 2014 performances at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in London sold out, Ballinger quickly added a ten-stop, 11-day UK tour.
In 2009, the Los Angeles Times wrote of her videos, "this footage is a major hoot", and BroadwayWorld.com described Ballinger as an "Internet Superstar." The Times of London commented that although Miranda's videos have made her "a darling of the Broadway musical-theatre scene ... [it] is not online but on stage that Miranda truly comes to ghastly life." In 2010, the BroadwayWorld review of Miranda's live comedy act in Los Angeles said: "Ballinger's 'Miranda Sings' persona is a very unique and original concept devised by a very creative imagination. ... Miranda is not to be missed. [As] the old saying goes, it takes talent to be that bad". Another commentator wrote similarly: "It's so awful, it's brilliant." Woman Around Town called Miranda "an atrocious, comedic masterpiece." Perez Hilton praised Miranda's parody of the hit song "Chandelier" as "the crowning achievement of music video parodies ... utterly fantastic". TheaterJones concluded: "Ballinger has hit on a character that reflects the zeitgeist of our time and does it with tongue firmly planted in cheek."
In 2014, Ballinger was nominated for the Teen Choice Award for "Web Star: Comedy" for her Miranda character. A 2013 BroadwayWorld feature commented, "While [Miranda's] singing might not be anywhere near pitch-perfect, the character's comedic lampooning of self-aggrandizing divas surely is. ... [O]nly a truly talented performer could make the Miranda character believable, let alone as endearing as she ends up being." AussieTheatre.com stated: "Miranda ... creates the most successful parody of the world of YouTube ... she has created an international cult following". Real Detroit Weekly calls the character "delightfully hilarious". A reviewer from the Irish Independent wrote: "There is an endearing sweetness to her performance. ... This bizarre and bonkers show is somehow strangely compelling". TV Guide commented: "Ironically, the character ... was created to satirize the very type of YouTube fame she's managed to cultivate."
The Miranda Sings YouTube channel has received more than 275 million views and has more than 2.8 million subscribers. As of 2014, it is ranked as one of the 100 most influential YouTube channels, and the No. 7 comedy channel on YouTube, by data compiler Social Blade. Miranda's parody cover of Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" has received more than 10 million views on YouTube, her parody of Nicki Minaj's "Starships" video has received more than 6 million views, and her original comedy song "Where My BAEs At?" has been viewed more than 4 million times, as have her comedy video "Slurpee Bath!" and "How to Kiss" and her parodies of Minaj's "Anaconda" and Katy Perry's California Gurls. 7 of her other videos have each received more than 3 million views. A total of 30 of her videos each have over 2 million views, and more than 100 of her videos have each surpassed 1 million views. The character is widely parodied on YouTube, where a parody video has received over 5 million hits.
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- Baby by Justin Beiber on YouTube (At 1:00 in video clip) Retrieved on September 17, 2010.
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- "Miranda Sings with Naked Boys Singing – Part 4: Finale, YouTube, Summer 2009, uploaded March 29, 2010; 'Miranda Sings Live – 'Defying Gravity'", YouTube, June 24, 2009; and Miranda Sings with cast of Les Miserables, YouTube, June 22, 2009
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