Former Editor Solomia sits down with the dynamic duo that gave you the most school spirit this campus has seen in years.

If you’ve been around campus in the last few weeks, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Columbia is the best school ever!” sung to a jaunty tune. And no, it’s not an admin psy-op, it’s two Columbia seniors, Josh and Max, bringing you Columbia University Anthem (Best School Ever). Publishing under the name “Kind and Clever Productions,” their video was an instant hit, with thousands of views on YouTube, and hundreds of thousands on TikTok within the first week of publishing.

I sat down with Josh and Max a week after the video was released, to talk about what it’s like to suddenly wake up and have gone viral. At the time of the interview, the video had 10k views on YouTube, and 550k on TikTok, but at the time of publishing, those numbers have grown to 19k on YouTube, and over 800k on TikTok. 

A little about the two – both are seniors in CC, suitemates that have been friends since NSOP. Josh is from Colorado, while Max (half Australian, half Vietnamese by heritage) grew up mostly in Southeast Asia. The two are a dynamic duo, clearly two best friends, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing at the same jokes. We sat down in Cafe Wallabout one Saturday afternoon and got straight to it.

Solomia: Do you guys have musical backgrounds?

Josh: Not really. I play piano, he plays piano.

Max: And saxophone.

Josh: And saxophone.

Solomia: But you don’t do any music at Columbia?

Josh: Not really.

Max: Josh composed in high school, and I was in band for middle school and high school, and still play piano. We do karaoke every weekend.

Solomia: Where do you go?

Max: K-Town. This place called WOW Karaoke. Actually, this is a plug for WOW Karaoke. Recently we’ve been made VIPs there because we go so often, so now we get like, free shots and stuff.

But they may have been underselling themselves a little. Josh, for one, had other songs up on his personal Spotify, where the Columbia Anthem was also posted. When I asked, Josh replied…

Josh: Ah, that’s all from like, the sixth grade. In middle school I just made a bunch of stuff, it was like a fun project. They’re all humorous, like a song about bloody noses, or the color red. But yeah, that was just in GarageBand, on a keyboard playing notes, my very brief piano experience coming into play.

Solomia: So you did all the music and mixing for this?

Josh: Well, Max had a lot of input, and suggestions

Max: But Josh was really in charge of it.

Josh: Surprisingly, nobody has criticized the mixing at all. I’m kinda surprised by that because I really have no idea what I’m doing. I had a friend come over and give me some tips, like what effects I should apply where.

All those skills seemed to have come in handy, because the Columbia Anthem wasn’t actually their first song as a duo.

Josh: Two years ago we thought it would be great if Max could be a Chinese pop star- 

Max: -and I’m not Chinese, don’t speak Chinese-

Josh: -so we made a pop song. It didn’t do very well, only got like four hundred views on YouTube.

Max: But it’s a cult favorite. Whenever we go to karaoke our friends will put it on. It’s all in Chinese though, and neither of us speak Chinese. But we got our friends who do speak Chinese to translate and help with pronunciation and stuff. 

Josh: We wrote it. And made the track, and the music video and everything, the same process as we did for the Columbia song.

Max: Honestly, it’s a better song, a better product than the Columbia one…

Josh: I beg to differ.

I later checked out the Mando-pop song, and it turned out to be an absolute banger. But I was still mostly curious about the Columbia Anthem.

Solomia: What was the process of making the Columbia song?

Max: We’ve had this idea for a couple years now, at least since COVID. I remember I wrote lyrics during the COVID year. But we knew we wanted to make another song or music video, and this would be more relevant, catch on more quickly because of the subject.

Josh: We wanted to be funny. Like, if we wanted to write about Columbia, we thought, “Okay, what’s the concept here?”

Max: We thought it would be funny if every brag in the music video was just a mediocre thing. We didn’t think that hard about it, we just thought it would be funny if we were bragging about like, the UPS store or the carpets. Stuff that is very… fine. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, just… fine. 

Josh: You know, something nobody would brag about. But contrast that with “We’re the best school ever”.

Solomia: What about the music?

Josh: The music came first, because I’m not a great songwriter or anything, so I don’t know how to take lyrics and convert them to something. But I wrote a track, and then we just figured out what fits to this. But to start, we just wrote a beat.

Max: We initially came up with this melody. We literally just sat there for two hours all of us just singing around melodies, and then eventually, you know the song “Sexy Can I” by Kanye and Ray J? We started doing that, but not with it in mind, just putting words to the music, and realized “Whoah, that sounds good”. But then realized, yeah… that’s just “Sexy Can I”. So then we flipped it.

Josh: It was important for us to make it really repetitive, to stick in someone’s head. Because with the Mando-pop, it had this really sophisticated melody, like I couldn’t even sing it now, I don’t remember it. So we just wanted something to repeat a bunch of times.

Solomia: So how did you choose the different things you picked out and talked about?

Josh: The first one we wrote was the party verse. The “night out on the town”. Just talking from personal experience, Columbia is not the party Ivy. For the other verses though, we just came up with little concepts, and whatever rhymed. There was not that much thought.

Max: Literally we just sat around with our suite one night and started coming up with lines we thought were funny. And with the party verse, we just thought, “What is the worst night ever that you could think of?”. So we thought Mel’s, like, who goes to Mel’s on a Friday night? Then Koronets, talking about the midterm, contrasting that with “the party Ivy”.

Josh: But yeah, we wrote it in like a night or something.

Max: And it was just our suitemates throwing in ideas and stuff, we really did not think about it very much. But the whole thing, we’ve been working on it for like five months now. We started working on it in October.

Josh: Filmed in January, maybe early February.

Max: Even before we released the video I was already done with it. We’d been working on it for so long, I was ready to let it go, even before we put it on YouTube.

But unfortunately, that is only where the story began. After initially uploading the video to YouTube, a friend suggested they upload a clip to TikTok. The chosen clip featured the chorus of the song, some happy dancing, and a few jokes such as Columbia spelled C-O-L-O-M-B-I-A, brags about the UPS store, bus station, and free NSOP water bottles. It started as all viral video stories start, with a nonchalant post:

Josh: I posted it, and I wasn’t even gonna check it, it’s not that big a deal, I didn’t think it would do well.

Max: It was a means to an end of getting people to watch it on YouTube, not the end itself.

Josh: The TikTok was the marketing, but it became the product that just blew up.

And blow up it did.

Max: Right now, we are at 550k views. But people have been reposting it on Twitter and Instagram, so the sum in total, since some of those reposts have gotten 500, 700 thousand views, so the total is in the millions now. Maybe not of original viewers, but views.

At the time of the interview, the video had only been up for one week. But with growing views came the inevitable:

Josh: So after we posted on TikTok, the comments started coming in, and we realized… uh oh… these aren’t all positive. The joke is not translating very well. I found some of the comments hilarious, like, someone called me a hunchback, which is so true, I was standing like this [he hunches over] to the camera in front of the UPS store. Like, okay, that’s funny. I laughed for a solid five minutes.

Max: To be fair, the humor doesn’t really translate into the TikTok. Because it’s so brief, you’re not actually aware that it’s a joke, you need the whole video to do that. And again, this was not meant to be the final product, but people took it as the end thing. Then it started getting reposted, in recent days, on various Twitter accounts and Instagram accounts. 

It was on Twitter and Instagram that things really started going south. 

Josh: Well, we posted a week ago. About three days ago, it got really bad. We found all the Twitter stuff.

Max: Someone came up to us at Faculty House and said, “Yo, you guys are on fire on Twitter” and my response was, “We’re on Twitter?”

Solomia: I scrolled through the YouTube comments, and those seemed pretty positive?

Max: The order of niceness is probably YouTube, Reddit, TikTok, and Twitter’s the worst.

And the comments are pretty awful.

Josh: Almost always the caption is something like “This better be parody” or “I hope this is satire”.

Max: Things like “Columbia kids can’t even spell their own school!”. And that led to a wave of literally thousands of the most vile comments. We’ve had death threats.

Solomia: What??

Max: People saying they’re going to stuff us into lockers, beat us up.

Josh: Come uptown and find us.

Max: You know, that’s not okay, obviously. But I saw recently that some of the other people in the video are having screenshots taken of their faces, and that makes me sad. We’ve asked people to be in the video, and now they’re also taking the heat.

Josh: We’ve unfortunately looped our friends in. And we didn’t think this would go viral, at least I didn’t.

Max: Someone sent me a thing last night from @wallstreetintern, which is an Instagram account with like 130k followers. And a lot of people, both in my home in Vietnam and here, follow it. And it’s being reposted like “this is so cringe”, “they can’t even spell their own school correctly”, there are hundreds of comments like “I would rather (insert really terrible thing) than have to listen to this again”. Like, really really awful stuff.

For the guys, this response has been frustrating.

Josh: Obviously that wasn’t our intention. Even when posting the TikTok that did go viral. I thought there was enough context to make it clear, I mean, Columbia kids spelling it C-O-L-O-M-B-I-A, like…

Max: It was very clear, it just didn’t translate.

Josh: And we can’t even say “well they didn’t get the joke”, because that’s on us.

Max: It may have been made less clear when we made the music video. For example, at the end of the music video, we have this dance scene, and the original idea was that everyone would be doing the most terrible dances [he mimes terrible dancing]. But the thing is we had some people who could actually dance well, like the guy who did the worm. So it’s a bit like, “Are they trying to be good or not?”. So I can see how people could get confused.

Josh: I also think the production quality of the music video, our friend Paul did the camera work, it looks so smooth, like Columbia might have paid for it.

Max: We should have been clearer.

Josh: I think because the joke is subtle in the first place, if you only have 15 seconds of context… but I really thought the contrast of “best school ever” and “UPS store” would be enough. But, that’s on us, if we didn’t want this, we could have made the joke a bit more upfront.

The problem, it turns out, is this lack of context. After the video was published on TikTok, it was downloaded, and then re-uploaded by random users to other places, such as Twitter and Instagram, with no links back to the original source. Most people that saw the clip saw only that, twenty seconds of some guys singing that Columbia was the best school ever. 

Josh: I think the satire just did not translate at all, so they think Columbia, or someone, is paying us to do this. Even the chorus, the “kind and clever” bit, and we thought, wow, that’s so dumb, and obvious.

Max: We chose the name “Kind and Clever Productions” just because it sounded so so painfully earnest. It sounds like something middle schoolers would do. But in hindsight, if you don’t know us or the context, you could think all these kids are just cringe. Which is what I guess thousands of people on the internet think.

Josh: We don’t even know the half of it, because now we don’t really have control of the content. We’re not uploading it anywhere at this point. People just download it from TikTok and post it on their own. 

“Each day on Twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it”. This Tweet was posted in 2019, but rings true with every new viral video. One day, Josh and Max were regular college students, and the next, they found themselves the main character on Twitter. 

Solomia: You said you deleted all your social media, how have you been dealing with this whole thing?

Max: It’s just tiring. I think the first negative comment we got hurt more than all the rest. At first, it’s like, “Aw someone doesn’t like it”, but then when you literally have like ten thousand, twenty thousand, when it becomes that level of magnitude, you can’t really comprehend it. Like you can’t even imagine ten thousand people. So it’s all just a bit tiring. 

Josh: I think what’s tough is that in the past 90 hours or so, ten times as many people have seen our faces than in the past 22 years. And not in a good way, not in a positive context. That’s just the way the internet works, but it’s really hard to comprehend what that really means, if everyone knows my face but not in a good way.

They’ve also noticed a bit of newfound fame around campus and beyond.

Josh: It seems like the virtual world does start to bleed into the real world sometimes. We’re getting recognized on campus, someone took a photo with us at Wu and Nuss. I went to the library after that and got recognized like twice. I was just there looking for my friend and this guy makes eye contact with me, and pulls out his phone and [he mimes recording on his phone]. I’m just not used to being recognized by people I don’t know. Sometimes I’m just sitting there, and I see someone pull out their phone, point it at me.

Max: I redownloaded Instagram briefly last night, just to see, I caved, and I saw all these messages from people reposting and immediately deleted the app again.

Josh: People I haven’t talked to since high school have been DMing me, saying like “Oh, found you in the wild”, and it’ll be some account that’s shitting all over us.

Solomia: What is the response to those kinds of messages?

Josh: “Hahahaha skull emoji”. I don’t know what else to say except “haha”. Because rarely is it a positive context.

Max: I do appreciate when people reach out though, I’d rather they do that than not.

Josh: It’s true. It’s just grappling with how in the last 48 hours my interaction with the world has changed drastically.

As the two lightheartedly describe the awful things being written about them, they exchange laughter and jokes. All in all, they are staying surprisingly positive about the whole thing, especially given, as Max points out, the “angry mob of ten thousand people calling for their deaths”.

Max: But it’s not as bad as I thought. Like when I saw the way Jake Novak was taken down, or Rebecca Black. I was reading the comments and thinking, “Wow this must be so terrible for them”, but for me, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. You would think an angry mob of ten thousand people calling for your death, you’d be stressed.

Josh: But it’s relatively easy to separate the virtual world and the real world. Like the people we’re hanging out with are extremely supportive and empathetic, and it’s great, and the people that know us know it’s a joke, obviously.

The ordeal has, if anything, been a learning experience in the ways of the internet.

Solomia: Why do you think people want to be so negative? Why can’t people just scroll past?

Max: This whole experience has made me realize the lack of value in social media. Especially after I deleted it.

Josh: On the internet, things can go so wrong for pretty minor reasons. When you’re in that virtual world, as a commenter, there are zero stakes, you can do whatever you want, you can get whatever reaction you want, and you can elicit that reaction by saying really vile things. And that’s the internet. If we didn’t want that, we should have steered clear. 

I think what really happened was that the marketing tool became the product, and that’s the only reason this became successful. If there was more context in that TikTok, I don’t think it would have done well. Even the other ones I’ve uploaded on TikTok, which have different parts of the verse that makes it more clear that it’s a joke, haven’t done as well. So it’s just the fact that there was this humor or satire that was lost in translation is why it blew up.

Solomia: Was the goal with this for it to blow up?

Max: The goal was to perform at Bacchanal.

[at this point in the interview, I see the story play out in real time, as we are interrupted by a person sitting nearby, who says:]

Person: Wait, did you guys do “Columbia is the Best School ever?” My brother, who goes to Berkeley, was on the Berkeley Subreddit, saw it, and sent it to me.

Max: Really? It’s on the Berkeley Reddit? That’s crazy.

Josh: Was it the TikTok or the YouTube video?

Person: It was the TikTok.

Josh: See, that’s the problem.

Person: Good job though guys.

Max: Aw thanks. If you watch the whole YouTube video-

Person: -There’s a YouTube video?

Max: Yeah.

Josh: And we swear it’s satire, we swear.

Person: Yeah, of course, I figured.

Max: That’s what we thought, but millions of people on the internet don’t get it.

Person: They think it’s for real?

Josh: Yeah, that Columbia students can’t spell “Columbia” correctly.

[Returning to the interview, Max continues with his point about Bacchanal:]

Max: But yeah, that was the initial goal, we thought it would be funny to perform at Bacchanal.

Josh: Well, the person in charge of Bacchanal commented on the YouTube video and said “Bacchanal headliner???”, but they chose Doechii instead. Way to follow through.

Max: The real issue is we only have two songs and one of them is in Chinese.

Josh: And we’d only perform the Columbia one.

Solomia: But I think that would be fun, it feels like everybody on this campus has seen the song.

Max: We might get tomato-d off the stage, who knows.

After such a harsh reception, I was almost afraid to ask if we would be seeing any more of Kind and Clever Productions. 

Solomia: Would you ever release another music video?

Josh: We don’t really have this platform. Because we don’t really own the content anymore, since it’s basically published everywhere not leading back to us. On TikTok at least they put the @kindandclever, but we only have a few hundred followers on TikTok, even after all this. 

Solomia: So people watch, but they don’t follow?

Josh: Yeah. If we released another video, it would be like the sequel to Gangnam Style, Gentleman. No one’s really seen it, it’s gotten a fraction of the views.

Max: We weren’t trying to make a brand with this. Everything we’ve done has always been its own thing. Like the Chinese music video, that was its own channel. 

Josh: We keep making new accounts for each thing, so we never cultivate a following. Every time we’ve been saying “It’s time for a fresh start, we’re gonna do something new!”

Max: We were gonna pivot to K-pop. We wrote the whole song, got one of our friends who’s Korean to help, he wrote a feature verse.

Josh: I sent the track to him like two weeks ago to see if he can match the lyrics to it.

But when I asked if they would use their newfound internet experience to make something intentionally go viral, the response was resolute:

Max: No. Because then I wouldn’t enjoy making it, I just want to make things I think are funny.

Josh: We just wanted to make this video, and we thought YouTube was the place to put it, we weren’t like “we want to make a YouTube video”, it just happened to be the place we put it. And same with TikTok, we didn’t want to “make a TikTok” we just put our video on TikTok. And trying to make something for TikTok would mean some creative freedom lost. 

So the world may still get music from the pair. Just maybe not quite what one may expect. And with that, there was just one question left to ask:

Solomia: So, which one of you is kind and which is clever?

[they laugh]

Max: I think I know what you would say…

Josh: Well, yeah. I think Max is kinder than I am. I don’t know who’s more clever, but I think by default because he’s kinder, he’s kind, I’m clever. 

At this point, with forty-five minutes of audio on my phone, I ended the recording, and the interview, but the conversation didn’t stop for another half hour. Both Josh and Max were two lovely people, both radiating positivity in a way sometimes hard to find at Columbia. But despite their lightness, I was left with a sinking feeling in my stomach—why was the internet so hell-bent on turning even the simplest expressions of humor and joy into horrible negativity?

On the internet, in one click, something that took months of effort to produce, which is a legitimately funny and well-made piece of media, can be shown to hundreds of thousands of people. Sometimes, this is amazing—building communities, sharing information, spreading joy, and organizing entire movements. But sometimes we see the flipside, where that thing is misunderstood, mocked, and ridiculed, to nobody’s benefit. This is just one of many stories of people going infamously viral—as mentioned in the interview, Rebecca Black comes to mind. Maybe, as Josh said, that is simply the nature of social media, with a cloak of anonymity allowing anyone to say anything to anyone, no matter how vile. Part of me really doesn’t want to believe that, but the evidence is damning. 

It’s been said a million times, but maybe let’s lift each other up online, however easy it is to be cruel. Life is short and there are enough terrible things happening to also be mean to college kids making a satirical video. So laugh, or if you can’t laugh, just scroll past. 

Oh, and #KindAndCleverForBacchanal.

Thumbnail via Kind and Clever.

TikTok Logo via pixabay.

Twitter logo via isconscout.

Reddit logo via Wikimedia Commons.

YouTube logo via pixabay.