Before there was Rebecca Black, Justin Bieber, or David After Dentist, there was Chris Crocker, one of the original YouTube stars. Ten years ago, the bleached-blond Tennessee teen found instant and unlikely fame when a camcorder rant he shot at his grandparents’ house, “Leave Britney Alone” — a sobbing defense of his fallen idol Britney Spears after she was mercilessly blasted in the media for her disastrous MTV Video Music Awards performance — went viral in an era before that term even existed. The clip racked up more than 4 million views in just two days, and as of 2012 that number was 44 million; Crocker’s YouTube channel eventually received more than 255 million views before he closed his account in September 2015.
Now age 29, Crocker has taken to Instagram to commemorate the 10th anniversary of “Leave Britney Alone” and share what he’s learned since posting the controversial clip as an emotional teenager.
(Videos below contain profanity)
10 years ago today I uploaded this pic.twitter.com/wslJlsWHoz
— Chris Crocker (@ChrisCrocker) September 10, 2017
“The No. 1 thing would be not to let the things people say about you online get to you,” Crocker begins. “I didn’t know how to deal with it. I knew if I tried to explain to everyone — my mom became homeless that year; my mom got back from Iraq from serving in the war and she had addiction issues; I was dealing with a lot in my family — I knew if I tried to explain that, no one would listen to me. So instead what I decided to do was, ‘Oh, if they think I’m a joke, then I’m going to act like a joke.’ That didn’t help me out in the long run.
“No. 2 is don’t let the words other people say about you define you. No. 3, I think that we forget sometimes that the things we post online can last for a long time — here we are, 10 years later, still talking about this — so definitely be cautious when you post things. And No. 4: Let the haters kick f***ing rocks, man!”
But there is more to Chris Crocker than just those two minutes and 12 seconds of online infamy. Throughout the 2000s he did the talk-show circuit; pursued careers in both electropop music and porn; shifted his online profile to social media (he currently has 249,000 followers on Twitter and 769,000 on Instagram); and played himself in Weezer’s Grammy-winning “Pork and Beans” music video. Most notably, however, in 2012 Crocker was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary, Me @ the Zoo. “I think I saw some of my younger mom in Britney when I was a kid,” he said in the film.
Me @ the Zoo, which was executive-produced by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and chronicled Crocker’s troubled upbringing as the effeminate, frequently bullied son of a meth-addicted teen mom, established Crocker as an early spokesperson for the anti-bullying movement. In one scene, Crocker — who stopped going to school during his junior high years to avoid daily bullying for being “overtly gay” and basically became a teenage shut-in from that point on, living with his paternal grandparents — explained that he posted videos on MySpace and YouTube as a “way of defending myself against the people in my hometown without having to fight back physically.”
At the time, many naysayers questioned why a documentarian would want to create an entire film about some “D-list” web star, but now, in an age when almost everyone lives online, bullying is a hotter topic than ever, and Spears is enjoying her own comeback, Crocker’s story truly resonates. As Me @ the Zoo co-director Valerie Veatch told HBO: “In some ways [Crocker is] the first gay person online to express an aggressive, confident persona that I think so many young kids look to and model themselves after. On one level, he’s extremely entertaining and has a great aesthetic. And on another level, he’s a very brave person. And I think his bravery and his honesty are what people are drawn to.”
In another new online post this week, Crocker reflects: “The truth is and always was about standing up for someone and not standing idly by when you see someone hurt by others. In the 10 years since this video, a lot of LGBTQ YouTubers are celebrated for who they are. I often wonder if I had started videos later, if I would’ve been treated differently. But what I will say is this: Even if I got a public beating for standing up for what is right: I’m happy I did. And I’ll always love @britneyspears.”