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Sarah Brand, ‘Red Dress’
Via YouTube/SarahBrandVEVO

Is the viral ‘Red Dress’ music video all just an elaborate meme?

A sociology student’s off-key pop song has the internet wondering if they’re part of an ambitious ‘social experiment’

Sarah Brand, a writer, director, and Oxford University student, uploaded “Red Dress” to YouTube almost a month ago (July 7). The music video is one of just two uploads on her channel — the first, “Fantasy”, was added just a couple of weeks earlier — and yet it’s already attracted 730,000 views, with thousands of comments wondering what the hell is going on.

In you’ve had chance to enjoy “Red Dress” for yourself, you’ll understand why it’s provoked such a divided response. From Brand’s off-key vocals, to the religion-tinged lyrics — “They see me in a red dress, hopping on the devil fest / Thinking of lust as they judge in disgust” — to the guitar solo that sounds like the guitarist is doing the bare minimum to get paid, the three-minute track is pretty difficult to get through.

Add to that some glossy production, questionable choreography in an Oxford church, and a fairly nonsensical narrative (Brand plays a woman wearing a white dress to church, and the woman in a red dress who crashes the service), and the project has all the hallmarks of a “Friday” for the 2020s.

“This is amazing,” reads one YouTube comment. “It’s like the original version of this song doesn’t exist. Only the karaoke version.”

Others have pointed out that Brand is actually carrying the tune — albeit “HER tune” — throughout the whole song. “I’m impressed that she can sing the chorus exactly the same,” another commenter adds. “She can hit all the wrong notes the same way every time she sings the chorus.”

Brand’s background (originally from Los Angeles, she’s studying for an MA in sociology at Oxford) has also prompted speculation that the video is actually an elaborate meme or “social experiment”. This theory is backed up by Brand’s in an interview with the BBC, which sees her discuss the “witty comments” on social media.

“There’s that side of it with humorous feedback,” she says, “and there is also the other side that is judgemental behaviour and that is part of what this project deals with overall as a central theme. Judgemental behaviour does hurt the world and that is what I’m trying to bring to light with this project.”

Is that a confirmation that the music video, and its comments section, are a meta-commentary on judgemental behaviour on the internet? Not quite. Though Brand is credited with writing, directing, producing, choreographing, and editing the project, she hasn’t confirmed whether it’s connected to her coursework.

On her website, she also says that she’s looking to produce a feature film that is “an extension” of the “Red Dress” video, which could mean that it will give us some much-needed answers. Equally, it could serve to deepen the mystery further.

In the meantime, you can watch the video for “Red Dress” below.