Laina Morris is the real person behind the Internet meme known as the "Overly Attached Girlfriend." She has deftly exploited her Internet fame, turning a spoof entry to a Justin Bieber contest into a full-time career of putting comic videos on YouTube.
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So is it cool to be an Internet meme? What happens when it's your photograph that becomes the joke shared by millions of strangers? NPR's Jasmine Garsd asked one young woman, who was launched from obscurity thanks to a meme.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: You may never have heard of Laina Morris, but if you've spent enough time on the Internet, you've seen her picture. In it she has this discombobulated wide-eyed glare. Several years ago, that picture became an extremely popular Internet meme known as the overly attached girlfriend. It generally has a joke written on it, which goes something like this - took you 15 minutes to get home. Google Maps says it takes 12. Who is she?
Or this - I was looking through your text messages earlier. Who's mom?
Back in 2012, Morris found out about a Justin Bieber contest.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOYFRIEND")
JUSTIN BIEBER: (Singing) If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go.
LAINA MORRIS: Basically, he asked people to make a parody of the song "Boyfriend" and make it "Girlfriend." And I don't know. I just thought that it would be really funny to enter the contest, but make the song really creepy and weird (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "JB FANVIDEO")
MORRIS: (Singing) If I was your girlfriend, I'd never let you leave without a small recording device taped under your sleeve.
GARSD: It's appropriate that Morris's golden ticket into Internet stardom was Justin Bieber, who himself was discovered on YouTube. She didn't win the contest, but one of her Facebook friends uploaded a screenshot of her looking particularly menacing to reddit, a popular sharing site. Within hours, the picture had gone viral.
MORRIS: The following morning, it had become the meme known as overly attached girlfriend now. It hit a million views that day.
GARSD: It's impossible to know how many times the meme starring Morris has been shared. She says getting recognized on the streets was strange at first.
MORRIS: You know, it was pretty exciting. It was confusing for sure, and I wasn't exactly sure what was going to happen or how it happened in the first place.
GARSD: She says she doesn't like some of the jokes she's seen scrawled over her face online, but she also feels disconnected.
MORRIS: To me, it's this character - this overly attached girlfriend. Yeah, it's me, but it's not really me.
GARSD: Overly attached girlfriend might not be her, but Morris is definitely cashing in on her fame. She plugs brands like Audible, Autotrader and Kia. She's also appeared on Real Player's YouTube channel and Samsung's. She won't say how much she makes off of all this, but at age 23, she's been able to quit her job to focus on her YouTube channel, which has over a million followers and releases one comedy video a week, like this one spoofing people who pose as Super Bowl fans.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO,"#SPORTS - SUPER BOWL")
MORRIS: I will watch the halftime show, though, because, like, if something goes wrong and I didn't tweet about it, that, like - I wouldn't even show my face in public, you know? That's just humiliating.
GARSD: Morris has a face for television and the earnestness of a social media star. The videos are cute, and she says eventually she might like to become a comedian or a writer. And while the comedy greats got their start in standup, maybe YouTube is this generation's version of a dimly lit comedy club where you get your chops. Morris is actually really lucky. The Internet is filled with people who have watched helplessly as an unflattering picture or video of them goes viral. But for the time being, she says she can't complain.
MORRIS: I guess I'm lucky in that I'm kind of in on the joke, I suppose.
GARSD: And in a viral world, aren't we all? Jasmine Garsd, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.