Remembering the McCain Girls, whose viral hit during the 2008 presidential campaign heralded a new era in internet politics

Do you remember the McCain Girls and their viral hit, "Raining McCain"? If not, you should go watch it, it's quite….something. The video was released during the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign, when John McCain was running against Barack Obama. Academics have argued that this was one of the first periods in history where music videos shared via social media and YouTube had a strong influence on political campaigns. You might remember some of the other viral videos that circulated during this campaign—including Obama Girl, as well as several videos featuring and other celebrities reciting Barack Obama's speeches (Yes We Can, and We Are The Ones).

After Obama Girl began releasing her sexy professions of love, the McCain Girls entered the scene with several videos devoted to the "Maverick." The first one, "Raining McCain," is a site to behold. It's got everything—enthusiastic, slightly off-key vocals (and shout out to the soprano who is trying her absolute best), hilarious and puzzling lyrical revisions ("I'm gonna go out, and let myself get absolutely JOHN MCCAIN!"), green screen blunders (the singer wearing green becomes invisible in front of the green screen several times throughout the video), floating John McCain heads bouncing around like they're in Pong, tiny John McCains raining down in front of a fake window, and more. My favorite part is at 1:57 when the McCain Girls start whispering "John McCain, John McCain" and splashing themselves with "John McCain rain." At the end, the woman are all outside getting soaked in the John McCain rainstorm. I mean, really, what's not to love about all of this?!

When McCain was asked about the video, he seemed to be equal parts bemused, delighted, and horrified. At the time nobody seemed to be sure whether the McCain Girls seriously loved and supported McCain or whether they were making fun of him, or maybe some kind of combination of the two? Turns out the video was created by the comedians who ran 23/6, which DBpedia describes as "a satirical news and opinion website developed by HuffPost, launched on November 9, 2007." In April, 2008, Entertainment Weekly explained the McCain Girls project:

Last week, PopWatch gave a shoutout to the McCain Girls, whose music videos in support of John McCain's presidential campaign were so laughably inept yet train-wreck compelling that we couldn't figure out if they were real, grass-roots viral vids or an elaborate, deliberately amateurish parody of same. Well, now we know, thanks to the Comic's Comic blog, which figured out that the video was actually the brainchild of the comedy pros at 23/6, about four days before the New York Times got the 23/6ers to acknowledge it. 

At the time, NPR's Scott Simon interviewed one of the creators of the McCain Girls, Sarah Bernard, President of 23/6. Here's a snippet of that interview:

SIMON: This song and dance is apparently the work of a new satirical news Web site called 23/, which released this video of the McCain Girls on YouTube just a few weeks ago, only recently took credit for it, though. The senator's been asked about it, by the way, and he says he likes it. Sarah Bernard, the president of 23/6, joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us. 

Ms. SARAH BERNARD (President, 23/ Thanks for having me. 

SIMON: So, do you guys mean it? 

Ms. BERNARD: You know, we – as you said, we're a satiric news site. We're out looking at the news every day of the week. We thought, for a minute, what's actually going on on YouTube these days, and what is sort of that YouTube star phenomena, and they're always amateurs. So we decided to experiment and just put it out there and not take credit for it. We thought it'd be just hugely more popular that way, so we put the video out on YouTube and watched it spread.

The New York Times also covered the story, and provide more insight into 23/6 motivations for the videos:

The videos' makers say they were trying to tread the line between sincerity and irony.

"We wanted to parody the campaign-song phenomenon," said Sarah Bernard, the president of 23/6. Because most of the so-called stars of YouTube are amateurs, the comedy site decided to take no credit for its creation. 

Jon Benjamin, a contributor to 23/6 who produced the "Raining McCain" video, had watched some of the more earnest campaign songs online. Recalling one particular video, an elaborate choir production called "Hillary4U&Me," "it just looked like somebody paid them money to do it," he said.

So that's what 23/6 decided to do: hire three women with acting and singing backgrounds to create a video for Mr. McCain.

"We were pretty amazed that after the video came out, people were confused as to whether or not it was real," Ms. Bernard said. "That's when I think we said 'Hey, can we actually pull off a hoax here? How long can we keep it going?'"

Many viewers called the videos cringe-inducing, but at least one person was receptive. "I think they're wonderful," Mr. McCain said on the Fox News Channel last week. "I have watched that video several times." 

This was all only 15 years ago, but it feels so utterly quaint, like another time and space dimension. With regard to the whole incident, in 2008 Entertainment Weekly asked: "Does it mean we've entered a new era when the line between reality and parody has been irretrievably blurred? And if so, is that good or bad?" How incredibly, disturbingly prescient.