It’s time to lay off Justin Bieber. The Canadian pop star had internet users, news outlets and other celebrities around the world in a tizzy on Thursday, October 25, when photos of a man appearing to be him eating a burrito sideways emerged online. However, it turns out a Bieber look-alike named Brad Sousa was the one actually responsible for eating the dish all wrong, and his outrageous act was part of an elaborate hoax.
Sousa was hired by a company called Yes Theory and flew from Canada to Los Angeles to participate in the stunt, which included various engineered-to-go-viral scenarios including the burrito bit and an instance in which Sousa (dressed as Bieber) helped a grandma-for-hire across the street.
“We wanted to prove a point: that staging a story, as goofy as it was, can be done much more easily than most people can imagine,” a Yes Theory employee named Thomas Brag says in a newly released YouTube video explaining the hoax.
From there, the Yes Theory staff, which typically produces videos meant to “seek discomfort” and challenge “what society considers normal,” transformed Sousa, who is already a convincing Bieber doppelgänger, into an unmistakable version of the Grammy winner.
Then the team, including Yes Theory founder Zack Honarvar, went to a Los Angeles park and snapped the now infamous burrito photos and sent them to various media outlets. After a slow start on Reddit, the pictures eventually made it to the front page of the site and were later picked up by news publications including Vanity Fair, which attempted to verify the photos, and E! News.
“Not a single person is questioning whether that’s actually Justin Bieber,” Honarvar states in the video.
In an interview with Canada’s Global News, Sousa said Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, was pleased with the prank. “He posted it on his Instagram,” Sousa noted.
Braun, who knew the image was fake from the start, shared the image on his Instagram page briefly, in an effort to find out who the perpetrators were. “I thought to myself, ‘Some kid is gonna hit me and tell me who did this.’ Within 30 seconds of posting it and taking it down, your manager hits me!” he explained via an Instagram video.
And though the “Baby” singer himself hasn’t responded to the image, it has Braun’s seal of approval. The music producer noted: “It’s really funny.”
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