Celebs step up for Lip Sync Battle, and so do fans worldwide.
During a 2013 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, John Krasinski challenged the host to a lip sync battle: who could best mouth the words to a variety of songs, like "I'll Make Love to You" by Boyz II Men?
That little bit went on to spark a worldwide phenomenon.
First, it became a recurring segment on Fallon, and then it morphed into its own hit series, Lip Sync Battle, which premiered in 2015 on Spike, since rebranded as the Paramount Network . Last year, according to Nielsen, the show reached or was sampled by some 30 million viewers.
Lip Sync Battle now airs in 120 territories across six continents and has been licensed in 21 formats, with versions in Russia, Mexico, China and the Philippines. Twice nominated for Emmys, it has spawned several spinoffs, including Nickelodeon's Lip Sync Battle Shorties, which features kids.
BET hosted special knockoffs around the Hip Hop Awards and Soul Train Awards, while a Lip Sync Battle aired on MTV just before the 2017 MTV Movie & TV Awards. In 2016, Carnival Cruise Line created an adaptation that lets passengers compete throughout their vacations.
What makes the show so universal? Host LL Cool J says it's a "peek behind the curtain" that showcases an authentic side of stars, something fans always enjoy. "You get to see these celebrities and cool people letting their hair down and being silly, having these sing-in-the-shower moments that we all have."
Executive producer Casey Patterson adds that superstars bring no agenda, other than to entertain. "We don't pick the songs — the stars do," she says. Contestants often say that once they do Lip Sync Battle, fans embrace them in a whole new way. "A lot of celebrities are terrified to come on our show," LL Cool J says. "But the next time you see them, they say this is all anybody ever talks to them about."
The internet is key to the show's worldwide success. In 2017, Lip Sync Battle generated 300 million views across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spike/Paramount's owned and operated platforms. Because Lip Sync Battle is produced 90 seconds at a time, Patterson says, it offers "very clean, realized moments and small bites" that are extremely sharable.
The series kicked off its fourth season at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre with a Michael Jackson–themed live premiere. Hailee Steinfeld, Laverne Cox, Neil Patrick Harris and Taraji P. Henson battled for the championship belt. To up the ante, the show's regular set received a flashy makeover.
"We have a new stage!" chirped Chrissy Teigen, whose title is "Colorful Commentator." "And I live inside a disco ball!"
Patterson says the goal was to create a theater-in-the-round experience so the stars can go "bigger and bolder. Over time, we realized that if celebrities wanted to compete, they wanted to do it right," she says. "We now have that ability."
Patterson and her fellow exec producers — Jay Peterson, Stephen Merchant, Krasinski, LL Cool J and Rick Schwartz of Eight Million Plus Productions — have no plans to slow down. "There's always new music and new artists," she says. As the platform grows, so does the caliber of the talent. "We just had Kathy Bates here doing Bruno Mars," Patterson says. Stars typically sign on after seeing a viral clip of a colleague on the show, she explains. "Hers was Ben Kingsley."
The ultimate battle, Teigen says, would be herself versus LL Cool J. "It's going to happen at some point," her would-be rival teases, promising it would "blow up the internet."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2018