UO all-guy a cappella group is now a viral hit

EUGENE — And you thought the "I Love My Ducks" video got a lot of hits online.

Well, maybe you haven't met the guys from On the Rocks, the University of Oregon student-run, all-male a cappella group.

The video someone shot of them three weeks ago at UO's Erb Memorial Union amphitheater, performing what has become their most popular routine, a mocking of pop star Lady Gaga's music video "Bad Romance," has been viewed more than 1.7 million times online. That's about double the number of hits the "I Love My Ducks" Rose Bowl video has received since it stirred up controversy on campus last fall.

"It's crazy," On the Rocks member Jacob Steinberger said. "It's really weird. We put it up there, and a day or so later there was like a couple hundred thousand hits. And then it was climbing exponentially."

Another video of the group singing the 1987 Rick Astley pop hit, "Never Gonna Give You Up," on a New York City subway in March has received more than 737,000 Internet hits.

The viral videos have increased the group's popularity on campus. On the Rocks was formed by two UO students in 1999 and has been performing at the EMU at 4 p.m. on Fridays ever since, even as members have graduated and new students have taken their place.

"I love listening to them," said freshman Claire Berger, who first saw an On the Rocks performance when she was in the fifth grade in Eugene. Her family later moved to Portland, where she attended high school, but she's been back at the EMU every Friday during the 2009-2010 school year.

"I love the fact that it's just voices, but it sounds like instruments and drum sets," Berger said. "It's incredible that they can all mesh to put together such an awesome production."

If it rains, the 14-member group performs songs such as Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time" inside the EMU "Fish Bowl." Two other popular UO a cappella groups, the all-female group Divisi and a co-ed group called Mine the Gap, also perform at the EMU on Fridays.

More than 300 people, the largest crowd of the year, watched and cheered them all in Friday's warm spring sunshine. But it was On the Rocks that seemed to draw the most interest.

"I love On the Rocks," UO junior Ami Tai said. "You can't beat them. They're so much fun."

The group's roots can be traced to the summer of 1999, when two UO students, Leonardo Silva and Peter Hollens, met in a UO writing class. They convinced others to join them and rehearse, giving their first performance when they auditioned to sing the national anthem at a UO basketball game. Now they are considered, along with Divisi, one of the top collegiate a cappella groups in the nation. They have been invited to audition this summer for "The Sing-Off," the NBC-TV show that is like a version of "American Idol" for a cappella groups.

"This is a pretty big year for us, because it's 10 years and all of a sudden we're getting all this publicity," said group member Teigh Bowen, a senior psychology major.

The group's popularity is a testament to the power of the Internet. They have appeared twice this spring on the Huffington Post Web site feature "Hot on Facebook."

Asked if Lady Gaga herself had maybe seen On the Rock's version of her hit song on YouTube, Steinberger said, "I'm pretty sure she has. Ashton Kutcher and Joe Jonas have seen it," he said of the actor and pop star, respectively. Both tweeted the videos on their Twitter pages, Steinberger said.

The group took an East Coast trip over spring break in March, performing at Boston University, Yale University and various parks and other sites in New York City.

The highlight, though, was "rickrolling" a Manhattan subway car. Group members boarded the A train at Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan, but not everyone knew group member Nick Firth had a video camera in hand.

"'On the Rocks' is about to 'rickroll' this subway," Firth can be heard saying on the video, as he points the camera at his face.

"Rickrolling" is an Internet prank begun about three years ago in which misleading links redirect users to the 1987 Rick Astley "Never Gonna Give You Up" music video. The term now also includes performing the song in public places after Astley himself appeared in the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, interrupting a song on a float promoting the Cartoon Network.

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