Rich Copley: Trying to win a bet, Transy fraternity ends up basking in Taylor Swift's glow

A frame grab from the Shake It Off lip dub by Delta Sigma Phi Beta Mu
A frame grab from the Shake It Off lip dub by Delta Sigma Phi Beta Mu

It started as a bet for dinner at Jalapeno's.

"They have great chips and salsa," Barton Lynch, a 21-year-old senior at Transylvania University, says matter-of-factly.

The bet was that if Lynch and his fraternity brothers at Delta Sigma Phi shot a video, it could get more views on YouTube than a previous class' lip-sync video for Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe, which had garnered more than 300,000 views.

"We would make fun of it for how bad it was, and it got all those views," Lynch says. "We thought we could do better, and we did."

Ya think?

The brothers settled on the "it" song when they started classes last year: Taylor Swift's Shake It Off. As evidence of how friendly this bet was, the videographer was the guy they made the bet with, fellow Delta Sigma brother Daniel Barber, who also shot the Call Me Maybe video. And he put plenty of effort into Shake It Off.

In a continuous shot (before Birdman made people think it had never been done before) the plight of one brother who appears to have stayed "out too late," as the song says, progresses into a dorm-hall-wide romp with guys mugging for the camera and playing scenes like a card game ("The players gonna play, play, play") and then the winner scooting off with his money ("Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate") to several party-packed rooms ("Shake it off").

And the video took off.

The initial posting drew more than 6 million views before it was taken down due to a copyright assertion by Swift's publishers. A repost of the video, still available on YouTube, has more than 970,000 hits, as of Thursday.

First came the hits, then there was the media coverage with stories in outlets such as People magazine and on the Today show.

"We spread it around Transy the first couple of days, and eventually they started playing it on news stations and things," says Jared Brewington, a 21-year-old senior from Louisville, who helped organize the shoot. "It was really weird getting on TV and having people talk about us."

Lynch says, "I remember friends from elementary school who had moved away to Mexico and Texas and places like that were sending messages like, 'I saw you on the news' or 'I heard you on Ryan Seacrest' and stuff like that."

It was a full-blown social media phenomenon. And then, she chimed in.

Taylor Swift tweeted, "I'm personally inviting all of these guys (and a date!) to a show on tour next year, it's on me. Nailed it, bros!"

"We were all up in our residence hall, and someone saw it, and then everyone saw it, and we were flooding into the hall and yelling," Lynch says. "It was so funny."

Tuesday night, the brothers of Delta Sigma Phi will collect their reward when Swift brings her show mere blocks from the Transy campus to Rupp Arena. The guys are trying to pay the experience forward, donating their 37 date tickets to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass.

"It's been a good opportunity to do some good for blowing up for no reason, basically," Lynch says. "It was just for fun, and chips and salsa, so it was good to do something good with it."

Out of the gate, the guys directed viewers to a fund-raising page for Leukemia research in honor of a friend, Torsie Haugli, who was diagnosed with the disease shortly after graduating from Transylvania.

"She did see the video and she loved it and loved that we linked her page to it," Lynch says of Haugli, who died in May of this year.

Many comments on the fundraising page indicate that viewers came to it through the Shake It Off video.

"It was good to have positive attention toward a fraternity rather than the typical negative attention we receive."

It also raised awareness of Transylvania University, which some people thought was a made-up school when they first saw the video.

But Lynch and Brewington, who are the guys who lead the group after the song's rap break, are thankful the attention has died down. In the months after the video was released, the duo says it was a big topic at family reunions and similar events,

"It's been kind of a relief to go back to normal," says Lynch, an international affairs and French major. Brewington's major, physics and math, similarly steers far from entertainment.

Lynch freely invokes the phrase "15 minutes of fame" in describing the video experience. But as he and Brewington sit in Transy's Jazzman's Cafe, other things are clearly at the forefronts of their minds, such as studying and current fraternity events.

"We've kind of moved past it and are trying to think of other ways we can bring positive attention to ourselves and the Greek Community," Brewington says.

But before they completely put the experience behind them, there is the matter of Tuesday's show.

"It is so bizarre that was a year ago, and now it's almost here," Lynch says. "It's going to be fun."

As of Thursday evening, Lynch says they had not heard of any invitation to meet Swift. But at this point, the experience has already gone far beyond their expectations.

"It was literally just that we get 300,000 views and end up winning our bet," Brewington says. "It became a lot more."