A-Punked: How One Student Accidentally Hoaxed The Blogosphere

One Brooklynite’s homework project spawned ‘Lemon Sounds’, the (fictional) new album from Vampire Weekend.

It’s hard to know who actually started it, but yesterday afternoon most of your favourite music sites were awash with the new Vampire Weekend album artwork and tracklisting. In this age of ‘publish fast/bringing you the news first’, it’s not perhaps as surprising as it ought to be that no one dug too deep; all the usual places were reporting it, it must be true.

People were excited. Vampire Weekend are a popular act, and news of the May release of their (still untitled) new album was met with much anticipation. Where there’s demand, there’s a desire to provide more insight. More information. Something new. And if you were going to imagine a Vampire Weekend cover, well, it would probably look just like this.

Appearances can, of course, be deceptive.

Shortly after the cover image began to circulate, the band’s label XL let it be known that it was a hoax. ‘Lemon Sounds’ was not Vampire Weekend’s new album.

Of course, alarm bells probably should have rung straight away. The band had played a new track, ‘Arms’, which was conspicuous by its absence. The artwork didn’t quite match the aesthetic that Vampire Weekend are currently rocking on their website. And the URL showcasing the artwork (along with a teaser video) was registered on the 12th January, but not by the band’s label as would be the norm, and well over a week before the album announcement.

But in the clamour to be quick with the news - to give readers what they wanted - everyone missed the clues.

A lot of publications simply pulled the story. Made like it never happened. Some - like us - decided to own up; we got a-punked, if you will. Others are still, at the time of writing, posting the album details as fact before quickly correcting themselves - and it continues even now to retweet and repost around Twitter and Tumblr.

For us, a question still remained; who would go to all that effort? Why on earth would you try to fool everyone into thinking that the new Vampire Weekend album was called ‘Lemon Sounds’? What we found out turned what could have been another excuse for online media introspection into one of the most brilliant stories in years.

In truth, it was a little bit less of a deliberate hoax, a little bit more of a school project that somehow ended up as the hottest news of the day. Nobody was trying to con the media. No mastermind stroked their hairless cat in a swirly chair. Instead, it was someone trying to do his homework.

Thomas Calabrese, a Brooklyn based graduate student studying for his Masters in Branding at New York’s School of Visual Arts, was, along with the rest of his class, given a lemon by his tutor, told to photograph it, post it on Facebook, and whoever got the most ‘likes’ would win. His idea, by anyone’s standards, was a little bit brilliant.
‘My heart was working in overdrive.’
‘The only thing we’re not allowed to do is tell people on Facebook what the picture is actually for,’ he explained, when we tracked him down. ‘I knew a lot of my friends would respond positively to me pretending to make a Vampire Weekend cover. I was winning until yesterday, when someone surpassed my 93 likes with a photograph of an anniversary picture being consummated with two ‘lemon manhattan’ drinks.’

So off Tom went, only intending to grab some much needed likes from his friends and colleagues. ‘I’m excited to share the artwork I did for Vampire Weekend’s album coming out later this year,’ he penned. ‘I was told I wasn’t able to talk about the project until it launched, and this morning I was sent their teaser website! I did a lot of variations and was happy to see they picked the more out there design. I can’t wait to see the full album package in stores!’

He added a link to a website he created, that included the artwork and a fake tracklisting. Tom had done his work; there were songs the band had played live, or mentioned in interviews included. It wasn’t entirely unbelievable. It was certainly good enough to fool his chums. ‘More exciting news about this coming Wednesday,’ he wrote in the comments to his post - probably not quite what Tom was expecting, though.

When the band announced their album release on Tuesday, things went in to overdrive. By announcing just a date and a couple of images on their website, they left a vacuum of information. All this time Tom’s ‘Lemon Sounds’ sat innocently, waiting to fill it. Whoever happened across it at some point within the next 24 hours most likely thought they’d hit gold. 

It’s important to note Tom didn’t send this in an email to a news website. He didn’t send a fake press release to a blog - or at least if he did, he isn’t telling us. He posted this on his personal Facebook page over a week ago - at a point where he couldn’t reasonably be expecting the band to kick into gear before his project was up. He wasn’t trying to dupe anyone, he was trying to get a good grade (and tellingly, he won’t even let us publish this until the class is over, so no one can accuse him of cheating). The fact his project was picked up and reported as fact around the world has clearly shocked him - ‘my heart was working in overdrive,’ he told us. Although, if you have over 90 Facebook likes on a single post, and move in creative Brooklyn circles, it’s not really surprising how far it went.

But finding him, and therefore the facts, wasn’t difficult. His name was on the Lemon Sounds website - which Tom pulled as soon as he realised what had happened, not wanting to upset either Vampire Weekend or their label, XL. It didn’t take that long for us to seek him out, chat to him, and discover exactly what had happened.

The lesson for the online media is both pretty obvious and nothing new; sometimes it’s easy to just believe that if enough people are saying it, it must be true. Which shouldn’t be the case in real life, and it shouldn’t be the case here, either. Whilst we’re no longer sure exactly where the story originated (given the deletion of the majority of the new pieces about it), we’re quite sure that even without our subsequent detective work, one quick check in with XL would have saved everyone’s blushes.

But as for Tom, he’s just hoping that the buzz generated might score him an A.

Vampire Weekend’s new album will be released on 6th May via XL Recordings.

Update: Turns out, XL Recordings are not only a great label, but they also have a good sense of humour. What follows is what greeted Tom this morning; the only question is, does he have enough gin and tonic?