Local man produces viral video parody of ‘Empire State of Mind’
August 20, 2013
By Kristine Kim
Since Mark Griffith posted the video for Andrew Dougherty’s “Beijing State of Mind” to his YouTube channel July 9, it has gotten more than 119,100 views. The video is the culmination of 14 months of work, beginning in the 18 months he was recently in Beijing, China.
Griffith, 45, is a senior software manager for Amazon. From February 2011 to August 2012, his job took him to Beijing, where he continued his affinity for photography in the foreign landscape.
“I take my camera with me everywhere,” Griffith said.
The avid hiker and traveler said he is always shooting video clips and taking pictures.
In July 2012, Andrew Dougherty, an expat who attended the same church as Griffith in China, approached the Issaquah native. Dougherty is an economic analyst by trade, but he also enjoys rapping. Having noticed Griffith’s photography and videos, the rapper wanted to make a music video for his parody cover of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” retitled “Beijing State of Mind.”
“The reason I said yes was because I wanted to have something challenging to learn, and to grow,” Griffith said.
Though he always enjoyed photography and video, the fields were not necessarily things in which he had received professional training. With Dougherty’s vision for the video and Griffith’s DSLR camera, it wasn’t long before the pair went from their church community to shooting a video on the Great Wall of China.
For Princess Fortier, an international singer recruited by Dougherty to sing Alicia Keys’ original role in the song, singing on the wall was a dream come true. Her first reaction to the proposal was, “Yeah, are you kidding?”
“It was a friend of a friend of a friend kind of deal,” Fortier said when describing how she found the project. “When we first met in person, it was totally serendipity. Andrew came into the venue right as I was singing ‘Empire State of Mind,’” she said.
When the song ended, Fortier saw the rapper nod. She had the part.
As the only performer in “Beijing State of Mind” whose career revolves around what she did in the song — that is, being a professional singer instead of an economic analyst — Fortier described her international trip, including her seven months in Beijing, as setting her on the “path to greatness.” The singer hopes to use her success from the video and her own efforts to raise $1 billion by 2020 to help those in need throughout the world.
“Beijing really is a place where dreams are made of,” she said, quoting a line from the song.
When asked to compare living in Issaquah to living in Beijing, Griffith said, “They’re almost like polar opposites in many ways. Beijing is a city of anywhere from 15 to 22 million, depending on how your count the population. Issaquah is small, comparatively speaking.”
While the Seattle area is rife with “great natural beauty,” Beijing, Griffith said, has “no reason going for it for where it’s located” with its pollution and geography.
Despite the vast differences in size and environmental quality, he described the Chinese city as much safer than Seattle.
“A lot of it probably comes just from the rigid control that has existed in society for a long time. It has kept violent and confrontational crime very low,” he said.
On the safer streets of Beijing, Griffith said his daughter could go out with her friends at night with less fear than on Seattle streets. Without fear hanging over their heads, the Griffith family could embrace the experience of being there.
“My wife said in China every day was kind of an adventure. Some of it was because it’s culturally different, but you just see a lot of interesting stuff going on,” Griffith said.
Griffith said to see the project into which he put hundreds of hours of work meet with success and positive feedback was icing on the cake.
“It’s really interesting to have these miniature 15 minutes of fame,” he said.
Though the success of the video may not necessarily be considered “viral,” Griffith was still positively surprised by the response.
“Overall, it’s connecting people,” Fortier said. “It drums up curiosity for the community at large. I think just like music and travel, videos bring people together.”
On the Web
- Read about Griffith’s journey at http://blog.niffgurd.com. See ‘Beijing State of Mind’ at http://youtu.be/x3axAVFj-lo.
- He documented his other adventures through China at http://chinagriffith.com/journal.
- Find Andrew Dougherty at www.twitter.com/bigdaddydough and Princess Fortier at www.missprincessmusic.com.