By Ed Brennen
Big companies with highly caffeinated marketing departments spend loads of time and money trying to make their content go viral online.
For sophomore plastics engineering major Brian Amici, all it took was a few thousand dominoes, an unabashed love of Taylor Swift and some patience.
The result? A mesmerizing two-minute YouTube video called “Taylor Swift Through the Eras” that’s been viewed more than 430,000 times over the past year, seen by millions more around the world at Swift concerts — and applauded by none other than Swift herself.
Take that, Madison Avenue.
“It’s been crazy. I didn’t think it would ever blow up like this,” says Amici, who got the idea to make the tribute video before attending a Swift concert at Gillette Stadium in July 2015.
“She’s just had such an influence on my life,” Amici says of the superstar singer/songwriter. “I remember when I first heard one of her songs on the radio and she just kind of clicked with me. She just seems like a great person.”
Working on the hardwood floor of his family’s home in Berlin, Mass., Amici spent up to five hours each day for a week setting up and recording the video, which features a series of elaborate falling domino designs that call out various highlights of Swift’s career. (YouTube commenters particularly love Amici’s grand finale, which references a meme popular with Swift’s die-hard fans.)
A month after the concert, as Amici was preparing to begin his freshman year in the Francis College of Engineering, he got a notification on Tumblr that he had been tagged in the video. Apparently someone had uploaded it to Facebook and then someone else had posted it to Reddit. The video was suddenly going viral — but the only problem was that Amici was not being credited as the creator.
“No one knew it was me, so I spent the next few weeks fighting to get my name associated with it,” he says. “I just kept reposting it and saying, ‘I did this.’ ”
His efforts worked, and soon Amici’s creation was being written up by the likes of the Huffington Post, People, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly and Perez Hilton.
Then, on August 11, it happened.
“I was in my room and my friend said, ‘Brian, go check Facebook and Twitter,’ ” Amici recalls.
Swift had shared Amici’s video with her 81 million Twitter followers, along with the message, “Absolutely floored by these domino skills and really flattered that someone would do this.”
“I was speechless. I didn’t know how to react,” Amici says. “Then my notifications blew up. It was a crazy day.”
But that wasn’t the end of it. Amici was then contacted by Swift’s manager, who asked if they could include his video in the preshow reel played on the big screen before concerts.
“I was overwhelmed,” says Amici, who “of course” gave his permission. He says he tried to subtly parlay the connection into an actual meeting with Swift, to no avail.
“That’s OK,” he says with a smile. “At least I have an ‘in’ now.”
As for his “domino skills,” as Swift calls them, Amici began dabbling with designs at age 10 by trying to recreate a video he’d seen online. When he was 13, he earned a short-lived spot in the Guinness Book of World Records by building the world’s tallest domino tower, a 10-footer that he stacked in the family garage. The hardest part, he says, was keeping his family’s five cats and one dog at bay.
His hobby continued to grow, and when Amici was 16 he was hired by a nonprofit organization in Montreal to come build a 25,000-domino display for its 25th anniversary celebration. Amici estimates he now has about 50,000 dominos in his own collection, which he uses in dozens of videos on his YouTube channel, petmagnetetal.
So what does he get out of building these elaborate, painstaking patterns?
“I wonder that myself,” he says. “I spend hours setting something up just for it to be over in a few seconds. And then I have to clean it up afterward. Where’s the enjoyment in that?
“But there’s something about it that’s captivating, too. It’s definitely a creative outlet.”
Amici knows he can’t make a living playing with dominoes, of course, which is why he has focused his sights on plastics engineering. He’s had his heart set on plastics since high school, when he saved up money to buy his own 3D printer.
“I really enjoy the manufacturing of plastics — the processing and injection molding,” he says. “That’s the path I’d like to go in.”
Then again, Amici always has a future as a viral marketer.