Brody Ryan unzips his black Hugo Boss dress pants, musses his overgrown mohawk and swigs from a half-empty Champagne bottle. He sprawls shirtless on his living room couch and asks the makeshift camera crew, "Do I look messed up enough?"
On this Saturday afternoon, the 30-year-old rapper (and graphic designer and server) wants to recreate the moment, two months ago, when he realized his name would be linked indelibly to a hashtag: #StarbucksDrakeHands. The moment he woke, viciously hungover, to 26 new text messages, including, "Dude! Is that you in that video?" The moment he knew he was no longer just Brody Ryan, aspiring artist, but instead a joke across social media -- and instantly, if fleetingly, famous.
"Maybe pull your pants down a little more," a videographer says. "Like you tried to take them off before passing out."
Today, Ryan -- who moved to L.A. 10 months ago from Columbus, Ohio -- is shooting a music video about the surreal experience. The song's title is "15 Seconds of Fame," and it's his last-ditch attempt to capitalize on just that.
"Everything in my life turned upside down," he says. "I couldn't register what was happening at first. I flipped on the TV and saw my face. I spit out the powdered doughnut I was eating."
It all started in October. Ryan, who lives in Santa Monica, says he connected with a Studio City woman on the dating app Tinder and began exchanging photos. He showed her his Rottweiler, Leo. She sent hiking pictures.
"Then she stopped responding," he says. "I wanted to do something to catch her attention. I thought it'd be funny to send her a visual voicemail."
The rest is weird web history: Ryan shot this "visual voicemail" (think: video selfie), intended for her eyes only, on his phone. He stares into the camera as Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home" plays: I've got my eyes on you. You're everything I see. He breaks into a grin, looks down and slowly runs his hand across his forehead. It was meant to be a playful wink and nudge, he says. But it comes off as vaguely creepy.
Two weeks later, the 15-second footage surfaced on New York City DJ Ben "B-Roc" Ruttner's Instagram feed, captioned: "A friend met this guy at a coffee shop. He got her number and sent her this. Nice work bud."
It blazed across Facebook and Twitter, inspiring hundreds of #StarbucksDrakeHands parodies. Larry King, Snooki, Zedd and the Milwaukee Bucks, to name a few, released their own video selfie tributes.
The woman in question -- 20-year-old model Piper Kennedy -- repeated the coffee-shop story to Ryan Seacrest. It was twisted on Reddit and Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post until mainstream media described Brody as a well-meaning but misguided Starbucks barista.
"We're seeing a reality TV show, a biography and a possible line of cashmere gloves at JC Penney in his near future," Los Angeles blogger Jenn Harris wrote. "And to think, it all started at a Starbucks."
Meanwhile, Ryan, who battles anxiety and depression, considered moving back to Ohio. He felt trapped in someone's publicity ploy. The video selfie was humiliating enough -- but the Starbucks lie haunted him.
"Piper was embarrassed we met on Tinder," Ryan says. "She sent me a text, 'BTW, we met in West Hollywood.' But I didn't want to lie. She made me look like a loser so she could have all this exposure." (Kennedy didn't respond to L.A. Weekly's requests for comment.)
Ryan quit his job at Santa Monica's Pizza Antica. He needed time to hide, regroup and ponder his next move. Could something so humiliating be lucrative?
"People kept coming up to me, like, 'What's up, Drake Hands?' " he says. "It was a lot to handle."
Despite the attention and the calls from agents and producers, he worried about paying the rent. He cleaned and re-cleaned his house -- something that calms him.
Ryan flew to New York, on his own dime, to tell his side of the story on The Today Show -- but, he says, it never aired because he deviated from "the funny Starbucks" anecdote. "People wanted to hear about us meeting in person and Piper 'reluctantly' giving me her number," he says. "Nobody wanted a he-said, she-said debate about Tinder. It wasn't morning-show material."
Ryan told his story on Inside Edition, which aired last month, but America had moved on: His version of events didn't catch on like #StarbucksDrakeHands.
So he decided to strike back with a song. That prospect landed Ryan an interview on MTV News, where he shared some of the autobiographical lyrics:
The whole world's mocking me
But she knows damn well we never got no coffee
Of course, he knows this publicity, any publicity, could help his fledgling music career: "I'm taking advantage of the opportunities life presents to me."
But this time, he wants to be in control of the narrative.
On the day of the shoot, Ryan is grinning. Cracking jokes. Texting ladies: "Do you want to be in my music video tonight?"
He enlisted indie filmmaker friends Galen Oakes and Ashley Harrison to retell his story. In the first scene, to commemorate Ryan's literal rude awakening (and near-choking), they arranged a plate of powdered-sugar doughnuts.
"We exaggerate everything," Ryan says. "We have a good time. We show 'em I'm embracing this journey. We're not distracted by the hate."
For an hour, Ryan's neighbor loaned him a 1970s, burnt orange Buick Skylark -- perfect, he says, for cruising and rapping. He rolls down Santa Monica Boulevard, spitting his lyrics, as Galen, in the front seat, records it on a Cannon camera:
You should see my Tinder list
Exactly where I met that chick
Swiped her to the right
Thought I'd pipe her that night
Today's scripted story, to be released on his YouTube channel this month, has a happier ending than the real-life one. Faux Piper -- played by an actress Ryan whom also met on Tinder, and recently took on a real-life date -- is all sass and sashaying hips in her black miniskirt, a dream girl in the flesh. She climbs into the Skylark with a bottle of Champagne. She smokes a blunt. She kisses Brody Ryan.
Days later, a flattering email from the producers of Break.com lands in Ryan's inbox: We have named you "Man of the Year!" The humor website wanted to feature #StarbucksDrakeHands in a video. Would he join them for lunch? Discuss his future music plans?
So, in early December, Ryan meets the camera crew at a Mid-City burger joint. They ask about his Thanksgiving, his family. They want B-roll, so he agrees to walk to a nearby Starbucks and buy a coffee.
Everyone is laughing until the interview starts. Later, he remembers a stream of awful questions: "Who do you think is more embarrassed? Starbucks or Drake?" "How many girls from Tinder have you had sex with?" "How many people have you killed?"
He tried to answer, to stay calm. He felt anger rise in his throat. Sure, he expected the segment to be a joke. But this felt cruel.
"You know what?" he recalls saying, voice rising, "Why don't you just keep telling me who I am? You seem to already know."
Then, on camera, he cusses them out. Storms away. Wonders what footage will make it online.
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