The boy band that wasn’t

What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of the Soup Boys? Well, read on…


Hammad Fasih December 23, 2012

Albert Einstein once said “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” North American culture is wrapped in a never ending shroud of illusion. A keen eye can spot this. A sharp mind can deduce this. An entrepreneur can leverage this. However, a creative team can turn this illusion into a worldwide statement.

Enter The Soup Boys, an experimental marketing project that pranked an entire city into believing that an A-list boy band was visiting Toronto from Pakistan for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). In fact, The Soup Boys were nothing more than a small group of friends with an idea to trick their city and have some fun while doing that.

The final weekend of TIFF was quickly approaching. The city was buzzing with star fever as the likes of Kristen Stewart and Ben Affleck descended upon the city. The timing for such an event could not have been any more perfect. With the date set, our team had just less than 2 weeks to prepare for a celebrity takeover in downtown Toronto at Dundas Square. At this point things began to move quickly. Within a week we had picked a location, acquired the equipment, developed a brand, created a name, secured extra volunteers, and come up with a plan of action.

Scouring liquidation stores for cheap equipment, we even went as far as taping a dollar-store flashlight on to a defective and outdated news camera to add to the effect.

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With less than a week remaining, the team began to practice roles, develop back stories and create personalities. Bodyguards practised how to immediately respond to situations while remaining at the beck and call of the word “security”, while faux fan girls prepared their high pitched screams. Each supporting cast member worked laboriously to fulfill one purpose: making these fake celebrities believable as a huge Pakistani boy band. All signs pointed to a successful event. However, no event is without its moment of doubt; that second of indecision that grips one member of the team. It can be caused randomly as events are so complex in nature that anything can go wrong at anytime.

Up to this point, the ‘reporters’ had practised their lines to perfection and as they began to rehearse, one small overlooked factor started to become increasingly apparent.  If people were going to lie about knowing “The Soup Boys” how would they be able to differentiate band members without knowing their names? Our supporting cast could only repeat a band member’s name so often before it became awkward. As the ramifications of this began to spread, many began to doubt the effectiveness of the entire plan. The realisation that the stunt would only be compelling for five minutes before it died down began to emerge.

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But then a solution was found just as quickly. Why not put words into other peoples’ mouths? The reporters, instead of asking “who is your favourite member of the soup boys?” could ask “what did you think of Danish’s legendary guitar solo on their debut single?”

This removed the confusion that would otherwise have lead to potentially awkward moments in interviews. When an interviewee is so quick with his or her response and so excited to comment on their favourite boy band, the waiting crowd begins to fall deeper into the fantasy. The congregations’ perceptions begin to shift, as the image of the Soup Boys begins to gain even more depth.

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Five minutes before the big ‘walk out’ the scene outside the doors was stagnant. There was no hype, no crew, and no crowd. The media team moved into position right away. While setting up cameras and shouting instructions, we began to attract curious glances. Soon people began to stop and stare.

The brave ones ventured over to ask what was going on while the shy ones, the ones not yet sure of what to make of this event, began to murmur amongst themselves.

Before the question could be answered by our own staff, who were too busy setting up the cameras for the ‘international celebrities’, bonafide onlookers began to fill the curious ones in.

“They’re a boy band from Pakistan,” some yelled, while others added, “They were trending on twitter about coming to TIFF!”

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The media crew even started to get frustrated by those stopping to stare as they were getting in the way. Reprimanded like school children by their teacher, they moved off to the side but remained completely stationary. The illusion was starting to work!

Accompanying the many fans was also a group of haters, who were convinced that The Soup Boys were nothing more than a band of tight jean wearing, Backstreet Boys knockoffs.

One frustrated bystander, clearly sick of waiting for our big entrance, even exclaimed: “You know how these Rock Stars are, they make their own time!”

Another told his girlfriend: “What’s the point? They’re too big to remember taking a photo with you.”

As his girlfriend broke through the crowd to get through to Basim, I remembered Kanye West so accurately claiming “I love all my haters.” I too loved these haters. They created the perfect ambiance, the perfect counterweight, the perfect challenge that the eager crowd needed. No Justin Bieber or Donald Trump, is worth his salt without his haters.

However, these haters were no match for our professional team members who had strategically placed two female accomplices within the crowd. Their only job was to scream in anticipation; a small detail which was crucial to cement the hoax in the minds of the crowd.

They are

One ear-splitting, crystal shattering scream marked our arrival. The Soup Boys, escorted by security, began to emerge. Innumerable flashes of paparazzi cameras went off. The crowd went into a frenzy, attracting more masses of people and eventually creating a wall that halted traffic. Another scream as “The Soup Boys” wave to the ensuing crowd from the building and then… pandemonium.

The Soup Boys have become minor celebrities ever since, with media outlets like blogTO, a web site about Toronto, and Breakfast Television, a Canadian morning news and entertainment programme, running their video footage. Their appearance on Omni Television, a multilingual Canadian television system, is also imminent with talks underway. Their popularity has been spreading so far and wide that ‘band members’ are being recognised by people on the street. “I was the grocery store and the cashier recognised me,” says Naseem. Their reach is not only limited to Toronto with news pouring in that they have also been invited to pull the same stunt in Amsterdam and Hong Kong.

What started off as a prank has clearly evolved into something even the pranksters didn’t anticipate. As Naseem says, “The Soup Boys are here to stay.”

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 23rd, 2012.

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COMMENTS (5)

Ali | 8 years ago | Reply

If you have friends in the media you don't talent.

kali billi | 8 years ago | Reply

I don't get it. :-/

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