Like every married 30-year-old woman in America, I have of late become obsessed by the video for Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” It has everything a good music video should: a catchy beat, amazing dancers decked out in the best ‘90s gear, and the conspicuous absence of the male gaze. Bieber pulled a Sia-like disappearing act from the video; he’s there in voice, but that’s it. And so, maybe it’s fitting that the immediate focus of my obsession became not him but another invisible, ever-present man.
Namely: one of the dancers wore a green football jersey with “Thousand Oaks” emblazoned across the front. I spent the first few years of my life in a town near Thousand Oaks in southern California’s Ventura County, and I wondered how the jersey ended up in the mix. Thousand Oaks is home to Oaks Christian High School which, as this website has noted, has “an overabundance of famous progeny” including Nick Montana (son of Joe); Trevor Gretzky (son of Wayne); and Trey Smith (son of Will). Could one of these celebrity scions be the reason for the jersey? A little ways into the song, green jersey girl (her name is Kirsten Dodgen) turns around to reveal a name printed across the back of her jersey: Molen. Bieber used to live in nearby Calabasas; could they have been friends?
The dancing in “Sorry” is athletic, which will come as no surprise to fans of Parris Goebel, the 23 year-old New Zealander who choreographed and directed the video. Goebel, the one in the black tracksuit and Timberlands in the video, has worked with Nicki Minaj, Janet Jackson, and Jennifer Lopez. “[A] lot of [what we wear in the video] is just my wardrobe,” Goebel told Elle. “We were all panicking because a lot of the girls didn’t have ‘90s things or colorful things and we had set that theme already…I literally just packed two huge suitcases of my clothes and took it to the shoot and just said you wear this, you wear that, you wear that and then that was that.”
By this point, I’d done enough amateur sleuthing to know that “Molen” was Erik Molen, a high school junior and an outside linebacker for the Thousand Oaks Lancers. His Twitter page was one long list of RTs from his pals who were obviously super stoked that their boy’s jersey had ended up in Bieber’s video:
I had to talk to him. What would it be like to have your jersey show up in what is undoubtedly one of the hottest music videos of the year? (As of now, the “Sorry” dance video has nearly 260 million views.) Were his friends giving him shit for it? Did he have any idea how his jersey ended up onscreen?
The answers are: (1) Pretty cool, (2) no, and (3) sort of. My conversation with Erik Molen, very gracious teen, both gave me faith in the future of humanity and also made me hope that he and Parris Goebel eventually film a buddy comedy where she is a wealthy school administrator and he is a down-and-out student and she teaches him how to dance.
Erik! So, do you know how your jersey ended up in the video?
I don’t know exactly how, but my mom donated it to like Goodwill, I think...umm, I guess they bought it. I don’t really know.
When did you first hear about your jersey being in this video?
I was in English class and my friend tweeted about it and I was really shocked and I didn’t know what to do. I was really confused…I had so many questions.
Do you feel like you’ve gotten those questions answered? Or is it still a mystery to you?
It’s a mystery, yeah, For sure.
Have you played football for a long time?
Yeah, I’ve played football almost my whole life, since like elementary school, probably. Yeah, that jersey’s actually—I don’t know what year it is, but it’s not from the high school. It’s from a Pop Warner team in Thousand Oaks.
Clearly all your friends now know about this. How did word spread? Did you tell your friends about it?
Well, I didn’t really tell anyone. Like when I walked out of English class, somehow, a bunch of people already knew and they asked me about it. My whole football team at practice, after school, were asking me about it.
Did anyone give you a hard time? What were people’s responses?
No one gave me a hard time. They were just like surprised and confused, kind of like I was. Everyone’s like, kinda happy I guess.
Have you ever been a fan of Justin Bieber? How did you react?
I like his music. Like, I like “What Do You Mean,” that song.
Yeah that’s a good song!
That song’s pretty good, I’m not gonna lie.
What is some of your other favorite music?
I’m kinda into like rap and R&B. Like, I like The Weeknd. And, uh, I don’t know, I kinda like Drake.
Totally. Did you see the video for “Hotline Bling”?
Yeah, that was weird.
Do you feel like you are more of a celebrity at your school now?
Yeah, a lot of like random people come up to me and ask about it. They’re just like, how did your jersey get in that video, and I tell them, and I got like thirteen more Twitter followers after that.
Do you use Twitter a lot? Is that a cool thing for high schoolers to use?
Yeah, um. Our school, I mean I guess our area is more into Twitter than Instagram. Like, we use Twitter a lot more.
Do you feel like you would be friends with Justin Bieber if he lived in Thousand Oaks and wanted to hang out with you?
I think so. I mean, yeah, why not?
Does it make you want to learn this dance to this song so that you could do it in your jersey?
I never really thought about that. I guess I can learn it, I don’t know.
Do you feel like this is a fun surprise, that your jersey has been seen by 70 million people?
Yeah it’s definitely fun.
Have any of your teachers or adults talked to you about it?
Yeah, my English teacher the next day asked me about it. And my mom posted on Facebook about it.
She did? What did your mom say?
Yeah, she’s like, “Oh my gosh, Erik’s in the new Justin Bieber video” and posted pictures of it.
I feel like also on your Twitter, did your sister maybe tweet something about it?
Yeah, my sister tweeted about it.
Do you think you’ll write about it in your college essay?
I don’t know, I might!
The dance was kind of a throwback to the ‘90s in some ways, which I know because I’m 30, but you are not. It looked a little bit old school. What did you think about that?
Well I felt like [my jersey] was kind of out of place in the video. It seemed kind of random. There’s only one Bulls jersey, but I felt like it was really out of place.
Yeah. I think she made it her own though, by knotting it up.
Do you think you’ll show this to your children someday?
I was actually—I was thinking about this the other day, and I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll probably show them. Yeah.
Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.
Gifs via Youtube