Be it the iconic Disaster Girl or the Double Rainbow Guy, the concept of ‘viral sensations’ pretty much had a one-track mind in the webcore age of internet 1.0. Back then, meme-worthy reactions were celebrated and quickly moved on from as another replaced them. In 2022, however, one does not simply become an internet star without falling into the consequential rabbit hole of branded content strategies.
Such is the case of Tariq, the ‘CEO of Corn’ who undoubtedly made the internet a better place by expressing his deep love for—you guessed it—corn.
Tariq, also known as the ‘Corn Kid’ or ‘Corn Child’, debuted across social media platforms when he was first interviewed by Recess Therapy, a chaotically-wholesome web series hosted by actor and comedian Julian Shapiro-Barnum. Dubbed as the internet-friendly version of Bill Cosby’s Kids Say the Darndest Things, the series essentially documents casual chats with children between the ages of two and nine in New York City—sporting over two million followers on Instagram.
It was 4 August 2022 that the internet was first introduced to Tariq’s poetic obsession with corn, which he so happened to be eating at the time Shapiro-Barnum interviewed him at Brooklyn’s Smogasburg, an open-air food market in Prospect Park.
“Ever since I was told that corn was real, it tasted good. But when I tried it with butter, everything changed! I love corn,” Tariq was heard saying as he adorably chomped down on his ear. “Look at this thing! I can’t imagine a more beautiful thing!”
The boy then concluded the interview with a sitcom-style outro by stating, “I hope you guys have a corntastic day!” What? It’s a nice little pun about “cowne,” okay?
When the video of the hilarious exchange was uploaded to Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter, it went viral in no time—garnering over 23 million views on Instagram alone. Corn Kid became an iconic king who “restored faith in humanity” as netizens swore to “protect him at all costs.” At a time of uncertainties, Tariq essentially reminded the internet of the little things in life which struck a wholesome chord with many.
Shortly after Tariq floored our FYPs and hearts alike, netizens all across the world started expressing their own love for corn by incorporating the starchy vegetable into everything from breakfast recipes and wardrobes to tuft rugs and even computer keyboards.
Then, on 19 August 2022, Michael Gregory—a creator who is part of the musical group The Gregory Brothers that whips up absolute bangers by editing and adding autotune to news broadcasts—uploaded a catchy remix of the Corn Kid’s viral dialogues to TikTok. Dubbed ‘Corn but it becomes a song and unites world’, his rendition has garnered 58.6 million views with over 348,000 videos to its credit on the platform today.
Safe to say, the bop has now become the official anthem for ‘corn boy summer’.
But 22 seconds wasn’t nearly long enough to convey Tariq’s love for corn. On 29 August, The Gregory Brothers dropped an almost three-minute song titled ‘It’s Corn’.
“Hey folks! We’re so excited to announce that, in partnership with Tariq, his family and @gregorybrothers—we’ve launched ‘It’s Corn’, the official song of this crazy corntastic moment we all created together! All proceeds are being split with Tariq and his family. So, please support and give it a listen! It’s streaming everywhere💕🌽” Recess Therapy captioned a TikTok post featuring clips of the music video.
Although much of the internet was enthralled with the banger hitting Spotify and Apple Music, some users started casting their doubt on the ethical division of royalties. “On Spotify, Tariq is only listed as a performer, not a writer, when the lyrics are his,” one user commented. “This should be amended for obvious and financial reasons.” Another user hoped the caption was a typo. “Because I think most people know having credits on the lyrics is far more lucrative than performing credits,” they admitted.
“Give him his writing credits, y’all are actually insane to not do this from the get [go],” a third wrote, while a fourth mentioned: “There are already covers. This kid needs a lawyer.”
Over the course of a month, Tariq’s words have been tapped and, dare I say, commodified, by brands and hyper-accelerated marketing culture alike. To date, several companies and organisations like DashMart and Feeding America have jumped on the exploitative bandwagon and that’s just a scratch on the grim surface of things. Heck, he’s even been featured in a Chipotle advert designed just to go viral on Twitter.
“Marketing gurus are using the video to outline content marketing strategies on LinkedIn,” Know Your Meme wrote in an explainer article. “The San Francisco Chronicle is attempting to piggyback off the video’s success to promote restaurants that serve corn. Music blog Consequence of Sound is making Taylor Swift album announcement parodies with Tariq’s monologue.”
It should also be noted that Tariq has joined Cameo, a website that lets you hire public figures to create personalised videos that make “memorable gifts.” According to the Daily Mail, Tariq allegedly charges $140 per video, $700 per business video and $3 for a single message. The University of Nebraska, whose team name is the ‘Cornhuskers’, also purchased a Cameo from Tariq on 25 August that has now racked up over 14,300 likes on Twitter.
At the other end of the conversation, however, many have criticised the ethics of a child appearing on the platform. “We saw an adorable kid, Cameo saw a market,” a user commented on the platform’s TikTok announcement about the addition of the new star. “The money better be going to the kid, not the parents,” another wrote, as others wondered why there is a need to “capitalise” on his joy in the first place.
On 25 August, Tariq also made a second appearance on Recess Therapy where some noted how his contagiously-innocent vibes were completely different and felt “forced,” as opposed to the authentic joy he expressed in the original video. “Bro’s fed up with corn now,” a netizen commented, highlighting how he was seemingly immersed in a self-conscious air this time around.
“The organic magic of the original video is missing, leaving behind a video that feels like a fanservice-filled reboot of a classic,” Know Your Meme went on to note.
Collectively, Tariq’s case links back to the time viral TikTok dances choreographed by black creators were quickly co-opted by white influencers—who, in turn, reaped all the financial gains and went on to have massive careers of their own without crediting the original dancers. On these terms, NYLON also mentioned that The Gregory Brothers is a musical group featuring all-white members.
At the same time, the publication noted how the discourse in question has risen only after Tariq’s family tried to monetise on his wholesome obsession with corn—despite brands doing so since the viral clip started having the internet in a progressive chokehold.
At the end of the day, Tariq is a kernel of truth reminding us of the internet’s exploitative relationship with marketing gimmicks and the questionable concept of “repurposed” content that will continue to milk the heck out of unadulterated joy down to the very last penny.