Unlike some of the other everyday-people-turned-memes featured in this series, Laina Morris leaned in big-time when her parody entry in a Justin Bieber fan contest turned into the epic meme Overly Attached Girlfriend in 2012. The screenshot from the video that launched Laina’s face into online ubiquity featured an intentionally off-putting open-mouthed, wide-eyed stare. She continued making YouTube videos until 2019 when she announced that she was ending her online career to address her mental health.
We hear more about Laina’s decision to open up publicly about her depression and anxiety and why she’s not tempted to get back in front of a camera.
This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Ben Brock Johnson: How would you define what a meme is?
Laina Morris: OK, that's a big question, a meme. I know when I became a meme, which is like a weird sentence to say, but when that happened to me in 2012, memes were very much like a photo with text on the top, text on the bottom. Every meme looked like that. Every meme like had a name.
Amory Sivertson: A few months ago, as we were learning everything we could about memes, Ben and I sat down with Laina, who has a particular take on memes.
Ben: A take without a doubt shaped by her unique experience as the accidental star at the center of a beloved if unsettling meme.
Laina: Well, my name is Laina Morris. I am better known as the overly attached girlfriend, which is a meme on the internet. I did YouTube full time for like seven to eight years and now I'm just hanging out in Arizona with my dogs, you know, quarantining still. And that's that's my life.
Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson.
Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson. And today, we bring you another bonus Endless Thread meme series episode, a conversation with the person behind one of the most famous memes, Overly Attached Girlfriend.
Ben: Which, if you haven’t seen or can’t remember, is a classic meme … image macro with impact font. The image is of Laina posing as, well, an Overly Attached Girlfriend.
Amory: Picture a wide-eyed woman in her early twenties, an odd, forced smile, head cocked to the side as if she’s interrogating you.
Ben: Paired with captions like: “Just because you broke up with me, doesn’t mean I broke up with you.”
Amory: “Did you get my messages about my other messages?”
Ben: “It took you 10 minutes to get home. Google says it takes 8 minutes… who is she?”
Amory: And as with many meme stars we’ve spoken to for this season. Laina’s relationship with fame was far from rosy. Even if its origin was pretty innocent.
Ben: Innocent only if you think stuff that involves the beeb is innocent.
Amory: This all starts with a Justin Bieber contest of some sort. Right? Hmm. When did you find out about that contest and
Ben: Are you a believer too or were you?
Laina: I liked him. I think it was also a little bit. I thought it was funny to be a Justin Bieber fan at 20 years old. And, you know, like I dressed up as him for Halloween, and I kind of just thought it was funny.
Amory: You were Beiber agnostic.
Laina: Yeah, yeah, exactly. That's a good way to put it. So, OK. Yeah, so the contest I it was early June, and I remember just like waking up and getting on my phone and I say I wasn't a fan and I'm going to tell you that like the first thing I did was look up Justin Bieber news. But like, I wasn't a fan. I saw that he was having this contest to promote his new fragrance, which was called girlfriend, and he had just released a song called Boyfriend.
[“Boyfriend” by Justin Bieber: If I was your boyfriend, I’d never let you go / Keep you on my arm girl, you'd never be alone]
Laina: And he basically asked fans to make a parody song from the girlfriend’s perspective. And I started writing these lyrics like from the perspective of Clingy Girlfriend, and I got off work one day and the contest was like almost over. So I like, ran to my room and put on a random T-shirt that I found on the floor, which, you know, if I knew how many people were going to watch it, maybe I would have done something different. You log on to your YouTube like from this website and it uploads your video and it titles it JB Fan video all on its own. I shared the video on my Facebook just so my friends and family could see it because I thought it was kind of funny. And, you know, I thought that was kind of that. And then that same night, it started getting a lot more attention than like just my friends and family. And the next day it was a meme.
Amory: The video begins with Laina sitting still in a cheap t-shirt, chestnut brown hair, facing the camera. She holds that wide-eyed look we described, with blue eyes that seem to swallow you up. Then…
[Laina’s fan video: If I was your girlfriend I'd drive you up the wall / Question who you're with, yeah I'd always call and call / I wouldn't call it jealousy, just lookin' out for you / Readin' all your texts, watching everything you do]
Ben: If the lyrics aren’t already creepy enough, she leans in, letting the song unfold into a full-blown ode to the Biebs, styled after Kathy Bates in Misery.
[Laina’s fan video: If I was your girlfriend, I'll never let you leave / Without a small recording device taped under your sleeve]
Amory: This was supposed to be a silly video she shared with friends. But, to enter the contest, she was required to upload the video to YouTube for everyone to see. And they did. The video started taking off.
Ben: First 52 comments. A few hundred views.
Amory: Then something like a million views a day in 2012.
Laina: I remember calling my dad and being like, do you know what a viral video is like? I think there's I think I did that.
Ben: Someone took a screenshot of Laina’s intense overly attached look. And, coupled with a few creepy captions, the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme was born.
Laina had already taken a semester off from school, unsure about what she really wanted to do with her life. And she knew she liked to entertain, so she ran with it and decided to make another parody.
Laina: The song “Call Me, Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, was really popular at the time.
Ben: Never heard of it.
Laina: Yeah, no?
[Laina: Hey, I just saw you. With that lady. Paid for her dinner. That's kinda shady.]
Laina: I decided that I would make another parody and do it to that song, and I did. And that video blew up. And my videos were like number one and number two on YouTube at the time, and then I knew I wanted to see where it could go. That's why I made another video. But when I made the other video, that's when I knew like, OK, I I want to see how how far I can go at this.
Laina was all in. For a 20-something living in Texas, still trying to figure out life, the idea of turning her 15 minutes of fame into something more was exciting. Her dream of being an entertainer was no longer a dream.
Ben: Her family hired an entertainment lawyer. Laina signed with Big Frame, a management company in Los Angeles that specializes in representing YouTubers.
And then she got to work, making weekly videos, taking offers from big brands, doing the work that celebrities do.
Laina: My two favorite things that came out of it, I can tell you were number one, I was on Jimmy Fallon when he was doing Late Night, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. It was a real quick sketch. I didn't have a single line. I literally came out and made the face and then went away.
Laina: And then the other thing which I feel like these two are just tied for the best was that I got a castle, which I was obsessed with Kia Souls, which everyone makes fun of me for.
[Laina: Ah, ah, I need a Kia. Kia Soul.]
Amory: But the good vibes wouldn’t last. What went wrong, in a minute.
Ben: In the years after Laina Morris became the Overly Attached Girlfriend, she built a pretty successful YouTube following often playing that character — the clingy, creepy, can’t-let-you-go girl. But it wasn’t easy.
Amory: When did things start to take a turn and things started to feel like maybe this isn't going the way that I thought it would, or maybe this isn't what I want to do.
Laina: Pretty quickly. It was a very lonely job. You know, I lived in Texas and I had no one around me that was doing the same thing I was doing. It's a job I did from home every day, so it wasn't around people as much as before. I wasn't in school anymore. It was just kind of like me at home all day, which I think maybe people can kind of like relate to now. I think a lot of people think, you know, that's like the dream, and it's really fun. But sometimes it's like, I need. I needed some structure that I didn't have, and it really it messed with me mentally. I think also one thing that was really hard was just sort of the expectation of like, like, what are you going to do now? Are you going to act or are you going to do standup or are you going to write, are you going to go back to school? And I didn't know the answer to any of these questions that I felt like I was being asked all the time. Yeah, I don't know that there was like a specific point or period I can say, like this moment. This video this time is what triggered everything to kind of like, not be so fun anymore. It was just sort of slowly over time.
Amory: With all of these questions swirling around in her head, Laina was also dealing with what many young women deal with online.
Laina: Creepy guys on the internet, real, like, sexual, disgusting. Like, I don't know. I still get them, like, that might be kind of sad, but it's something I became, like, very used to very quickly, unfortunately.
B: It was all becoming a little too much.
Laina: Even when it was at its peak and like I was doing my best, I felt almost like I was like tricking everyone somehow. Like I was like, Why are a million people subscribed to me? Like, I'm not very good at this. Like, I don't know a lot of like real negative thoughts, self-deprecating thoughts. And in 2017, I sort of took a step back and wanted to take a break that turned into like a really long time. And then around that time, twenty eighteen beginning of twenty eighteen, I started going to therapy and really diving into like, do I even want to do this? Like when I do make content, I'm not real happy with it. So I'm sure people watching aren't loving it. It's not benefiting them. It's not paying the bills. It's not making me happy. Like, what's my motive here now?
Amory: Her motivation and self-esteem had taken a hit and she didn’t know how to dig herself out of the hole. She says, after she started seeing a therapist, she learned that she was dealing with depression and anxiety.
As she was posting those public, funny videos, she also kept a video diary of her private life, like in 20-18, when she wrestled with the idea of taking medication.
[Laina: I think having to face that I am not okay on my own is hard. It makes me feel weak for some reason. It makes me feel … I don’t know. I’m just not okay.]
Ben: Laina would spend all week trying to come up with an idea for her YouTube channel. Then, her deadline would come around, and, with nothing written, she’d wing it more or less.
She was tired of it.
Laina: And then my therapist challenged me to make a video saying goodbye, not necessarily for anyone to see, just like see how it feels. Sit down, talk, say goodbye. Say whatever you feel you would want to say and see how that feels. See if it feels right. And I did that, and that's the video I actually ended up posting.
Amory: In her goodbye video, Laina opened up about her struggles with mental health. It was freeing in a way.
[Laina: As much as I don’t want to admit it, I know that this part of my life is done. And it’s time to say goodbye. And, how’s it feel to be broken up with by the Overly Attached Girlfriend?]
Ben: But she wasn’t really the overly attached girlfriend anymore. She told us when she sees that meme online, she doesn’t see herself. And that’s a good thing.
Laina: the best stuff, the stuff I'm still getting, which is really great, is like DMs and stuff on Instagram, comments on YouTube and people just saying like, I watched your video, and because of that, like I wouldn't fill this prescription that I've been putting off for. I made a I made an appointment with a therapist or, you know, you gave me hope because I'm in this really bad spot. You gave me hope that it could get better stuff like that, which is like more than I could have ever hoped for. It just sort of makes me feel like the entire seven or eight years, whatever that was like, was worth it to just kind of end in that way and help even one person.
Amory: Do you look back on this with no regrets or do you feel like, I don't know? Do you have the What If conversation with yourself?
Laina: Oh, I do think like my answer to that on a very surface level is just like I have no regrets. It ended up exactly how it should have, you know? But there are definitely things I look back on and think, Oh, if I wasn't like overthinking every little thing or stressed about every little decision, there are, you know, opportunities and trips and stuff that I turned down because I was really struggling mentally or I just was very overwhelmed by every little thing. But at the same time, I just think, man, I was like in my early 20s, I wasn't doing anything else. Like, I just I wish I had sort of jumped on. I've ridden the wave a bit more and like just had had more fun with it.
Ben: There’s one more thing we wanted to share from our conversation with Laina, something that came up unexpectedly after about two hours of talking. The Overly Attached Girlfriend, one of the biggest memes to come out of 2012… she has a boyfriend.
Amory: In fact, she has had the same boyfriend for nine years.
Laina: Yeah, we we started dating six months before I made that video the first video, so.
Laina: It was a lot. I think for both of us, we're both just kind of trying to figure it all out together. A lot of people ask me. One of the most like common questions I get is how has dating Ben as the overly attached girlfriend? You know, and I think I'm so lucky that I haven't had to. I don't have any answer to that question because I can't even imagine trying to like date and then know that I'm one Google search away from scaring off anyone.
Amory: So you're the right amount of attached to each other. Yeah, I do it all.
Ben: Laina, thanks so much.
Amory: Thanks. It was really a pleasure getting to know you.
Laina: Aw, well, thank you, I had a really great time, and I appreciate the good conversation, so thank you, guys.
Amory: This bonus episode of Endless Thread was produced by Dean Russell and Frank Hernandez.
Ben: And we are a production of WBUR, Boston’s NPR station. I’m Ben Brock Johnson.
Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson, and we’ll be back in your feed on Friday with the next full episode in our meme series.
Amory: Good morrow.