Every year since 2016, the comedian and screenwriter Demi Adejuyigbe has made videos of himself dancing to the Earth, Wind and Fire song "September" — the enduring dance hit which opens with the question: "Do you remember / the 21st night of September?"
The first video in the series relies on his absurd remix, with the original's lyrics replaced by some permutation of the words "21st night of September." His roommate at the time encouraged him to share it online.
"So I made a video of myself dancing to it, and I made a quick shirt with like a stencil that I had and just posted that on Twitter," Adejuyigbe says. "And they were like, 'Oh, that's funny.' "
In the lead-up to Sept. 21, 2017, he noticed that people were pointing to his video from the previous year.
"I was like, 'Oh, maybe I should do another one. Oh, that'd be fun if I escalated this year,' " Adejuyigbe says. "And then as soon as I had done two, it was like, 'It's a pattern. You're going to do this every year now.' "
In the latest video, Adejuyigbe announces it is the last one he'll be making. But the annual and ever-growing video drops made Sept. 21 something of an internet holiday. The productions incorporated a children's choir, a mariachi band and, this year, a rotating room which opens to reveal a backyard and a choreographed dance party.
"There's this sort of element to it where you're just like, 'Why is this happening?' " he says. "Like, there's no real justification behind it, and it feels like this very niche sort of thing that's simultaneously big and small. So it feels like you're excited about this thing that you're in on. But it also just feels like ... when it's going to happen, you know that it's going to be bigger than last year. You know, it's going to be a surprise."
As the series has grown, so has Adejuyigbe's cast of collaborators. He singled out his friend Marina Shifrin as a co-producer for the last few editions.
"It just feels like doing the impossible with a bunch of friends," Adejuyigbe says. "It reminds me of just being like a child and trying to make videos with my friends ... you think you can do everything just because you're like, 'Oh, I'll see a tutorial and it'll be easy.' And as an adult, it's the opposite. I'm like, 'I just don't think it's possible' ... And then getting to the point where we do it and looking around and just feeling like, 'All right, we're a bunch of 12-year-olds who just suddenly built a rotating room' feels like we're invincible."
Adejuyigbe has directed the attention his videos have drawn towards charitable purposes, encouraging audiences to donate to select organizations. Hours after the last video went live, he said that in total, the videos have generated nearly $1 million in donations.
This year he is raffling off a painting, with the proceeds going to three organizations: the climate activism group Sunrise Movement; the New Orleans-based Imagine Water Works, a mutual aid organization currently providing Hurricane Ida relief; and the West Fund, a nonprofit helping provide access to abortion in West Texas.
"Hurricane Ida hit and then Greg Abbott's abortion ban in Texas also hit," he says. "And being from Texas, I was just sort of like, this feels like something that we have the power to just do something about and just provide for."
Though Adejuyigbe says he doesn't relish the attention and anxiety that the video series has given him, he has enjoyed the opportunity to direct them. And he's loved the process of bringing them to life.
"What I really love about the videos and why I keep making them is just the ability to make things and just have a plan and execute it," he says. "I don't know. We'll see what that turns into."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEPTEMBER")
EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) Do you remember the 21st night of September?
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
No, it's not the 21st night of September anymore. That was yesterday.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Yesterday was also comedian and writer Demi Adejuyigbe's goodbye to an internet tradition he started. See, in 2016, he remixed the famed Earth, Wind & Fire song as a joke. His roommate encouraged him to post it somewhere.
DEMI ADEJUYIGBE: So I made a video of myself dancing to it. And I made a quick shirt with, like, a stencil that I had and just posted that on Twitter. And people were like, oh, that's funny.
CORNISH: People found it so funny that when September 2017 rolled around, they began re-sharing the video. So Adejuyigbe thought...
ADEJUYIGBE: Oh, maybe I should do another one. Oh, that'd be fun if I, like, escalate it this year. And then as soon as I had done two, it was like, it's a pattern. You're going to do this every year now.
FADEL: Every year since, Adejuyigbe has posted a new video, upping the ante each time with new sets, props, even guests.
CORNISH: In 2018, he was joined by a children's choir.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) ...September. Ba-dee-ya (ph) 21 September.
FADEL: In 2019, a mariachi band.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARIACHI AUSENTE PERFORMANCE OF EARTH, WIND & FIRE'S "SEPTEMBER")
CORNISH: His September videos have millions of views on YouTube.
ADEJUYIGBE: It's the perfect element of, like, you know when it's going to happen, you know that it's going to be bigger than last year, you know it's going to be a surprise. And so it just feels like you are setting yourself up for excitement every year.
CORNISH: Adejuyigbe has basically created an internet holiday with his videos. They're a lot of work. And in 2020, he was ready to hang up his hat. But instead, he decided to go big.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ADEJUYIGBE: So I'll make a deal with you guys. I'll do another video next year if you can help me raise $50,000 to be split between these select charities.
FADEL: He ended up raising close to $350,000, split between advocacy organizations focused on unhoused people and marginalized communities. And of course, it meant one last video.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEPTEMBER")
EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) Ba-dee-ya - say, do you remember - ba-dee-ya - dancing in September?
CORNISH: Like all great performers, he went all out with this one. There's a rotating room, a house party, a flying car.
FADEL: Now, Demi Adejuyigbe might be done with the "September" videos, but he's not done with creating.
ADEJUYIGBE: What I really love about the videos and why I keep making them is just the ability to make things and just have a plan and execute it. I don't know. We'll see what that turns into.
CORNISH: Don't worry, Demi. We'll still be thinking of you every September 21. We're going to stay tuned for what you do next. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.