The first part of this fairy tale is fairly traditional. Boy meets girl, boy proposes, they get married. But what happened to Jillian Peterson and Kevin Heinz in the days following their wedding in St. Paul, Minnesota, exactly one decade ago, is a thoroughly modern fable for today.
Jillian, who loved to dance growing up, had the idea for her wedding party to boogie down the aisle to a pop song. “It was one of the first things we decided we wanted to do when we got engaged, although I'm not sure if our friends thought we were kidding or serious until the day of,” Jillian remembers now. The result? A five-minute processional that begins with two ushers tossing wedding programs into the air and goofily bopping down the aisle. The rest of the wedding party follows, including a dramatic group number and finally the bride crunking with unadulterated joy toward the altar. It's candid, playful, silly, and absolutely endearing. The boyfriend of one of the bridesmaids recorded it from his perch on the aisle and the couple posted it on YouTube. “We sent it by email to our wedding party and family. That was it. The Today show called us within 48 hours!”
Unwittingly, Jillian and Kevin had pioneered a new bridal phenomena: the viral wedding party. “To be honest, when people told me it was going viral ten years ago, I had no idea what that even meant,” Jillian says with a laugh. “We didn't even hire a videographer!” The video will eclipse 100 million views this year, which isn't even the most surreal part. Soon after it was uploaded, the couple got offers to write books, host a reality show, dance at other weddings—all of which they turned down because both were full-time graduate school students. They opened a P.O. box and strangers started sending things, including Christmas cards, wedding gifts, and letters from soldiers overseas. They had a wedding email address that was flooded with more than 10,000 messages after just a few months.
In the decade since Jillian and Kevin got married, social media has become an integral part of the wedding process. Slickly produced proposals and epic save-the-date videos began to be a thing. Proposals utilizing cue cards (like when the guy tells his best friend's wife he is in love with her in Love Actually) became as popular as Amazing Race-inspired proposal videos. And my favorite: The flash mob proposals! I loved when my pal Marc Jacobs proposed to his boyfriend at a Chipotle in 2018.
Throughout my career in fashion, I've fielded all sorts of questions from future brides (and a few grooms) on all sorts of sartorial issues. Is a strapless too '90s? Do I have to invite my future mother-in-law? Why is it so hard to find a bridesmaid dress that works with everyone's figure? (My answers: Kinda, yes, and don't do matchy bridesmaid dresses!) But when I became the head of fashion at YouTube, I started receiving questions that had nothing to do with style: How do you pick a hashtag? How long should a wedding video be? Is it bad if a wedding video doesn't get a zillion views? (My answers: Be witty, definitely less than eight minutes, and get a grip!)
This May, The New York Times published a story called “Weddings So Exclusive No One Made the Guest List.” It detailed a new trend of couples hosting lavish, meticulously planned elopements, and instead of inviting friends and family, they just sent a video link of the ceremony after the fact. When my boyfriend's sister and her longtime boyfriend got married earlier this year, they did something similar: They had a small, private ceremony for immediate family and a big party afterwards. The couple asked me to film the actual ceremony on my phone and upload it. I was happy to oblige (although, yes, I was nerve-wrecked I was going to mess it up somehow), and I posted the whole ceremony as an unlisted video on my YouTube channel the next day. The couple sent it to their friends (unlisted videos are only accessible to those who are given access) and told me they would watch it when their real-life memories of the ceremony started to fade.
At YouTube, we started to see an increase of wedding-themed content spike around 2015—everything from getting-ready-with-me type videos to hair and makeup tutorials. Like all good video strategies, the content I find most compelling is something that's super personalized. A good example is Safiya Nygaard, a YouTube creator who has been documenting her wedding process since her engagement video. Earlier this year, she took a video camera with her dress shopping and was very candid about the process.
Today, every couple is thinking about videographers and hashtags in addition to a florist. In fact, a cottage industry of companies entirely devoted to content creation for your wedding has sprung up all over the country. Just like all the hullabaloo surrounding a wedding, there are examples of people focusing on the wrong elements of marriage, which is really anything not focused on the act of starting a life together. But, for the most part, I love that YouTube has given me a front-row seat to all of these major life moments, even when they're about complete strangers. I have no problem admitting I've been known to shed a tear watching some of these videos!
I called this a fairy tale because the JK Wedding Entrance Dance has a happy ending. Actually, it has a few happy endings. The couple is still married—Jillian is a psychologist and professor of criminal justice, Kevin is an immigration attorney, and they have three kids—and they are still pals with everyone in their homemade music video. In the past decade, 11 of those people have earned doctorate degrees (medicine, law, education, ecology, physical therapy) and added 22 kids to the mix. Even the man who filmed the video married his then-girlfriend, one of the bridesmaids, and they have two children. In 2009, the television show The Office parodied their wedding video. “We were shocked,” Jillian says, adding they didn't know it was happening until they saw it on television with everyone else.
Does Jillian have any advice for aspiring viral brides out there? Not really. “It was all an accident!” she says, adding: “I would say be yourself, have fun, and enjoy your day.”
This story originally appeared in the August/September 2019 issue of Brides, on sale beginning July 2.