Why Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard Dominated the Internet

Originally published May 15, 2022

(Robert Rodriguez/CNET)

By Ian Sherr and Erin Carson

Marc Musso has a habit of writing a silly song about whatever he’s doing. Sometimes it’s about feeding his cat Malmo, other times it’s about playing board games.

So it’s probably no surprise that as the 27-year-old Texan was watching a live feed of the defamation trial between actor Johnny Depp and actress Amber Heard, he found himself writing a song about the divorced couple.

Sung from the perspective of Heard’s lawyers, Musso’s song pokes fun at how often they raised objections to Depp’s comments while on the stand.

“I used to be respected. People took me at my word,” he starts singing with pop-music beats in the background. “Then I became a lawyer representing Amber Heard.”

Indeed, the weeks-long drama that was the trial between two Hollywood stars became one of the most popular topics on the internet. In between images of Russia’s war on Ukraine, US mass shootings and abortion-rights rallies, it was video snippets coming from a static, dark wood-paneled courtroom in Fairfax, Virginia, that went viral. 

On Wednesday, a jury found both Depp and Heard liable for defamation, with Heard taking the bigger hit. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, though the judge reduced the punitive damages to $350,000, which is the cap in Virginia. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and no punitive damages.

The case began as a reaction to an opinion piece Heard published in 2018 in The Washington Post amid the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, discrimination and assault. Her piece, which discussed domestic abuse she’d experienced, did not name Depp. But Depp sued her in 2019, alleging that Heard defamed him and that she had been the abuser. The next year, Heard countersued Depp.

Then they were in court, with a camera live feed streaming free to the internet from their proceedings in Virginia, and millions tuned in. Some people watched because it was entertaining. Others cheered on their preferred side. Before the trial’s conclusion this week, Saturday Night Live lampooned the case as a spectacle being put on “for fun.” In reaction, critics have said they’re disgusted by how callously audiences treated the case. 

But that didn’t stop people from sharing links, watching videos by the millions and tumbling further down the rabbit hole, remixing trial footage into their own brand of parody. 

That included Musso, who didn’t initially plan to post his 87-second tune to the internet, until his girlfriend convinced him to put it on YouTube and then on TikTok. Less than two weeks later, his song has racked up more than 15 million views.

Musso thought the trial “was ridiculous, and most people seem to agree,” he said. After all, to him it’s just one rich person suing another rich person while airing out their drama to the public.

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