Fireworks, a flash mob and a full orchestra. It's not the latest Beyoncé concert; it's a marriage proposal in the 21st century.
Forty years ago, an over-the-top proposal might mean a fancy restaurant, a sparkly rock and a dropped knee.
But a recent public marriage proposal trend, fueled by social media and YouTube, has put increasing pressure on proposers to turn their private, intimate moment into an elaborate and very public production. Now, with a click of a button, over a million of your closest "friends" can tune in and witness your big, unique romantic gesture.
Last year brought a wide range of ornately orchestrated proposals: from a Home Depot flash mob to an on-air news anchor proposal to drone-delivered rings and even a Harry Potter-themed scavenger hunt. Rapper Kanye West also followed suit, planning a costly Jumbotron proposal featuring a 50-piece orchestra to woo reality star girlfriend and now fiancée Kim Kardashian.
Hopeful grooms, it seems, are increasingly willing to put in time, effort and money to impress their significant others (and, perhaps, YouTube viewers). Last year, 36 percent of brides surveyed by popular wedding site theKnot.com said they received a public proposal, up from 32 percent in 2009.
In recent years, entrepreneurs involved with event and wedding planning have realized the potential of this market. Michele Velazquez, 34, was inspired to start offering personalized proposal planning services through her Los Angeles company, the Heart Bandits, after a not-quite-ideal engagement in 2010. Her now-husband, Marvin, although clearly well intentioned, proposed to her on a dinner cruise ("I don't like boats"), forgot to plan for a photographer to capture the critical moment and failed to plan a celebration for after she said "yes."
She asked him what resources he had used to plan the big event. When he sheepishly replied none, a business was born.
The Heart Bandits plan about 20 proposals a month, and their clients generally spend between $3,000 and $5,000 on their big moment. The cost can surpass $10,000 with add-ons and upgrades, including photographers, videographers and musicians.
The pressure to top other extravagant proposals has created some unrealistic expectations and can lead to competition among friends.
"There are always men who want to outdo each other and women who want the biggest and the best," Velazquez says.
For many, it's about having a fun story to tell when, inevitably, they are asked by friends and family about the proposal.
"You don't want to tell them that he proposed over KFC," Velazquez joked.
Justin Baldoni, a 29-year old filmmaker, wanted to make a remarkable and memorable tribute to his longtime girlfriend, Emily Foxler, and produce a memory that their future children might enjoy. He enlisted the help of more than 100 friends and family to express his love in the best way he knew how — through film.
More than 8 million people have viewed the 27-minute YouTube minimovie, which Emily described as "an emotional rollercoaster." It features three music videos, a home video montage, a car chase and a flash mob, culminating in a traditional proposal with Justin dropping to one knee in front of immediate family.
"The biggest expectation I had was for myself," Justin says. "I'm a very grand-gesture guy. I love love; surprising her and trying to make things romantic since we started dating."
"It would have been special even if it had been super small and him just literally getting down on one knee and asking me," Emily says. "It may seem over the top to others, but to us it makes perfect sense. This is Justin's art. If he was a painter, he would have painted me an amazing painting to show his love."
James S. Walker, a global digital manager at the nonprofit the Nature Conservancy in Washington, D.C., decided to enlist the help of daily deals site LivingSocial to plan a surprise flash mob proposal to girlfriend Artesia Cauley, a senior internal auditor at the Engility Corp. Five weeks of planning and 12 dancers helped pull off the surprise event at LivingSocial's Washington location. He tricked her into thinking the company was shooting a promo video and, for that reason, they were able to attend the painting class free of charge. "The entire class was staged for this," says James.
"I was totally unsuspecting," she said. "I couldn't have asked for anything better."
The couple is glad they made the film public, though James says a lot of his guy friends jokingly gave him the side eye afterward. "Even the guys that aren't engaged or married yet are like, 'Great. Oh, now I have pressure!'"