Why is the heck is everyone on TikTok saying ‘Bing Bong?’ Here’s the trend explained

bing bong tiktok
Image via Sidetalk/Instagram

“Fuck ya life, bing bong!” shouts a man with a heavy New York City accent at the beginning of a TikTok soundbite that’s been played over tens of millions of times in the past several weeks. In fact, if you’ve spent any time on the platform yourself lately, you’ve probably found the clips inescapable. What’s less clear, however, is where this baffling TikTok trend originated from. So to get to the bottom of it all, we’ll start from the beginning.

How the Bing Bong trend started

In September 2019, NYU students Trent Simonian and Jack Byrne started the “one-minute street show” Sidetalk, which takes place across the various boroughs of New York City — from Times Square to Coney Island — to interview locals and tourists alike. Each episode kicks off with a sound familiar to New Yorkers; the ubiquitous “Bing Bong” noise is heard on MTA trains to alert riders to stand clear of the door.

Though early episodes were hosted almost exclusively by Simonian, over the years, the duo has picked up a roster of illustrious guest hosts, including the rapper Nems (a.k.a. “the Mayor of Coney Island”), who was the first to articulate the “Bing Bong” noise in an episode posted on April 10, 2021.

After that, “Bing Bong” became a catchphrase of sorts, and the inspiration for the now-famous TikTok trend came from a September 10 episode likewise filmed in Coney Island. In addition to the aforementioned “fuck ya life” guy, who flips off the camera from out the driver’s side window of a minivan, the episode features a cast of colorful characters including a puppy-holding man who goes by “Mr. Hard Hat” and a shirtless man named TJ.

“Ariana Grande, what’s up mama, come to Coney Island and take a spin on the Cyclone, I miss you,” says Mr. Hard Hat, among the various quotes that have since gone viral. When Nems asks TJ what he would want to say to “Joe Byron” right now, referring to the current president, TJ replies, “Wassup baby, take me out to dinner.”

Before “Bing Bong” would even make its way to TikTok, an episode of Sidetalk outside Madison Square Garden following the Knicks season opener featured the clip. After the post went viral, it quickly became a catchphrase for the team, to the extent that it sometimes even gets projected on the jumbotron during games. But at that point, “Bing Bong” was still largely a New York City-based trend.

On November 19, however, select clips from the episode were uploaded to TikTok by user @yvngwxrld in a post with over 18 million views. The original soundbite likewise appears in over 100,000 TikTok videos to date. However, it first began to go mega-viral when Lil Nas X used it in a star-studded TikTok video on Dec. 4, featuring Olivia Rodrigo, Avril Lavigne, Jack Harlow, Normani, and more, mimicking the quotes from the clip.

From there, suddenly, “Bing Bong” was everywhere, being co-opted by everyone from the cast of Jersey Shore to the Duolingo owl and even Trader Joe’s employees. Over the weekend, the Jonas Brothers used it in a video taken at the White House featuring “Joe Byron” himself in a playful attempt to urge people to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. (Predictably, most of the replies called on President Biden to cancel student loan debt.)

However, with the viral notoriety, there has also been some controversy, given the financial straights of the characters involved. For instance, TJ, the man who asks Biden to buy him dinner, is homeless. In an Embedded newsletter published on Dec. 7, author Kate Lindsay writes that maybe there should be a way of compensating viral creators, particularly when rich and famous celebrities are co-opting the content.

I go all kinds of ways on this, because the free flow of creativity and the way TikTok facilitates the easy building and adapting and changing of content is exactly the magic that makes the app so remarkable (that, and the recently-leaked algorithm). But when that creativity reaches mainstream status—being lip-synced by glammed-up celebrities—there’s not yet an effective way for the creator to be compensated, and in some cases, their work can get forgotten altogether.

A GoFundMe created for TJ, who is sober, to help him get off the streets has currently raised over $37,000 of its $5,000 goal. Though it’s only a start, we can probably all say “Bing Bong” to that.