It’s 2006. You open YouTube in Firefox and see the Flash-based video player showing low-resolution footage of kids dancing to a song called Chicken Noodle Soup. It feels like that day’s bit of Internet fun. You have no idea that those few videos represent Black culture preparing to forever shift how the internet and music industry would co-exist. At least, I had no idea.
Today we released the final installment in Flowers, the documentary series I co-created that tells the stories of the impact of Black creativity on digital culture. This episode features Bianca Bonnie, formerly known as Young B, the rapper behind the first big social dance trend on Youtube, the Chicken Noodle Soup. The Chicken Noodle Soup i and Bonnie are important because in creating a song that elevated a local dance trend to the national scene through the internet, Bianca Bonnie created a blueprint for all the social dance challenges that would follow. It changed how music was promoted, and it was a harbinger of a future where we, the public, would popularize songs through our creativity.
This story is special to me because the Chicken Noodle Soup is what opened my eyes to the potential of YouTube. In 2006, I had just returned to Tulsa from a two-year stint in New York, where I had been living in Morningside Heights with my now-wife while she attended graduate school at Columbia. The memory of New York was still fresh in my mind, when I opened the still-new YouTube and saw videos of all these kids in New York doing the Chicken Noodle Soup, I froze. Looking at those videos, seeing kids dancing on the sidewalks in front of their stoops, viewing the cramped apartments others were dancing in, I felt as though I had been transported back to my old Manhattan neighborhood through the videos.
I took advantage of YouTube’s ability to teleport me around the country, and, soon, I found myself watching and learning about various regional dances from around the country: TURFing from the bay area, Chicago footwork, krumping (and clowning) from L.A. I felt YouTube collapsing the distance between me and the rest of the country each time I pressed play. More national dance trends followed rapidly. In 2007 Soulja Boy’s Crank Dat took off. In 2008, it was the Stanky Leg. 2008 was the year I’d begin working as a viral video curator and would get to see all of these dance trends unfurl around me.
Some of you may be as old as I am and may be saying “Hey, wait a minute… there were definitely other dance trends that pre-dated this.” You may be thinking about the Milk and Cereal videos and the Numa Numa videos, for example. I draw a distinction between these trends and those like Chicken Noodle Soup. Milk and Cereal and Numa Numa were dance-based memes with choreography designed specifically for the camera, non-existent outside of the internet. They are single-use dances. Chicken Noodle Soup is a dance popularized through the internet but intended to be performed in public. Today, it seems obvious and inevitable that this is what the internet would be used for, but back in those days, nothing was obvious and everything was potential. Chicken Noodle Soup unleashed that potential.
When we began considering stories for this series, this is one of the first I pitched. I was eager to show how Black creativity had impacted been impacting digital culture through YouTube from its earliest days. Producing it was a full-circle moment for me. I got to make a documentary for YouTube about the trend that really drew me to YouTube. I even got to meet Bianca, so for one last time, YouTube and the Chicken Noodle Soup collapsed the distance between me and New York.
Do you recall the first trend you fell in love with on YouTube or the Internet? Leave a message in the comments so that we can reminisce together.