What started as one woman filming herself dancing on trains has turned into a global movement, with thousands on TikTok attempting to emulate the confidence of the so-called Tube Girl.
Sabrina Bahsoon, 22, has become known for filming herself dancing and lip-syncing to catchy songs on the London Tube using an ultra-wide 0.5 camera lens.
Since achieving viral fame last month, she’s walked the runway for MAC Cosmetics during fashion week and been the face of several ad campaigns. But her commercial success is just one ripple effect of her videos, according to many of her 680,000 followers on TikTok.
With the “Tube Girl” trend, women are rejecting social norms and simply having fun in public spaces, even if it makes themselves or others cringe.
“If I was to influence anyone about anything, it’s to not care. Stop caring about what people think,” Bahsoon told TODAY.com in a recent interview. “Because at the end of the day, you’re left with your own thoughts, your own accomplishments. If you’re having regrets, because you started to just listen to people and what they would think then it’s just like, so sad.”
NBC News interviewed some of the women who posted their own “Tube Girl” renditions. Here’s why they they say “tube girl energy” is empowering.
On the first day of classes at the University of Washington last week, McNichols stood in the middle of an auditorium stage, whipped her phone around her body and lip-synced confidently into the camera as her 1,200 students looked on.
“Honestly, it was just so much fun. I felt competent. I felt powerful,” said McNichols, who teaches human sexuality at the school. “I think I felt exactly the way Tube Girl did.”
Her video racked up more than 11 million views on TikTok — and it gained her the admiration of some of her students, who filmed her filming the TikTok (meta!).
McNichols said she hoped partaking in the bold and silly trend would make her more relatable to her students so they feel comfortable engaging with her in class.
It took two takes because on her first attempt, students cheered so loudly that she couldn’t hear the music.
“The trend is about self-empowerment, self-confidence, not caring what other people think, and I think that it is particularly true among women,” McNichols said. “The popularity of this trend is riding off of a wave of ‘Barbie’ and Taylor Swift, where it’s just about shutting off what other people think and what other people want us to be and what people want us to do.”
Hoang, a student at UW, was among the students in McNichols’ class. She filmed her professor partaking in the trend — which went almost as viral as the original video.
Seeing McNichols kick off class by doing the trend made her seem less intimidating, Hoang said.
But she’s noticed that many critics of the trend have expressed annoyance at seeing people film themselves in public, often deriding the women who partake as suffering from “main character syndrome.”
“They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s obnoxious.’ But I think some people just need to relax and not be so uptight,” Hoang said. “Because when people dance in public, they’re always having fun. And some people are just being judgy because it’s not a norm.”
While Hoang said she herself is not a dancer, the “Tube Girl” phenomenon has influenced her to step out of her comfort zone and feel more confident filming her own digital content.
Location: Los Angeles
Seeing someone like Tube Girl pull off something that would typically be embarrassing has the effect of “imbuing [the viewer] with confidence,” Rocha, who is a model, said.
Inspired by Bahsoon’s videos, Rocha pulled out her phone and attempted to replicate the trend while walking out of Target. It took her about six tries to get the angles down, including several amid throngs of people, before she uploaded a version she was satisfied with. By then, she said, the embarrassment had worn off.
“It almost feels impossible to not think about what other people think about you. But what’s that one saying? Courage is not the absence of fear, but having fear and doing it anyway,” Rocha said. “I feel really similarly about confidence. Confidence isn’t the lack of self-esteem issues, it’s having them but pushing past them anyway.”
Location: New York City
Pa, who is a student, said she knew she wanted to try the “Tube Girl” trend as soon as she saw it online.
Women are more likely to be the target of critics who claim they are being too over-the-top, too frivolous or simply unfunny, Pa said. But she’s now adopted the mindset that something is only embarrassing if she chooses to believe it’s embarrassing.
“Anytime you step out in public or you get on the subway, strangers are just gonna judge you no matter what, whether you sit quietly with your headphones or you stand up and dance crazily. So I feel like it’s just about not giving power to anyone else,” Pa said. “And if you have a song that makes you feel hot and confident, why not have some fun with it?”
Angela Yang is a culture and trends reporter for NBC News.