Laurie Anderson attends the red carpet of the Opening Ceremony during the 76th Venice Film Festival on August 28, 2019 in Venice, Italy.

Andrea Raffin/Shutterstock

Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ is the sound of coincidence on TikTok 

It’s not often that we see a genuinely emotional viral trend.

 

Audra Schroeder

IRL

Posted on Dec 14, 2023   Updated on Jan 21, 2024, 12:02 am CST

That One Sound is a weekly column from internet culture reporter Charlotte Colombo that explores the origin of popular sounds heard on TikTok.

TikTok is big on soulmates and destiny, and it’s not often that we see a genuinely emotional viral trend. An iconic song from the early ‘80s is now the soundtrack for all the invisible connections we have.            

The sound

The audio that’s popular on TikTok is of a robotic voice singing, “Well, you don’t know me. But I know you.” 

On Nov. 22, the account @dentedmilk posted the sound in a TikTok about her great great grandmother, who died during childbirth. It’s a tribute of sorts to someone she’s never met, but still knows. The video has more than 5 million views, and many comments about how moving it is. 

Others followed her lead, creating a trend where this sound illustrates eerie coincidences, memories of our past selves, and messages from beyond. The otherworldly sound has been used in more than 63,000 TikToks, and many people referenced “invisible string theory,” the idea that two people are connected and fated to be together.    

In one video from @sush_zee, the “generational trauma” of having Tiny Tim as their grandfather was hinted at. 

The sound was also used in videos about the “Reddit lamp.” In 2012, a story was posted to Reddit in which a man is knocked unconscious and begins living a whole other life with a wife and kids, only to discover it’s a dream when he becomes fixated on a lamp in his living room. 

Where’s it from?

The sound is from musician and artist Laurie Anderson’s song “O Superman,” from her 1982 album Big Science.  

The eight-minute “O Superman” has been featured on TikTok before, but it seems people are reading a little more into the lyrics now. Over a looping “Ha,” Anderson references “mom and dad” and appears to be leaving a voicemail, her voice altered by a vocoder. But she also references the military and “American planes.” 

Anderson said the song was inspired by an aria from Jules Massenet’s “Le Cid” as well as the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. She told Anderson Cooper in 2022 that “O Superman” is “a song about how basically technology cannot save you.” 

Anderson is a groundbreaking artist who is still touring and creating at age 76, This trend has thankfully exposed a lot of people to her work. 

Sound off 

The sound became a bit controversial on TikTok, as some creators lamented that the “context” of the song has been watered down for the generational trend. 

Ellery, the person who originally posted the sound, said in another video that she was just expressing herself and doesn’t want anyone to “misconstrue” the song. She adds that she learned about Anderson in a college women’s studies course. 

When discussing what inspired the song in 2016, “O Superman” seems a little more open to interpretation. Anderson said the lyrics are “a one-sided conversation, like a prayer to God.”  

Now you can watch our That One Sound from TikTok column on YouTube! Subscribe to our channel and keep an eye out for new episodes every week:

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*First Published: Dec 14, 2023, 6:00 am CST