“I absolutely love that you are encouraging other girls to have confidence regardless of [who’s] watching or what others think,” one fan wrote under a video.
“I hope you know you’re starting a trend to break confidence barriers with women everywhere I literally love you,” writes another.
In each of Bahsoon’s viral videos, some of which have been viewed 16 million times, her hair blows in the wind as she dances effortlessly to beats by Raye, Tate McRae, Jazmin Bean or Jazzy. In less than a month, Bahsoon, who just completed a law degree at Durham University in the U.K., has amassed more than 400,000 followers on TikTok, been asked to collaborate with brands such as MAC Cosmetics, and landed an invitation to walk at Paris Fashion Week.
It’s been a summer of “girl” trends, which has made Bahsoon’s rise using yet another one all the more interesting. For fans and media studies experts, Bahsoon’s unique style of maneuvering her front camera is one reason her videos stand out among the deluge of TikToks created and consumed daily, not to mention her strong sense of confidence and a personal narrative that fits perfectly with her TikTok appeal.
TikTok users, models and comics are now emulating the Bahsoon style of dance videos on subways in New York City, D.C., Tokyo, Warsaw and other cities. Part of the Tube Girl’s appeal could lie in her subversion of the idea that girls and women, especially girls and women of color, are conditioned to believe that they should take up as little space as possible, according to some experts.
“We have seen progress in terms of gender norms, but we have also seen regression,” said Ashleigh Wade, a professor of media and African American studies at the University of Virginia. “Sabrina’s videos may be appealing to people who think that if they take up space in public they may receive scrutiny and vitriol.”
Bahsoon, 22, was raised in Malaysia with a Sierra Leonean and Lebanese father and a Malaysian mother. Growing up, Bahsoon always told her mother she wants to be a rock star, she said.
“I knew I wasn’t a corporate girlie,” she told The Washington Post. “I just needed to complete that law degree before I could land here.”
About a month ago, moments after submitting her final assignment for law school, Bahsoon broke down. They were tears of relief, she said. She finally felt free and empowered.
“I remember thinking, this is the only time in my life I have nothing else lined up,” she said. “So either I commit to genuinely making myself happy by pursuing my dreams or I’m never going to be happy and I’m always going to be feeling like this.”
Almost all of her friends from law school spent the summer securing jobs while she had to constantly explain to her family that she needs to follow her dreams working in music and fashion.
“Even if people love you, they may still doubt your biggest dreams,” she said. “You have to believe in yourself, there’s nothing more important.”
Bahsoon has been recording herself dancing in trains since last year, but it wasn’t until last month that she conceptualized her jerky camera movement. She first tried it at home, then on the London bus, and finally on the train. It was the way she captured the wind in the train that became the key factor, she said.
Bahsoon jokes that part of her confidence stems from her being a little “delulu” — internet slang for delusional — but “knowing what you want and realistically recognizing your abilities” has been an important part of her journey.
Her virality is not a fluke or a one-off, she said. When she decided to give her creative career a chance, she began to think more deeply about the music she listens to, how the beat influences her and her camera to move, and how its music video should be styled. “Then I just follow the music, ” she said.
Bahsoon is going to continue following the music until she is able to carve a niche for herself in the world of music and fashion.
For Carrie Rentschler, a professor of communication studies at McGill University, Bahsoon’s videos “perform a kind of confidence that others aspire towards and want to participate in,” she said.
TikTok is all about imitating and remixing different videos and styles, she said, adding that Bahsoon’s feat includes getting others to make videos in her style.
“Her strong sense of self really shines through the camera,” Rentschler said. “And that’s what people are attracted to.”
Wade, however, notes that so far most of those joining Bahsoon have been people presenting as women with a similar body type. “Showing confidence and self-assurance could be harder for people whose bodies don’t adhere to normalized standards of beauty,” she said.
For Bahsoon, accessibility and inclusion has always been important, she said, and one of the reasons she ended up filming on public transport.
As the #tubegirleffect spreads, Bahsoon is going to keep dancing in the tube and making her videos. After all she does spend upward of an hour commuting every day.
“Embarrassment is not real,” she said. “At the very least you can’t let it come in the way of your dreams.”