GREENSBORO — The Kick Swivel dance came into being, like so many things in today’s digital age, because Ty Gibson had his phone and a few minutes to kill.
It was June 28, shortly before noon, and Gibson and his mom were about to head out of town for a family reunion. Gibson’s mother was still packing when Gibson, a sophomore at UNCG, got an idea for a dance.
Gibson clapped three times, hopped on his right foot, front-kicked with his left, swiveled his knees and hips and yelled out “KICK SWIVEL AYYYYYYY.” It felt good, so he did it again, this time with his iPhone resting on a bookcase in the living room. He posted the 13-second video on the social media site TikTok and headed off to the weekend reunion.
In the four months since then, nearly 20 million people have watched Tik Tok videos featuring Gibson and others doing the dance he dubbed the Kick Swivel. That video led to Gibson recording his first single, which has become the theme song for his new dance. All of this buzz has pushed his count of TikTok followers to 1.8 million. And now that he’s Internet famous, Gibson sometimes gets recognized on campus and around town: You that guy on TikTok?
“God is good, God is good,” the high-energy 19-year-old said in a recent interview. “That’s all I can say.”
Growing up in the town of Rockingham, about 90 miles south of Greensboro, Gibson clowned around for his family in kids costume wigs and mismatched shoes and clothes. “I’m a natural goofball,” Gibson said. But around other people, he said, he was a shy and quiet kid.
The public shyness started to melt after he and his mom moved to Greensboro and he started sixth grade at Northeast Middle. Gibson’s mother, Tammy Clark, said after Ty got a leading role in a church play, his confidence blossomed. Now, she said, “he’s on 100 all the time.”
When he was attending Northeast High School, Gibson posted lip-synch and dance videos on music.ly, the social media video app that merged with TikTok a year ago. No one noticed. (“My dancing was terrible,” he said, laughing.) A good friend suggested comedy, so Gibson started recording comedy videos of 15 to 60 seconds, the longest that music.ly allowed
Someone at music.ly noticed and put one of Gibson’s videos in a “Featured” slot, which people see right away when they open the app. That helped Gibson attract more followers. So he made more videos, got more “Featured” attention and gained more followers. And so on.
A lot of Gibson’s early work was what’s known as relatable videos — short spoofs on everyday teenage life. He also did into reaction videos — videos of him reacting to someone else’s video.
Gibson created comic characters, too. One of his first and most popular characters was Grandma, which Gibson played by wearing a wig and an old bathrobe and putting a pillow over his rear end. That became Grandma Twerksalot, the star of Gibson’s YouTube family sitcom, “Ratchet Lullabies.” Gibson writes, directs, films and edits the online series, and he plays all the other characters, including Mama Mabel, Dirty Grandpa, Lil Zeke and Ty Jr.
TikTok users also like his “When Kids Roast Each Other” series, in which Gibson plays two people who go back and forth insulting each other. A sample:
“Your head is built like a Walmart with no toy section. Oooh, get at me.”
“Oh, be quiet, you unwashed shower curtain.”
“I know one thing: You better shut up, you unused baloney slice.”
“Oh, that’s what we do when we burn toast with hair on it.”
Gibson’s videos are low-budget affairs. He shoots them all with his iPhone, either in his UNCG dorm room after class or at his mom’s apartment in Browns Summit, where he lived when he was in high school. He tries to post at least one short video every day and sometimes as many as three. He figures he’s made somewhere around 4,000 videos.
His videos are usually solo efforts. He does all the filming, all the editing, all the directing, and he’s usually the only person in them. His short videos are usually improvisations. For his longer ones, he writes out a script.
Most of the props come from his mom. The wigs and women’s clothes are Clark’s. A bowl in one recent video seen by more than a million people came out of Clark’s kitchen. The big bow that Gibson ties around his head in many of his videos? It was once a pillowcase in the guest bedroom.
“I’m like, Oh my god, my stuff,” said Clark, who works as a customer service rep for a telecommunications company. “After awhile, I’m not going to have anything in the house.”
Gibson said making and posting all of these videos is a joy, not a job.
“Since I’ve been doing it so long, it’s a natural thing,” Gibson said. “It’s not, Oh, lord, I’ve gotta post a video today.”
And then there’s that Kick Swivel video.
Gibson’s humor and relentless video output had helped him amass about a million TikTok followers by the time the idea for the Kick Swivel popped into his head.
“It just naturally happened — it really did,” Gibson said. “I was sitting down and I just hopped up and started clapping and doing the whole dance, not even thinking. Then I finally realized, OK, this could be something.”
And it was. By the time Gibson got to the family reunion an hour away, more than 20,000 people had liked his 13-second video, and 3,000 people had put his voice (KICK SWIVEL AYYYYYYY) in their own TikTok videos of them doing his dance.
More important, he said, were the opportunities that opened up because of that 13-second video.
In August, Gibson connected with Zoie Fenty, a popular Instagram comedian known simply as Zoie, and a California music producer. Together they all recorded a short single that serves as the Kick Swivel soundtrack. (Gibson’s verse is the first one; “my part’s clean,” he said.)
“Thirteen seconds turned into a whole song,” Gibson said. “That still blows my mind.”
There’s more. Gibson has performed the Kick Swivel at a Northeast High School pep rally and at UNCG’s recent homecoming. About a month ago he met dancing TV weatherman Nick Kosir at the Fox affiliate in Charlotte. Gibson taught Kosir the dance, and the two performed it together in the TV studio.
Gibson, a theater major at UNCG, is working toward a career in front of the camera on TV or in film. For now, he continues to make comedy videos, and he says he’s “humble and grateful” to have become, online and in real life, that guy on TikTok.
“It feels so good. It just shows that people watch your content and appreciate your content,” Gibson said. “It’s the best feeling getting to see people go crazy over you when you’re doing something that you love.”
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.