Why Are All the Teens on TikTok Singing This Song From 1926?

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A song has been stuck in my head for weeks. It’s not “Old Town Road” or “Bad Guy” or, shudder, “ME!” It hasn’t gotten any radio play and nobody performed it at the VMAs on Monday night. It’s a simple melody, mostly running up and down a single scale, and it will not let me know peace. I know you beloooooooong, to soooooooomebody neeeeeeew, but toniiiiiiight, you belooooOOOng to me. It haunts my dreams. A spin on the “It’s a Small World” ride would be a welcome respite, since I think it’s the only thing that might banish this tune from my brain. I blame TikTok entirely.

The song “Tonight You Belong to Me” was first recorded in 1926 by Irving Kaufman but is best known from a 1956 cover by sister duo Patience and Prudence. Back then, the song reached No. 26 on the Billboard charts for the year. This summer, decades later, it sparked a trend on the video platform TikTok. It seemed as though everywhere I looked somebody was singing it. People were singing it alone. People were singing it in groups. People were teaching other people how to sing it. Shout-out to this alto angel out here with a harmony lesson (we, the fellow altos of the world, salute you in voices a third below the melody).

When I asked a TikTok spokesperson about it, I was pointed to a video of a mother and daughter singing the song together in early June as the trend’s first spike. TikTok analyzed videos for Vulture based on people using #tonightyoubelongtome. The hashtag has been used 25 million times.

The rise of “You Belong to Me” on TikTok reminded me of a 2012 YouTube video featuring a different sister duo, Lennon and Maisy Stella, singing Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” while flipping and tapping on empty butter tubs for percussion. (The Stella sisters were cast in Nashville following this viral smash.) That video was so pervasive that, later in 2012, Anna Kendrick used the same trick in Pitch Perfect — with a cup rather than an empty butter tub — in a song called, simply, “Cups.” “You Belong to Me” has some of that same energy: a basic melody that is easy to learn and a gimmick; here, the gimmick being a megapopular video platform for easy distribution and guaranteed eyeballs.

In addition to searing itself into my mind, the song sounded familiar. I couldn’t decide if it was just one of those songs that have such an effect or if I’d actually heard it before. Some amount of Googling later, I learned that Bernadette Peters and Steve Martin sang it together in The Jerk and that it was featured in the first season of American Horror Story. Sutton Foster also sang it in an episode of the short-lived but excellent Bunheads, which is when I realized, in a moment of descent into a caricature of myself, that I had heard it before. It has also been used in a number of commercials.

I haven’t sought out the song on any other platforms, mainly because I’m trying to get away from this tune of my nightmares. But it turns out not everybody feels that way. Streams of the song were up over 1,650 percent for July 2019 over the same month a year ago, Spotify told Vulture. I’m choosing to believe people are listening on Spotify to study up before recording their own TikToks, rather than turning up to this 1956 hell jam. Sorry, Patience. Sorry, Prudence. It’s not personal. Tonight I’d just like to belong to somebody else.

Why Are All the Teens on TikTok Singing This Song From 1926?