Four or five times a week these days an old friend will contact Louis Theroux and tell him, “My daughter keeps going around the house singing your rap,” or, “My wife was practicing your rap in her Pilates class.” As he walks past an elementary school, Mr. Theroux has a sense of being watched, a feeling that is confirmed when he hears a child shout behind him, “My money shakes, doesn’t shake.”
His agent has handled dozens of requests for personal appearances and invitations to perform. Theroux, a 52-year-old British-American documentary filmmaker with a bookish, somewhat anxious demeanor, has rejected them all, not least because, as he put it in a video interview from his London home: “I’m not trying to make it as a rapper.”
But in a way he already has: Mr. Theroux is the man behind ‘Jiggle Jiggle’, a sensation on TikTok and YouTube, where it has been streamed hundreds of millions of times. He brings the rap in a subdued voice that bears traces of his Oxford education, lending a funny melody to the lines: “My money doesn’t shake, it folds / I sure would like to see you wiggle, wobble.”
For Mr. Theroux, a son of American author Paul Theroux and a cousin of actor Justin Theroux, the entire episode was strange and a little unsettling. “I’m glad people enjoy rap,” he said. “At the same time, there is a part of me with mixed feelings. It’s bittersweet to experience a viral breakthrough from something that, at first glance, seems so disposable and so inconsistent with what I actually do in my job. But there we are.”
The story of how this middle-aged father of three has conquered youth culture with a new rap is “a mind-boggling 21st century example of just the craziness of the world we live in,” said Mr. theroux.
“Jiggle Jiggle” took years before it became all the rage. It all started in 2000, when Mr Theroux presented ‘Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends’, a BBC Two series in which he delved into different subcultures. For an episode in the third and final season, he traveled to the American South where he met a number of rappers, including Master P. As part of the show, he decided to do a rap of his own, but he only had a few thin lines: ” Jiggle Jiggle / I love it when you wiggle / I feel like dribbling / Fancy a violin?”
He enlisted Reese & Bigalow, a rap duo in Jackson, Miss., to help him shape it. Bigalow cleaned up the opening lines and paired the word “jiggle” with the word “jingle” to suggest the sound of coins in your pocket. Reese asked him what kind of car he was driving. His response – Fiat Tipo – led to the lines: “Driving in my Fiat / You really have to see it / Six-foot-two in a compact / No slack, but luckily the seats go backwards.”
“Reese & Bigalow imbues rap with a real quality,” said Mr. theroux. “I could never have written the elements that make it special on my own. At the risk of overanalyzing it, the genius part of it, in my mind, was to say, “My money doesn’t shake back and forth, it folds† There was something very satisfying about the cadence of those words.”
He filmed himself performing the song live on New Orleans hip-hop station Q93, and BBC viewers witnessed his rap debut when the episode aired in the fall of 2000. That could be the end of “Jiggle Jiggle” – but “Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends” got a new lease of life in 2016, when Netflix licensed the show and started streaming on Netflix UK. The rap episode became a favorite, and whenever Mr. Theroux made the publicity rounds for a new project, interviewers inevitably asked him about his hip-hop foray.
In February of this year, while promoting a new show, “Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America,” Mr. Theroux sit down for an interview on the popular web talk show “Chicken Shop Date”, hosted by London comedian Amelia Dimoldenberg.
“Do you remember anything about the rap you did?” asked Mrs. Dimoldenberg, what Mr. Prompted Theroux to usher in his rhymes in what he described as “my slightly po-faced and dry English delivery.”
“What happened next is the most puzzling part,” he added.
Luke Conibear and Isaac McKelvey, a pair of DJ producers in Manchester, England, known as Duke & Jones, picked the audio from “Chicken Shop Date” and put it on a backing track with an easy beat. Then they uploaded the song to their YouTube account, where it’s been viewed 12 million times and it’s still counting.
But “Jiggle Jiggle” became a phenomenon, thanks in large part to Jess Qualter and Brooke Blewitt, 21-year-old graduates of Laine Theater Arts, a performing arts college in Surrey, England. In April, the two friends were making pasta in their shared apartment when they heard the song and hastily performed choreographic moves suited to the track — dribbling a basketball, turning a steering wheel — and the “Jiggle Jiggle” dance was born.
Wearing hooded sweatshirts and sunglasses (chosen an outfit because they were not wearing makeup, the women said in an interview), Ms. Qualter and Ms. Blewitt shot a 27-second video of them performing the routine. It exploded shortly after Ms. Qualter posted it on TikTok. Copycat videos quickly sprang up among TikTok users around the world.
“All this happened without my knowledge,” said Mr. Theroux. “I got an email saying, ‘Hey, a remix of the rap you did on ‘Chicken Shop Date’ is going viral and doing extraordinary things on TikTok.” I’m like, ‘Well, that’s funny and weird.’”
It burst out of TikTok and into the mainstream last month, when Shakira performed the “Jiggle Jiggle” dance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Snoop Dogg, Megan Thee Stallion and Rita Ora have all posted to dance to it. The Downton Abbey cast shook at a red carpet event.
“Anthony Hopkins did something yesterday,” Mr. Theroux said. “It would be too much to call it a dance. It’s more of a cramp. But he does something†
The entire episode was strange for his three children, especially his 14-year-old son, who absolutely loves TikTok. “‘Why is my father, the most huddled man in the universe, all over TikTok?'” said Mr. Theroux, giving voice to his son’s response.
“I left my stink all over his timeline,” he continued. “I think it made him very confused and somewhat outraged.”
Mrs. Qualter and Mrs. Blewitt find it equally surreal to watch Shakira and others dance to their moves. “I almost forget we made that up,” Mrs. Qualter said. “It doesn’t feel like it happened. It has over 60 million views. We see the number on the screen, but I can’t believe there are people behind it.”
After the original Duke & Jones remix went viral — that is, the one featuring the vocal track from “Chicken Shop Date” — DJ producer duo Mr. Theroux to redo his voice in a recording studio. That way, instead of just being another TikTok earwig, “Jiggle Jiggle” could be made available on Spotify, iTunes, and other platforms, and its creators could gain some notoriety and take advantage of it.
In addition to mr. Theroux, there are five composers credited to the official release: Duke & Jones; Reese & Bigalow; and 81-year-old hitmaker Neil Diamond. mr. Diamond became part of the crew when his reps agreed to “Jiggle Jiggle,” which echoes his 1967 song “Red Red Wine” in the section featuring Mr. Theroux sings the words “red, red wine”. The song topped the worldwide Spotify charts last month.
So does this really mean money?
“I sincerely hope we can all shake some of the phenomenon. Or maybe a fold,’ said Mr Theroux. “Until now, it was more shaking.”
In his career as a documentary filmmaker, Mr. Theroux explored the worlds of male porn stars, the Church of Scientology, right-wing militias and opioid addicts. In his new BBC series ‘Forbidden America’, Mr. Theroux the effects of social media on the entertainment industry and politics. Years before Netflix had a hit show based around Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as the Tiger King, Mr. Theroux made a movie about him. American documentary filmmaker John Wilson, creator and star of HBO’s “How To With John Wilson,” cites him as an influence.
Now his body of work has been overshadowed, at least temporarily, by ‘Jiggle Jiggle’. And like many going viral, Mr. Theroux finds himself trying to understand what just happened and figure out what to do with this newfound cultural capital.
“It’s not like I have a catalog and now I can put out all my other rap clips,” he said. “Obviously I’m not going to tour with it. “Come and see Mr. Jiggle himself.” It would be a twenty second performance.”