The enduring legacy of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” now features a plot twist no one saw expected: Black youth culture has staked its claim on a song that was once synonymous with privileged white teens of Orange County. The 17-year-old song is truly timeless, but for years, “Unwritten” has been most closely associated with MTV’s 2006 reality show The Hills. That is until emerging Milwaukee rappers Shawn P (who is also 17) and Esco came along with “Like Yhop,” a remix that juxtaposes “Unwritten”’s peachy pop production with a gritty, bass-heavy percussion. But that’s not the only thing driving the song’s new appeal. Popular dancer Rony Boyy’s flash mob choreography, which has gone viral on TikTok, has made the song even bigger—and even Bedingfield couldn’t ignore it.
“I was so excited to see this new response to my song and also a reinterpretation of it—and something that made it feel extra alive,” Bedingfield told VICE.
Bedingfield didn’t just stumble on the remix to her song scrolling through TikTok, like the rest of us. “I got a text from India Arie,” she said. “She was one of the ones who was saying, Look at what people are saying and how they’re dancing to your song.” The joy she witnessed when people do the challenge reminded her a lot of her London upbringing. “It made me think about the people who raised me musically,” she said. “I grew up in this amazing church with a huge Black community, so for me, that’s where my roots are.”
Unwritten’s other worthy counterpart “These Words” is proof that the singer’s music always had a soulful undertone, laced with traces of R&B. But surprisingly her voice sounds at home over a scuzzy, trap beat. That was a risk Shawn P’s brother Danny, who produced the song, was willing to take.
“We were just chilling and he’s like, I got this beat for y’all,” Shawn P told VICE. Except “Like Yhop’s” original beat didn’t have Bedingfield’s vocals on the track. To Shawn, the beat didn’t stand out. “I’m like, You need to throw something on there, bro. It’s not working for me.” So he laid Bedingfeld's vocal under his own production and let the internet do its thing.
“My mama woke us up like, Umm, y’all song going viral,” he said. The budding rapper said that since going viral, rappers like JT of the City Girls and Lil Yatchy have reached out to applaud their song. But celebrity fanfare aside, no compliment was higher than receiving a co-sign from none other than Bedingfield herself. “I was like, man, this lady finna sue us,” he said. “We just used her sample and her voice. We ain’t even touch it up. But when she first posted it, I’m like, Does she like it? What’s going on? But then she did the challenge and I was like, Let’s go!” But even at 17, Shawn P is very weary of becoming an overnight sensation, or worse a one-hit-wonder.
“We really want to wait on Natasha before we do another song,” he said. “We don’t want to make the wrong decision. A lot of people make one hit song and when they make another one it’s not there. I wanna use the same energy I just had to make another hit song.”
It’s impossible to talk about the lively energy of “Like Yhop” without talking about the dance that was created for it—even though Shawn P and Rony didn’t collaborate together as a calculated attempt to go viral. Twenty-one year-old Ronald Michel, known on Instagram as Rony Boyy, is a professional dancer by day, teaching kids to combat childhood obesity with choreography, but he considers TikTok his night job. He’s gotten so used to creating digestible dance moves that he choreographed this challenge in under 20 minutes. “I was at a gas station with my two main guys I dance with, Jubi and Flick, and we saw the video of the old trend where they were just walking across the screen,” he said. “I was like, Bro, we could do so much more with this.” And there at a gas station in West Palm Beach, Florida, he put together a series of moves including the heel toe, the jerk, and the iconic arm work from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” choreography.
But it wasn’t until he assembled a group of his friends to start doing the dance in public, like at Orlando’s Universal Studios, that he saw the potential of how big his dance could get. “We knew that there would be a lot of people coming through Universal Studios on any given day, so we took a weekend down there to get some videos down,” he said. “It was my homeboy who said, Hey, let’s go to a higher platform so [the viewer] can have an above-ground look and see everybody.” Eventually, their ingenuity paid off and Rony had 500,000 views to show for it. He said the video is now at over 40 million views, and he’s taken his dance crew to local malls, airports, and beaches to do the dance. Who knows, maybe Natasha Bedingfield might join him one day.
“I saw her post on Instagram saying she wanted to learn it so I messaged her and said, Hey, I can teach you the dance,” he said.
When I ask Bedingfield if she intends on learning the dance in full, she laughed. “Rony says he’s going to teach me. It does look hard though! The thing about TikTok is that it needs to be good—unless you’re going to do it and purposely make a fool of yourself. Although I could do that too, I don’t mind making a fool of myself.”
Update [May 20, 2021]: On Wednesday night, Natasha Bedingfield posted a new TikTok that ensures this dance will remain burned in your brain. While Bedingfield may not have actually learned the dance, she made sure to sing it as Rony and his friends danced in the background.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.