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A haunting audio clip that includes the words “You don’t know me, but I know you” has been gaining traction on TikTok lately. While the trend may be new, the song has actually been around for decades. It comes from the experimental song “O Superman (For Messenet),” which was released in 1981 by the performance artist Laurie Anderson and later featured on her studio album Big Science in 1982.
According to a recent TikTok by Mark from Fully Involved (@fullyinvolvedmark), “O Superman” is basically an “eight-minute spoken word piece and vocoder exercise from 1981 without any pop structure in the form of a mom leaving a voicemail.”
The song is said to have had many inspirations, starting with the Iran hostage crisis, which transfixed the world from 1979-1980. Its opening lines (“O Superman / O Judge / O Mom and Dad”) were also inspired by the the aria “Ô Souverain, ô juge, ô père” (“O Sovereign, O Judge, O Father”) from Jules Massenet’s 1885 opera Le Cid.
The song’s intro features the stanza on repeat, spoken by what sounds like a computerized voice. In reality, Anderson’s voice was altered using a vocoder machine and then looped with a harmonizer. This technique is also used throughout the song, creating a background beat by repeating the word “Ha!” over and over.
The rest of the track appears to be a recorded phone conversation between two people, in which the caller claims to be the other person’s mother and begins by leaving a voice message. Eventually, they reveal themselves as a stranger, but never actually identify themselves by name.
“You don’t know me,” the voice declares, “but I know you.”
At the time of its release, “O Superman” became an unexpected hit and even reached No. 2 on the UK singles chart, despite its unconventional format. Now, it’s gaining a whole new fanbase on TikTok as people continue to add the “You don’t know me” sound clip to thousands of videos.
Some TikTokers are using the song to honor their late ancestors.
In some cases, the videos are heartwarming reminders of generations past. Others strike an eery and often unsettling tone coupled with the sound clip.
Some of the videos also highlight creepy coincidences that almost sound like ghost stories.
In one TikTok, a woman named Ivy (@ivyyeross) claimed that she was born just an hour after her grandfather died and only cried at his funeral when she was a baby. She eventually grew up to “accidentally complete his life mission” — something that still freaks her mom out.
In other TikToks, people share odd tales of strangers who have long since passed.
The new video trend has caused a surprising resurgence of “O Superman” in popular culture, even though the TikToks have nothing to do with the song’s original meaning.
The irony of that has not been lost on Mark from Fully Involved.
“This isn’t any shade on the people who created this trend,” the TikToker said in his recent video, ” … but the idea of taking that whole song and just plucking out a [part of it] and wringing out all context for a general vulnerability template … it’s fascinating to me.”
It’s a phenomenon that’s happening more and more as TikTok sound clips continue to alter the way we interact with music. As a result, forgotten songs are now being unearthed from the past and returned to the spotlight for a whole new generation to enjoy.
So far, Gen Z seems to appreciate it.
“I found O Superman because of this trend and I’m glad I did,” @uvradical wrote on Mark’s TikTok. “It’s such a moving song.”
“Literally one of my favorite things about this app is that any song from any time can become incredibly popular,” added @beanexorcist.
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