Grandparents chastising you for your ripped jeans? OK, boomer. Telling girls they can’t play football? OK, boomer. Too hooked on technology? OK, boomer.
The short video clips emerging all the time on the exceedingly popular video app TikTok are always different. But the retorts — and the title of the gritty, bass-heavy song that often accompanies them — are the same: “OK, Boomer.”
Those two simple words have become a favored riposte among frustrated and fed-up members of Generation Z. On social media, “OK, boomer” is used as a flippant dig against anyone young people perceive as haughty, close-minded, or unwavering in outdated points of view.
And behind the thousands of videos being created, liked, shared, and watched on TikTok, there is Peter Kuli, the 19-year-old from Lexington who produced a remixed song that’s become the flash-in-a-pan anthem for his age group.
“It’s been really incredible,” said Kuli, a student at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. “I didn’t think I’d be at this moment when I started making music five years ago.”
It’s unclear where the phrase “OK, boomer” got its official start. But according to Know Your Meme, a sort of Wikipedia for documenting online catchphrases and other viral content, it’s existed in nooks and crannies of the Internet for some time. You don’t have to be part of the baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, to be on the receiving end of an “OK, boomer” insult. But it doesn’t help.
“For me, saying ‘OK, boomer’ is essentially like a digital middle finger,” Kuli said. “The people who have the power are the boomers, basically, who just aren’t willing to budge” on certain political and cultural issues.
“OK, Boomer” arrived in song form in July, when Jonathan Williams, a college student from California, shared it to Twitter. It featured biting lyrics accusing older people of being racist and judgemental against kids with tattoos and piercings. The chorus is him shouting “OK, boomer” repeatedly in response.
By October, the song’s music files and a capella lyrics were made available so others could make remixes. Kuli, who studies music and graphic design, stepped up to the challenge, and created his own original music that he paired with Williams’ lyrics.
“I thought it would just be fun to make a rap song that just sounded really [bad] on purpose,” said Kuli, who made the song in 30 minutes on a laptop.
Kuli shared his version to Soundcloud. He also enlisted Distrokid, a music distribution service, to get it on TikTok and other platforms — with Williams’ blessing. It didn’t take long for his rendition to get shared by others and sprout like an invasive weed, its defiant limbs branching out across the video app.
One TikTok post became two, and two became 10, he said. By the end of the first few days, there were 100 videos using his song. One hundred became 400, which soon became 700, and so on.
“It was just out of my control at that point,” Kuli said. “I really didn’t expect any of this to happen.”
As the term’s popularity with a younger generation has bloomed — most notably on TikTok — the emergence of “OK, boomer” as a “rallying cry” for Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2015, was covered by the New York Times and NBC News, furthering its usage by a larger audience and igniting tensions online between age groups.
The spotlight on the phrase as a generational motto has helped further elevate Kuli’s musical persona and the song’s appearance online. While hard to quantify, a cursory glance of the app Monday showed Kuli’s “OK, Boomer” being used in at least 21,000 videos on TikTok, most of which mock older folks for their treatment of Gen-Zers.
“They’re definitely tongue-in-cheek and they’re definitely not meant to be taken too seriously, entirely,” Kuli said.
Videos tagged #OkBoomer on the app have been watched 44.6 million times, though not all use Kuli’s song. More appear each day.
Kuli has a manager now. The song is on Apple Music and Spotify, where it’s generating modest revenue. Kuli and Williams are splitting the profits, he said. There’s even a music video. And on the campus of his small private college, Kuli has earned a reputation as the kid from the New York Times article.
“This girl who was walking on the sidewalk in front of me turned around, and she was like, ‘How . . . did this happen to you?’” he said. “Word got out fast. I’ve just been really grateful for all of it.”
But the term’s sudden fame will almost certainly spell death for “OK, boomer,” entombed alongside phrases like “the bomb dot com” or “all that and a bag of chips.”
Adam I. Cooper, an associate teaching professor in the linguistics program at Northeastern University, said in an e-mail to the Globe that “OK, Boomer” is compelling because it stands out from other slang terms for its “direct acknowledgment of this generational power imbalance.”
However, he added, slang is inherently an ephemeral phenomenon — and this case may be no different.
“As awareness — if not also usage — of this expression increases over time, across multiple groups, I’d expect its potency to wane,” Cooper said. “As for the sentiment underpinning it, this may be longer-lasting, until the Gen-Z community finds themselves in positions of power.”
the reason ?ok boomer? is such a great generational marker is it cleaves so neatly: boomers hate it, gen x will mock it, millennials will enthusiastically use it to the point of exhausting it without actually inventing it, and gen z has already moved on and thinks we are all nobs— rachel syme (@rachsyme) November 4, 2019
At this point, what becomes of “OK, Boomer” for Kuli is as out of his hands as how the remix spread like it did in the first place. He’s just relishing in this viral moment.
“I have gotten a lot out of it and learned a lot from it and I’m seeing how people share music online and seeing how and where internet culture and music cross paths,” he said. “All of this — as crazy and surreal as it’s been — it’s made me a lot more confident in sort of knowing where to go next.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.