On July 26, 1990, the phrase “Baba Booey” was first accidentally uttered on The Howard Stern Show. Immediately, it became a demonic maxim of the show, seeping far enough into mainstream culture to have been said on ABC News by a prank caller as live footage of O.J. Simpson being slowly chased in his Ford Bronco aired in 1995. Not that I’d even really know — all of this happened before I was born.
Even so, in the year 2020, “Baba Booey” haunts me. You can’t turn a corner of TikTok without finding some teenage boy utilizing a filter that allows him to stretch his chin out to look something like a chiseled parody of Jay Leno and an audio clip that repeats “Baba Booey” over and over. But… why?
The exact logic behind its current use by Gen Z is a mystery. According to Know Your Meme, it made its most recent resurgence in March when a popular YouTuber began using it to censor explicit language. From there, the wires got crossed and it began to represent both meme irreverence and himbo-esque brainlessness.
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“Baba Booey” is, to its credit, a perfect series of letters. Absolutely, if someone in your friend group accidentally said Baba Booey, it would be repeated by the entire group ad infinitum. It’s no surprise that it became a meme on Howard Stern before we even had the word to identify it, and its revival today isn’t a surprise for similar reasons. Do 95 percent of the young men using the phrase on TikTok today have more than a vague idea of who Howard Stern even is? Not a chance. Does that even matter? Not really.
In addition to just being stupid, the phrase does seem almost inherently macho. It sounds like the kind of slang you’d hear on The Sopranos, while the background music and intonation of the specific “Baba Booey” clip used on TikTok is reminiscent of some type of old-timey boxer. The numerous TikToks of the clip reflect both interpretations. It’s important to note, though, that while some TikTokers may indeed cosplay as mobsters or 1920s athletes, all of the “Baba Booey” videos are just of dudes being idiotic. Nevertheless, the meme is still going strong — several of the top videos have over 1 million likes.
Somehow, the fact that “Baba Booey” on TikTok is basically just a meaningless meme, repeated for the sake of repeating, still seems perfectly in line with the ethos of its original memefication on Howard Stern. Even if none of these teens have ever heard a minute of the show, “Baba Booey” lives on.