Help, I’m obsessed with... soft choreo

A new TikTok trend has exposed some of the pop world’s most lacklustre dance skills, and allowed celebrities to laugh at themselves in the process.

by Roisin Lanigan
24 November 2021, 9:20am

Image via YouTube

Perhaps the greatest Mandela Effect of our millennial childhoods is the collective belief that our favourite Y2K popstars were triple threats: songbirds, Oscar-deserving actors and expert level commanders of dance and movement. Thankfully, TikTok has granted us all the gift of 2020 hindsight, and a new wave of videos have been exposing the fact that Hilary, Demi and Debby Ryan weren’t exactly queens of choreo. In fact their performances, addictive and infinitely watchable because of their car-crash choreo, are some of the most low level dance scenes of our times.

At the centre of the trend is a video of Hilary Duff performing “With Love” on The Today Show circa 2007, hitting each move with so much “go girl, give us absolutely nothing energy” that it’s inspired countless videos of people imitating her dancing; each iteration decreasing in energy. The YouTube reactions on a video of the performance give some insight into how bad the presentation is (although it’s a real ‘you just have to watch it yourself’ one, this), with top comments including: “Hilary sat there and gave unseasoned, undercooked, dead poultry and didn’t give a damn. The ending breakdown was legendary. I stan”, “her energy was on battery save mode”, “I love how she gives absolutely 0% energy. Slay me lazy queen”, and, my personal favourite: “Michael Jackson has been awfully quiet since this performance was released.”

What Hilary is giving is what has become known, thanks in large part to TikTok, as “soft choreo”, the act of hitting the moves the choreographer has given you but absolutely nothing more. Clocking in and clocking out exactly on time. Completing the assignment, but not understanding it. Since coining the term the FYP has been churning out endless videos of soft choreo moments that we thought destroyed their opponents back in the day but are hard to watch without laughing in hindsight. One particular video from the Demi Lovato-led Camp Rock cinematic universe, hits like a shot of Domestos administered straight to the cornea.

But while Hilary and the Disney girlies may be the poster children of soft choreo, that doesn’t mean our present day popstars are exempt from the phenomenon. In fact one of the FYP’s fave soft choreo aficionados is Dua Lipa, with creators endlessly parodying the performance that made her go viral and briefly become a meme because of some low-energy dance moves at a festival. In another fave, Ariana Grande gives an awkward step-step dance to “Problem” while Rihanna laughs from the audience, in what is presumably the former’s villain origin story. “She’s giving me Toddlers and Tiaras realness,” one reviewer -- correctly -- claims. Other soft choreo vids look back on the efforts of Katy Perry, Jessica Simpson, Avril Lavigne, man-who-takes-dancing-too-seriously Justin Timberlake and even choreography veteran herself, Queen Britney. Truly, no one is safe.

Soft choreo is an unusual TikTok craze in that it’s both mocking but not cruel. These videos are taking the piss out of popstars who don’t dance well, but they’re made by and large by stans of those same popstars, who won’t stop loving them or listening to their music just because they can’t do a death drop. Even the recreation videos are done with a tongue-in-cheek energy, more of an appreciation than a takedown. Even the reactions from the soft choreo celebrities themselves are more measured than you’d expect -- if someone made fun of how I dance on TikTok, I’d probably withdraw completely from society so as to never be perceived again by another human, but that’s just me -- with Ariana claiming that Rihanna was not making fun of her, but instead being “playful and supportive”. Dua Lipa used her meme as a teachable moment about mental health, before taking some dance lessons and emerging as a soft-choreo alumnus (Ari has also redeemed herself in later performances).

It’s Lizzie McGuire icon Hilary Duff though, that has dealt with the viral moment the best. Rather than hit back at critics or deflect criticism, she simply joined in with it all, posting her own imitation of her 14 year old soft choreo on her own TikTok account.

And honestly, she’s pretty good. Jokes on us!

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more low effort dancing.

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