The untold truth of Backpack Kid

By the time the internet dubbed him "Backpack Kid," Russell Horning was already an Instagram sensation. Originally posting under the handle @i_got_barzz, (He now posts as @thebackpackkid) Horning's claim to fame is his signature dance move: "The Russell" aka "flossing" aka rapidly swinging his arms around his body while shaking his hips and maintaining a stone-faced glare. All while wearing a backpack, of course.

Horning added the backpack for his now legendary SNL appearance during which he showcased his star-making move alongside Katy Perry for her performance of "Swish Swish." Since then, he's been flossing all over the United States, and he even starred in Perry's video for the same track, which as of this writing, already has more than 508 million views on YouTube. But is there more to Horning than one quirky dance move? This is the untold truth of Backpack Kid. 

He's been dancing on social media since 2014

As of December 2018, Horning's Instagram had 2.3 million followers. That's up from a little more than 400,000 in May of 2017 — when Perry saw his page and invited him to join her on SNL, but the kid has been busting a groove on the gram since 2014, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

His first big break came around January of 2015 when "a guy with 700,000 followers" tagged him in a video, and his account quickly started gaining "thousands and thousands" more followers. Horning told Complex this was back when his gram handle was Majestic Cat Lover, which is arguably way more amazing than i_got_barzz or thebackpackkid.

Though he obviously got a nice head start from another established user, Horning feels the secret to his success is pretty simple. "I'm just being myself and being original 'cause when you think about it you can't find any other accounts that dance for a comedy kind of purpose. Everybody else tries to dance in a good form so they can get famous that way, but I made up a new kind of genre of dancing and that's what got me big," he said.

His first audience was church camp

Horning has become a darling to both hip-hop artists and YouTubers, logging collaborations with everyone from Ayo and Teo to Candy Reign to Blac Youngsta, but his first audience was church camp, according to Complex. When asked why he started posting his dance videos to Instagram, Horning said it was due to a positive reaction he got from the live audience. "I guess at church camp a while back in summer of 2014 in front of everybody, and they all seemed to like it, so I was like, 'You know, why not move this to Instagram and make a video?' Then I made a video and went from there."

It's kind of a strange path to have gone from dancing at church camp to appearing in Youngsta's "Hip Hopper" video, which is essentially an anthem for pill-popping and features the lyric, "She suck my d**k in my flip-flops," but hey, we're not over here trying to knock Backpack Kid's hustle. Plus, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post, Horning's mom is also his manager, so we're assuming there was probably a whole lot of "earmuffs" happening on the set of that shoot.

Rihanna blew him up months before Perry did

After Russell Horning transitioned from Majestic Cat Lover to i_got_barzz, he gained steady traction on Instagram by taking advantage of his growing fan base and posting multiple videos a day. While he was doing great organically growing his audience on his own, another burst in followers came his way after Rihanna used this hilarious video he posted for her reaction to being nominated for eight Grammys. 

The video featured Horning wearing a hiked-up pair of Pikachu sweatpants and busting out some pre-flossing dance moves set to Mr_Hotspot's "My Friends (We Get Turnt Up)." 

"It was huge, because lots of smaller pages posted it from there, and it went super viral and I got 55K followers in two days," Horning told USA Today.  

What's the deal with the backpack?

Horning's now ever-present backpack was acquired on a spur-of-the-moment trade with a friend. "My friend had it on and it looked cool and I wanted it. We had the idea to trade right there and then. We were at a shoe store and I only had a (credit) card on me, so I traded a pair of shoes for the bookbag. That was a month ago, give or take a few days. I started dancing with it that day," he told USA Today in May 2017. Nevermind why a 15-year-old was out shopping with a credit card. What does he keep in the backpack? Well, that depends.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Horning said he carries "a water bottle, a charger, and fidget spinners" in there. Asked why he wore it on the show, he said, "It looks cool, why not wear it on the show?" Fair enough. 

In another interview with Power 106 LA, Horning said the bag currently carried "a speaker, a goat case [to stick his phone to a wall when he has to shoot a video], his wallet, a pack of gum, some Slim Jims, and a water bottle [which serves the dual purpose of quenching his thirst and weighing the bag down so it doesn't bounce around too much while flossing]." 

So, the backpack is functional, yet stylish. Backpack Kid, you sly fox.

The whole 'ending racism' thing

As of this writing, Russell Horning's Instagram page description contains the phrase "ending racism." Naturally, this has raised some eyebrows considering Horning is essentially a living internet oddity and not a civil rights crusader, but when asked by Complex what was up with the curious claim, Horning gave a refreshing response. Citing some online backlash he's gotten from people who questioned, "Why are you dancing with black people? Where are your white friends?" Horning said, "I think I'm making the world a better place dancing with different races."  

He expanded on this in a long Instagram caption which read, in part, "Why can't y'all accept the fact that I have a lot of black friends lol. I have white friends too but they don't like doing this dancing video stuff i do so that's why you never see them… I'm just trying my best to get my viewers to like or dislike people for who they are and not their skin color of which they had no choice over." 

Granted, no one really expects a teen internet star to move the needle on something like race relations via multicultural two-stepping, but at least the kid's got a social conscience.

He does online school so he can travel

Child stars on movie and TV sets adhere to specific guidelines that not only shield them from exploitative working conditions, but also ensure that they receive a proper education. So, how does it work when a kid becomes internet famous? In Horning's case, he uses a blend of traditional and online school to manage his net stardom.

Speaking with Power 106 LA, Horning said that he "still needs the social environment" of normal school, but he also supplements with "online school" so he can travel for his videos. One of those trips was for his cameo in Roy Purdy's IN NEW YORK I MILLY ROCK video, which is literally just YouTuber Roy Purdy "milly rocking"—another internet dance craze—in Times Square and Central Park, where he is joined by none other than Backpack Kid for some lanky limb tossing. 

That hardly seems like an adequate reason to pull a tenth-grader out of school, you might be thinking. Well, as of this writing, the video has more than 21 million views. How does that make a difference? Yeah, we're uh, not sure either.

He allegedly shot a goat with a BB gun

Out of everything to remember about Russell "Backpack Kid" Horning, the fact that he became famous as a very young teenager is probably the most important. To that point, Horning suffered a major gaffe when he uploaded, then quickly deleted a video of himself shooting a goat in the eye with what appears to be a BB gun. Daily Motion still has a ripped version of the admittedly disturbing video, and the gossip site, The Blemish, has a breakdown of what supposedly happened.

After pulling the video, Horning allegedly denied it happened in another post with the caption: "Spmas and dont [sic] listen to the 'video on my page' comments nobody has it." He then allegedly uploaded an apology video, which has also been deleted, in which he allegedly said, "Yo, I swear to God, I'm sorry about the goat… I was really crazy, I'm really stupid, but look… The goat's completely fine, running around, being happy. He's just afraid of humans."

Though the story was picked up by a few blogs and circulated around social media, no major outlets reported on it, and as far as we can tell, the police were never involved. While animal cruelty is no joke and should be taken seriously, so should accusations made outside the scope of an official investigation. Our advice to Horning moving forward: put that BB gun in your backpack and stick to dancing.

Flossin' in the end zone

Take a knee, Tebowing, because the Backpack Kid has intercepted the end zone spotlight for the time being. As "flossing" reached dizzying heights in the fall of 2017, a few NFL players adopted Russell Horning's signature move to celebrate touchdowns.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Mack Hollins busted out the shimmy after a 64-yard touchdown in a game against the Washington Redskins. Hollins later revealed that he was actually known as "Backpack Mack" in college, because he always used to wear one, but he didn't even make the connection to Horning's famous nickname until after he repeated the dance. Kismet, right? But hang on, because Horning has placed his NFL allegiance elsewhere.    

In a video for ESPN, Horning chats with New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram, who also adopted "flossing" in the end zone after learning the dance from a kid in the Bahamas. At the end of the video, Horning boldly declares, "I mean if they do [the dance] for the rest of the season, they're going to the Super Bowl and they're going to win. Guaranteed one hundred percent." He also jokingly adds, "Unless they do it wrong then they might lose a game." Whoops. Hope the Saints aren't huge believers in superstition. Guess he should have stuck with Hollins on that one, huh?  

He's 2 Litt

Horning hasn't just been resting on his laurels since he flossed his way to internet stardom. On top of constantly doing press for outlets like the NBA, Inside Edition, Mario Lopez's radio show, and more, Horning has already released original songs. The first, naturally, was "Flossin," a remix by DJ Suede The Remix God, who as of this writing recently went viral with his remix of Fergie's disastrous national anthem performance during the 67th NBA All-Star Game.

Horning's second track was "2 Litt," a decidedly more polished effort by producer Red Drum, whose worked with up-and-coming hip-hop stars such as Kodak Black and Smokepurpp, as well as director Dallas Corsmeier, an animator who's done videos for artists like Lil Yachty, Ugly God, Uncimo, and Swaghollywood.  

At this rate, if Horning keeps climbing the hip-hop collab ladder, we expect to see him star in a Beyoncé video directed by Melina Matsoukas in the near future (Look it up, old people — We definitely had to.)

There's a whole backpack squad

In a 2018 profile for Vice, Horning introduced the world to his crew. Often featured dancing alongside Horning in his videos, Jaden, Frederick, Jordan, and Nyreese round out the Backpack Kid's loyal squad. According to Horning, they've been friends since "way, way before he started getting big," and they like to spend their time "going go-karting and going to the mall and stuff."

Crew member Nyreese laid out what could essentially be the group's motto, saying, "I see the squad as just a bunch of friends that love to have fun and just turn it up everywhere we go, wherever we can go, and just breaking the rules." 

Don't worry, Horning's mom approves. "They are so much fun, and they just enjoy each other, and they enjoy dancing, and they enjoy the city, and it's just really fun to be a part of this," she said. Thanks mom! 

But for Horning, it's actually more than just fun — he says his crew keeps him grounded. "I value true friendship, because that is what keeps me sane and not becoming all stingy and being like famous people are these days," he said. "I think that true friends keep that from happening. I'm never leaving them. If they don't leave me, I'm not leaving them." Aww!

Since they don't make mention of an official squad name, may we humbly suggest "Skool Supplz?" Okay fine, that's not fire. What about "Backpack Kid and the Trapper Keepers?" You're right, we should probably just stop now.

A philanthropic floss

Horning doesn't just "floss" for viral fame and the chance to rub elbows with celebrities. He also sometimes uses his powers for good, like when he showed up at the 10th Annual Zumba Instructors Convention to throw down his sick moves alongside some other kid dancers in support of CARE Elementary, a Miami charter school.

In an Instagram post about the event, Horning said the experience "inspired me even more," so there's no reason to think we won't see more of Backpack Kid's philanthropic efforts in the future. Flossin' for dental hygiene awareness, maybe? Eh, we'll let him figure it out.

Rap dreams

As fans may have guessed after the release of "Flossin" and "2 LITT," Horning has big plans for a career in the music industry. As he described in his interview with Nicki Swift, the internet sensation hopes to become a bonafide rapper one day — possibly, one day soon. Horning revealed that he and "2 LITT" collaborator Swag Hollywood "are making a lot of music that will be released in the future."

Even though he has a passion for music, don't expect to see Backpack Kid head off to college in pursuit of a degree in the field. Though he understands the importance of an education, college might not be for him — and he's not convinced a degree would help him become a successful rapper or musician. Instead, he'd rather get hands-on experience working with people in the industry.

He's angling for a backpack sponsorship, obviously

In the wake of capturing the hearts and minds of America with his SNL performance, Horning almost immediately started fielding business opportunities and by "almost immediately," we mean the next day. 

His momager, Anita Redd, told the Gwinnett Daily Post, "I've just been managing my phone, responding to emails and setting up times for interviews and now I'm collaborating with people on designing a backpack based on him, designing socks based on him, T-shirts, hoodies (and) caps all since Sunday."

Has that backpack money started rolling in yet? According to Horning, he's got his eye on a particular brand. "Yeah, I am trying to stay loyal to one brand, it's called Sprayground. I'm trying to get more from their business," he told Complex. Asked whether he would launch his own line of backpacks, he said, "I don't think I am. I've known Sprayground for a very long time and I'm trying to only wear their book bags." 

It seems like Sprayground is definitely down to cash in on the Backpack Kid phenomenon as well. In this clip posted to YouTube by Sprayground, Perry chats with a Z100 DJ who just so happens to have a Sprayground backpack handy for a segment called "Spray it Out Loud" in which the pop star must answer random questions tucked into different compartments of the backpack. If that's not some synergistic cross promotion right there, we don't know what is.  

Katy Perry doesn't follow him

While Katy Perry may have helped launch Backpack Kid into online superstardom, the pop singer doesn't even follow him. That's surprising, considering both her collaboration with Horning and her public endorsement of his Instagram page. But don't feel bad for the young man — he's totally okay with the situation.

"She's done so much for me that I don't really need a follow from her," Horning told Nicki Swift in an exclusive interview. "I mean, if she does [follow him], yeah, that'd be very much appreciated, but I appreciate everything that she's already done for me."

Still, we can't help but wonder why Perry doesn't follow Horning. Is she over flossing?

Grooving at games

Given his debut on the court in Perry's basketball-themed music video for "Swish Swish," it makes sense that Horning would gravitate toward performances at NBA games. Since gaining near-overnight fame, he's appeared on the dance cam at a Charlotte Hornets game and showed off his signature move during a dance number for the Sacramento Kings.

But Horning may soon become a staple at sporting events. After describing a future performance with comedic basketball team the Harlem Globetrotters as "crazy," he told Nicki Swift that he hopes to continue entertaining crowds at basketball games because he believes his brand goes "well with the family-friendliness of the NBA."

Forever flossing

Though one might expect Horning to gradually expand his repertoire of signature dance moves, this kid has no definitive plans to bust out a new style anytime soon — or, quite possibly, ever. When asked if he's working on any other choreography, Horning expressed doubt that he'll ever create another hit as massive as flossing.

"I tried making other moves in the past, but making more moves just isn't what it's supposed to be," Horning explained in his exclusive interview with Nicki Swift. "Flossing is the one that really got big so I'm just gonna stick with it."

Cookin' up beats

If you take a look at Horning's YouTube channel, you will find everything you'd typically expect to find within a teenager's social media presence, like playing video games, eating fast food, and just general silliness. But you can also find him making beats, like in this video where Horning says he "just got FL Studio" and has started "cooking up beats." He then hastily whips together a jumbled track made of his own composition and some digital loops in less than 10 minutes, even freestyling lyrics like "This beat is fly / I watch Family Guy / I'm not tellin' no lies / I have two eyes."

Okay, Horning may not be headed to the Grammys with that one, but kudos to him for trying. After all, rapper and producer Kanye West once famously rapped about his dedication to the game when he said he locked himself in his room "doin' five beats a day for three summers." So, keep it up kid, you're already one-fifth of the way there!

He wants to stay grounded

So far, we've learned that Russell Horning is a web-savvy kid who took a unique talent and grew it into an impressive online following. He parlayed that fame into collaborations with mainstream celebs, as well as a nice little side business in product sponsorships. If he can steer clear of the pitfalls of viral fame — like he's done so far, in spite of the alleged goat shooting — then there's no reason to see Backpack Kid slowing down anytime soon.

And yet, he's made it clear that part of him still wants to just be a normal kid. "I try to maintain a normal life 'cause I think it's what keeps famous people their sanity to where they don't get completely cocky and think that fame is getting to their head. I play Xbox One with my friends. I have sleepovers at people's houses. Go to the pool with friends. Pretty much what normal kids do," Horning told Complex

Wow, what a level-headed-sounding dude. We look forward to seeing what kind of Backpack Man he becomes. 

Hey may not have been first to floss

As of this writing, flossing is an international phenomenon. Horning's self-proclaimed signature move even found its way into the purview of grandparents — a true sign of ubiquity if there ever was one. But does Horning deserve all of the credit for this worldwide limb-wagging epidemic? Even he apparently knows he's had help marketing his moves, but it wasn't exactly a sick collab.  

Players of the wildly popular Fortnite and NBA 2K have undoubtedly noticed characters flossing, but according to lawsuits filed against both game-makers (per TMZ), Horning didn't give them his blessing to do so. The Backpack Kid himself didn't have much to say regarding the suits, other than the fact that his management (and mom) feel like the games are "taking advantage of him." While the outcome of this legal dance battle remains to be seen, yet another controversy sprung up as a result.

Thanks to the long, unforgiving memory of the internet, several seemingly pre-Horning examples of flossing have surfaced. The gaming blog Eurogamer highlighted two, one from 2011 and one from 2012, which is problematic for Horning, and likely his lawsuit, considering his social media strutting only dates back to 2014. Can The Backpack Kid moonwalk his way out of this one? Only time will tell.