Tube Girl: How Sabrina Bahsoon became TikTok's latest icon

A young Asian woman stands outside a Tube station - the pillars of the entrance visibile in the background. The straps of her blue vest top are visible in this head and shoulders shot. She's smiling, wearing red lipstick and with a pair of sunglasses with thick off-white arms on her head acting as a headband for her long dark hair. She also wears small gold hooped earrings.
Sabrina Bahsoon says her upbringing in "relaxed, hot" Malaysia had a big influence on her

How do you pass the time on public transport? Spend the journey scrolling on your phone? Listen to music and stare at the floor?

Well, not if you're Sabrina Bahsoon.

Or, as she's now known to millions of people around the world, Tube Girl.

Her self-shot videos of energetic dance routines filmed on the London Underground have quickly taken over TikTok, attracting 300,000 followers and 12 million likes.

It's turned Tube Girl into a trend as others upload their own takes on it, and launched Sabrina to overnight icon status in the eyes of her fans.

And if you needed any evidence of how popular she's become, when BBC Asian Network meets her in central London, our interview is interrupted when she's spotted.

"Oh my God, I love you!"

The shout comes from a group of schoolgirls. They nervously approach when they recognise Sabrina, who happily chats to them and poses for a photo.

Her rise to becoming TikTok's dancing queen and an internet celebrity has happened in the space of a few weeks - but how did she do it?

Well, it all started with a "no".

"I have to commute everywhere because I live quite far out from everyone," says Sabrina.

"So on the way back home after a night out, I'd put my music on. And when you're bumping your head, people don't come up to you, people leave you alone a bit more.

"So I was feeling more safe and enjoying my journey a bit better."

A still from a self-shot video of a young Asian woman dancing in a Tube carriage. She's about to flip her long black hair to the side. She's wearing a white tube top, and her long black hair cascades down her shoulders. Behind her, other passengers are sitting down as normal. A caption is embedded on the video which reads: "Being the friend who lives on the other side of the city so you gotta hype yourself up during the commute".
Sabrina's first video got people asking: "How are you so confident?"

Sabrina says she had a "TikTok idea" and asked another passenger to help her film it.

"And he just straight up said no," she says. "So I was like 'you know what? I'm gonna do this alone. I want to make this video'."

So she did. The 11-second clip, showing Sabrina miming to Where Dem Girls At while swirling the camera around, took off.

Mainly because people couldn't believe that anyone would be brave enough to do it on public transport.

"My social anxiety is scared of you," one comment said.

But Sabrina kept going - making more and more videos, recruiting Tube windows as wind machines and letting loose on the Central Line.

She says her background - she was raised in Malaysia and moved to the UK to study law at Durham University - might have something to do with her laid-back attitude.

"I'm like a Malaysian girl from day one. It's my home," she says. "Growing up I have a lot of influence from just being from a hot country, a relaxed place."

Based on this, it's probably not too surprising that she doesn't have a lot of time for people who criticise her videos as "cringe" or her routines as "embarrassing".

"Honestly, I don't take it to heart at all," says Sabrina, who doesn't want criticism to "overshadow" what she's doing.

"I think that it's very common when girls are having fun, when they're seen as enjoying themselves and when they take pride in their value.

"You know, saying 'oh, I'm beautiful, I'm a girl who's confident'.

"A lot of the times people will try to humble you so you can never win."

A still from a video of young Asian woman dancing on a Tube carriage. She's got her eyes closed, long black hair blowing behind her in the breeze from the Tube window. She's wearing a black cardigan over a black halter top. Behind her other passengers are sitting down - it looks quite busy. A caption on the still reads: "If anyone is curious not every take is a success! And yes, I have to redo it in front of a carriage of people [cry/laugh emoji]".
Sabrina's not shy about having an audience, and sometimes uses her video captions to respond to questions and comments

As she's got more popular, brands have started to take notice. Some reports have focused on the fact she has a modelling contract, a manager and is now getting offered work with well-known brands.

Sabrina admits she's hoping to make a full-time living from Tube Girl but insists that its origins were natural.

"I'm a very high-energy person, like in my friend group I'm the one that's like 'everybody get on the dance floor now'," she says.

"I love dancing, I love music. To be honest the Tube itself is not the most glamorous place to spend your time. And because I spend so much time on it, music is my outlet.

"So honestly it's just what I would do even if I wasn't filming."

'It's about confidence'

Regardless of that, the Tube Girl videos have struck a chord with many fans, and timelines are filling up with videos from other TikTokers - mostly, but not always, female - recording their own takes.

Sabrina says it's become a "movement" about embracing self-confidence and maybe, just maybe, making that journey to work a bit more interesting.

"When I see people imitating it I'm like 'finally like people are getting it'," she says.

"They're enjoying their their commute a little bit better. And I love to see people having fun so it's honestly such a heart-warming thing for me."

And Sabrina says the interest, feedback and positivity is what's kept her going.

"I think honestly it is the best possible outcome that could have happened," she says.

"All the love and support I'm getting, I just am so happy right now. I genuinely have no words. It's it's all crazy and very new to me, so I'm just happy to be here to be honest."

Sabrina, who's one of five siblings, says her brothers and sisters are "super-excited" about seeing her conquer TikTok.

But there are at least two people on the planet who don't yet know about their daughter's newfound fame - her parents.

"I think that they will be happy because I'm happy," she says.

"Being a law graduate, somebody in academics for so long, especially for brown girls, we're always told that we have a such a traditional route to follow. And anything outside that is so crazy.

"But I think that they'll be finally happy that okay, she's doing something that she loves, and that she can make a living off of it."

As for Tube Girl, Sabrina hopes to keep on inspiring others to let their hair down - preferably near an open window.

"I think that the Tube Girl has already become something more than just dancing on the Tube," she says.

"So I think it's about confidence and it's about being more comfortable with your authentic self.

"And it's great that I could do it in the most fun, relaxed way. Everybody gets the Tube, everybody can go on the Tube and sing and dance. It's super easy."

You can hear more from Tube Girl on Ankur Desai's BBC Asian Network show at 15:00 BST on Monday 18 September, or listen back on BBC Sounds afterwards.

Newsbeat logo
Newsbeat logo

Follow Newsbeat on Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays - or listen back here.