If you’ve seen one of the movies in the Fast and Furious franchise, you know what to expect: the movie kicks off with a high-octane opening racing sequence, in which Vin Diesel and/or Michelle Rodriguez wear a tank top. Someone who was previously thought to be dead or to have amnesia returns, or someone who was previously thought to be a villain has a change-of-heart. In the dramatic climax, a car races against something that is very much not a car, such as a submarine or a giant transport plane on a runway. And finally, Vin Diesel growls something about the importance of family.
With these tropes in mind, the Fast and Furious films would seem like an unlikely candidate to become a meme on Musical Theater TikTok. Yet over the past few days, that’s exactly what has happened, with songwriters, musicians, production designers, and choreographers coming together to collaboratively stitch together a musical, Ratatouille-style, lovingly poking fun at the long-running franchise.
The trend was started by actor and musician Rocky Paterra, 29, who had previously achieved TikTok musical notoriety with his song “Accountant,” which last year became a meme on sex work TikTok. Paterra tells Rolling Stone that he was inspired to pen a song parodying the Fast and Furious franchise after seeing Vin Diesel trend on Twitter for saying on the Kelly Clarkson Show he was “dying” to do a Fast and Furious musical adaptation. (Diesel is a reasonably good singer, and was once slated to play Nathan Detroit in a remake of Guys and Dolls).
Paterra had not seen any of the films in the Fast and Furious franchise. “I know Paul Walker was a big part of it and the Rock joined later on. That truly is the extent of it. I have no idea anything that happens in these movies,” he says. “Someone commented they go to outer space in the most recent one, and I was like, ‘What?'” But that lack of knowledge didn’t stop him from donning a white tank top and overalls and pretending to be a starry-eyed, over-eager, vibrato-heavy, “musical theater Walmart Vin Diesel” in a TikTok parody of the franchise. “The narrative I decided to portray with the video is, I think the movie is about fixing the big car up to get it runnin’ in the big race,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Now, I’m 99 percent sure it’s not about that. But that seemed to make the most sense as the joke to make there.” He decided to stick with making generic car puns and using “very basic car-related lingo”: “Once I wrote, ‘vroom vroom,’ it all fell into place from there,” he says.
The original video, which he posted on July 1st, racked up 2.6 million views, inspiring Paterra to record two more follow-up videos: one in which he dons an auburn wig to play Rodriguez’s character Letty (“short for Loretta, I think”) and an earnest ballad called “F-A-M-I-L-Y,” a play on Diesel’s character’s obligatory reference to the importance of family in every film. “I got hundreds of comments saying ‘you forgot to say the word family,'” says Paterra. “I was like, “Oh, I guess, Vin Diesel talks about family a lot. OK.'”
From there, a slew of other TikTokers have come out with their own submissions to a prospective Fast and Furious musical — all of which are based on the conceit of not having ever seen a single one of the films. Composer RJ Christian teamed up with Alex Engelberg to sing a plaintive romantic duet, Jason Robert Brown-style, from the perspective of two racing cars falling in love, with the lyrics “The rubber burns, the engines purr/the city passes in a blur/but my mind slams the brake when I look towards you.”
Creator Peter Rugman also made a TikTok pretending to be Jason Statham (complete with a bald-headed and five o’clock shadow filter) singing a “stereotypical Broadway Cockney-type song.” Various TikTok choreographers also joined in, as did a graphic designer to make a brightly colored Playbill for a Fast and Furious musical. (For the record, there is a preexisting Fast and Furious musical that briefly ran in Los Angeles in 2019, which appears to have been unauthorized.)
This is not the first time that TikTok creators have united to collaborate on a musical project. Last year, after creator Emily Jacobson wrote a parody Christian praise song inspired by the main character of Pixar’s Ratatouille, composers and musicians banded together to write songs and design costumes and sets for a fictional Ratatouille musical. While the project initially started as a meme, it eventually streamed online as a benefit concert raising $2 million for the Actors’ Fund, featuring the talents of Broadway A-listers like Titus Burgess, Wayne Brady, Andre De Shields, and Ashley Park. “The Ratatouille musical came at a time when we were in the thick of the virus and election season,” says Paterra, who also submitted a song to the Ratatouille musical. “It was something so magical like lightning in a bottle.”
Paterra and other creators who have participated in the Fast and Furious TikTok trend are unsure if this particular project will rise to the level of Ratatouille: The Musical. “I think the Fast and Furious musical is still in the meme stage. I don’t think anyone has chosen to put some actual feeling and emotion into the story, mostly because I don’t think the people who write musicals are the people who have seen and are moved by Fast and Furious,” says Christian, whose song was featured in the Actors Fund benefit production of Ratatouille: The Musical.
But the spirit behind Ratatouille — creators coming together as the performing arts scene slowly recovers from the pandemic, using TikTok as an outlet — is clearly also driving the Fast and Furious musical trend. “I got on TikTok last year like everybody else when the pandemic was starting, and once I started falling into the theater community and finding a home there for the kinds of videos I like to make, I found it’s such a loving community,” says Paterra. “And the way it’s structured to promote collaboration with stitching and dueting and trends, it’s a great way to get your voice heard, whatever that voice is.” While he has no expectation that Vin Diesel himself will one day be belting out “Vroom Vroom” on a Broadway stage (and Diesel’s team did not return request for comment), he admits that he has gone to Diesel’s TikTok a few times in the hopes that he’ll post about it, and would be thrilled to one day collaborate with him or any of the other members of the cast.
“I don’t know who from the cast is on TikTok, though,” he says, “because, again, I don’t know who’s actually in the cast.”