Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the viral, dance-happy app TikTok. For better or worse, the app is the place to be in 2020. One of Australia’s biggest TikTok stars goes by the name of Ricky Chainz. With almost 5.5 million followers and close to 100 million likes, Ricky Chainz and his family are riding high on TikTok after humble beginnings.
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Ricky’s secret to his success is more than just slick cuts and clever content. His 93-year old grandmother stars alongside him to create hilarious, relatable and adorable content that brings a smile to the faces of their millions of viewers.
Ricky’s rise to the top of the TikTok charts, however, came after a protracted journey to Australia. Originally from rural China, Ricky – whose real name is Thomas – moved with his mother from the country to the city in Hong Kong before coming to Sydney and experiencing a rocky road to stability.
Hey, Guess What? host Marc Fennell talks to Ricky about his journey to internet stardom.
On coming to Australia with his mother…
“I was born in Hong Kong. My mother brought me here when I was about six years old. So, I came completely fresh. I didn’t know any English at all. I spoke a bit of Cantonese, bit of Mandarin and yeah, my mom married a man in Sydney, basically. Yeah, I’m just an immigrant that came here when I was very young and ended up growing up in Australia, eating Vegemite sandwiches and meat pies and stuff.
“My mum was hustling in Hong Kong. She had a few businesses going on. But she always wanted better for our family who were in the rural town at that time. I guess the motivation was to come to Australia to build a better life for all of us. So that’s how it happened. Look, because it didn’t work with my biological father. She went to Hong Kong and then she ended up going on a holiday to Australia to kind of see what the Western world was. Yeah.
“And she ended up meeting my father, my stepfather, who, still my stepfather to this day. Yeah. And then, yeah, they hit it off. And that was the next kind of logical decision to kind of move to Australia.
“There was a massive identity crisis very early on, because, you know, when you’re being called ‘Ching Chong’, and all of this stuff, I thought it was funny in the beginning, but I didn’t realize it was derogatory or anything. But yeah, after a while, it does catch on that you’re different.”
On how he got started making videos with his Grandma…
Thomas discovered TikTok not long after the app launched. His first few videos received a few likes and he was hooked. It wasn’t until he started making videos with Huijun, his grandma, that things started to take off.
“At one point on a visit to my mother, my grandma was there at her house. And I had this idea where I would get my grandma to lip sync some rap songs, like real trending rap songs at that point, and she doesn’t speak English at all. So she would mimic the sound or the flow or the song, the chorus, as well as she could but incomplete, like Chinese gibberish. It kind of resembled the chorus.
“We named the segment hip hop with granny. And it was 15 seconds. So that’s the golden time for TikToks to blow up. So we followed all the rules. And when we released that, I think we got about 500,000 likes within a week. So it was crazy. That one blew up. And it was weird because in that one session, we actually did five different rap songs. So we could actually release one per day in that week. And at the end of the week, that’s it we will be famous.
“Everyone’s got their creative ideas. So but the thing that happened for me was I integrated my grandma, my 93-year-old grandma, into my videos and it blew up really, really quickly. And we experienced, I guess, a big wave of fame from that.”
How his Grandma feels about being a viral star…
Thomas translates this for his grandmother, and she tells us:
“She says she’s very grateful to be famous on TikTok. She hopes it brings people happiness and energy. She’s very grateful at her age she can still inspire people.”
Her one wish is to become even bigger with her grandson on TikTok.