By the time the internet dubbed him “Backpack Kid,” Russell Horning was already an Instagram sensation. Horning’s claim to fame is his signature dance move : “ The Russell” aka “flossing.” Which he does while wearing a backpack, of course.
Horning took his backpack to SNL and danced alongside Katy Perry for her performance of “Swish Swish.” Since then, he’s been flossing all over the United States.
But is there more to Horning than one quirky dance move? This is the untold truth of Backpack Kid.
Church camp dancer
Horning has blown up on the internet, but his first audience was a much more low-key venue. When asked what made him decide to put dancing videos on the instagram, Horning told Complex : “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, but hey, we’re not here to knock Backpack Kid’s hustle.
Katy Perry may have been a big help in launcing the Backpack Kid to fame, but Horning’s first big break came in 2016 when Rihanna used one of his videos for her reaction to being nominated for eight Grammys.
Horning described the moment to USA Today, saying : “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’s now ever-present backpack wasn’t always par of his act. In fact, he got the backpack on a spur-of-the-moment trade with a friend.
He told USA Today : “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 bookbag. That was a month ago, give or take a few days. I started dancing with it that day.”
So what’s inside?
In addition to some speakers and phone equipment, it’s just normal stuff a 15 year old would put in a backpack.
All that backpack fame is also catching the attention of, you guessed it : backpack companies. His manager/ mom 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.”
Horning’s Instagram page description contains the phrase “ending racism.” 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”
“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.
Getting internet-famous doesn’t give Horning a free pass to skip school, so how does the backpack Kid keep up with his classes while he’s travelling around the country?
No, he doesn’t carry his books in that bookbag.
Speaking with Power 106 LA, Horning said he “still needs the social environment” of normal school, but he also supplements with “online school” so he can travel for his videos, like flying to New York to dance with Youtuber Roy Purdy. That may be a terrible reason to pull a tenth grader out of school, but the video has more than 5 million views, so that’s…that’s important, right?
After his appearance on SNL, Horning suffered a major gaffe when he uploaded, then quickly deleted a video of himself shooting a goat in the eye with what appeared to be a BB gun.
After pulling the video, Horning reportedly uploaded an apology video, which has also been deleted.
According to The Blemish, Horning 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.”
So far, we’ve learned that Russell Horning is a web savvy kid who took an interesting talent and grew it into an impressive online following. If he can steer clear of the pitfalls of viral fame –and try to not shoot anymore goats –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.
He told Complex : “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.”
We look forward to seeing what kind of Backpack Man he becomes.