South African Singer Tyla Makes Waves on TikTok With Viral “Water” Dance Challenge

4 minute read

The “Water” dance challenge is the latest trend making a splash on TikTok. Currently one of the most popular songs on the app, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the sweet crooning of the snappy chorus on your “For You” page and seen others attempt to mimic the dance moves.

The viral dance challenge was created by South African singer and dancer Tyla’s choreographer, Litchi, and she helped the challenge get more traction after she started posting videos of herself doing the dance on her TikTok page. It has dancers shake their hips and kick their legs before pouring a bottle of water down their backs to the lyrics, “Make me sweat, make me hotter, make me lose my breath, make me water.”

“Water,” which blends pop, R&B, Afrobeats, and amapiano in its sound, came out in July and began gaining popularity on TikTok in August after Tyla posted videos of herself dancing to the song and performing it on stage—prompting fans to want to try it themselves. As of Oct. 6, the hashtags #TylaWater and #TylaWaterChallenge have a combined 448.6 million views, and the song has been used in over 500,000 videos on the app as people post themselves mimicking her moves. 

What’s the draw? An incredibly catchy song and clever choreography that picks up on the South African Bacardi dance challenge, which went viral online earlier this year. Bacardi involves intricate legwork, belly dancing, twerking, and more, set to amapiano music. Tyla picked it for “Water” after seeing Litchi use it for a different song.

“Usually, this dance style is not paired with this type of music, but I felt it would fit so well,” she tells TIME. “We ended up trying this, and it looked so good that we started performing it with water.”

Tyla herself has become a viral sensation, with her own videos amassing about 65 million views each. Other videos she has posted of herself doing the dance drew in tens of millions of views each. On TikTok’s official Viral 50 chart, the song sits at No. 9.


Ya’ll are killing this challenge🐅 keep tagging me and Dc: @Litchi 🤍 #tylawater

♬ Water - Tyla

The South African singer is one of the latest examples of the reach of Afrobeats. From superstars like Burna Boy and WizKid reaching new heights constantly to Rema’s song “Calm Down” finding a massive audience thanks to a viral dance challenge last year and a remix featuring Selena Gomez to women like Tems and Ayra Starr bringing their specific musical styles, the genre has seen an expanded audience across the world. Tyla joins the ranks, leaving a mark on the industry with a viral moment.

This is not her first brush with viral fame. Earlier this year, the slick song “Been Thinking” showcased her ability to blend all of the genres she set out to in a fascinating way. “I knew I wanted my sound to be a mixture of pop, R&B, Afrobeats, amapiano,” she says. Her debut single, “Getting Late,” also had a moment online. Those songs, however, did not have the same wide-reaching impact as her current single, which she says has cracked open a world of opportunity. “I'm very busy. Hardly sleep, but I'm having fun,” she says. “A lot of people that I look up to are reaching out, telling me they love the music. It's just a very exciting time.”

She’s heard from a range of stars, including Normani, Gunna, Jack Harlow, Dave, and even BTS member Kim Tae-hyung (aka V). The latter, she says, has expressed interest in learning the dance with her. “So we’re probably gonna meet up and do something like that.”

Now, Tyla is moving beyond social with the release of the music video for “Water” and her upcoming EP, due in November. The video, she says, will maintain the vibes of her frenzy-causing TikToks—it still features Bacardi along with direct references to the trend she kicked off.

“There's a lot of moments in the video that people will catch on like the flower that I'm wearing and how it's from the challenge," she says. "There's a lot of things that came with the song that we incorporated in the video.”

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Write to Moises Mendez II at