If you came across a pack of suit-wearing teenagers this weekend, quietly discussing the artistic merits of Minions and muttering about “counting money,” you weren’t alone.
In movie theaters across America, self-described Gentleminions have been dressing up in suits, buying tickets to Minions: The Rise of Gru, and treating the animated children’s film like it’s a sophisticated Broadway play.
At this point, you might be wondering when and how the Minions franchise suddenly became high-brow entertainment. Well, it didn’t. This is the work of ironic teenagers on TikTok.
On opening day, a fan named Bill Hirst filmed himself with a group of friends in suits and ties, enthusiastically watching The Rise of Gru. His TikTok video racked up over 30 million views in just a few days, and thousands of people joined in on his joke, watching Minions with the level of reverence usually reserved for classical symphonies.
Before long, some theaters even started banning formalwear because attendees were getting too rowdy, and now the trend is contributing to eye-popping box office numbers: The Rise of Gru just shattered the record for the biggest film opening on Independence Day weekend, pulling in $125.1 million.
Hirst told NBC News that the trend has a lot to do with “nostalgia,” explaining that The Rise of Gru “brings back the memories of watching the Despicable Me movies with family” for teenagers like himself. And the whimsical Minions characters have lent themselves to internet humor since the beginning of the franchise, so this isn’t the first time they’ve been meme’d.
There’s another force at play here, too, though: Yeat.
The 22-year-old rapper isn’t in the film or even on the official soundtrack, but his song “Rich Minion” is playing in the background of every Gentleminions TikTok video, and fans are moshing to it inside theaters. On the three-minute song, Yeat affectionately refers to the Minions as his children while they babble nonsensical words in the background, before he hilariously brags about all the money he made from the collaboration. At one point, he even passes the mic to a Minion, who delivers the line: “Ha (Huh?), hey Mel, la bastichi/ La papaya, du la potato (Yeah, la potato, oh, yeah).”
Once the shock value of hearing Yeat rhyme about “pulling up in a Tonka with all of the Minions” wears off, the collaboration starts to make more sense. After all, Yeat is known for making up words in his songs, and the Minions have been speaking in their own language for years. Yeat and the Minions also share a similar knack for internet virality, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that a TikTok phenomenon immediately took off when they joined forces.
It all started when Illumination, the animation company behind the Minions franchise, approached Lyrical Lemonade founder Cole Bennett with the opportunity to make a trailer for The Rise of Gru two years ago. As talks developed, Bennett was tasked with curating music for the trailer, and at first he initially considered safe, brand-friendly artists that would align with the PG-rated film. But then he had a change of heart at the last minute.
“We already had somebody locked in and ready to go, but I was like, ‘Guys, I have this feeling right now that I want to make a pivot.’ I was like, ‘There’s this artist, and a lot of his catalog is about things that don’t mesh well with the Minions’ aesthetic. You know, he mentions drugs and money and all sorts of things. But I really think he’s the perfect fit for this. He grew up watching Minions, he has this sound that somehow complements Minions, and I can get him to make a PG song about Minions for this trailer.’”
Bennett had developed a close relationship with Yeat after directing his music videos for “Poppin” and “Countin” earlier in the year, and he knew the rapper’s internet-friendly brand was a perfect fit for Minions. The executives at Illumination had reservations at first, but Bennett kept pushing and finally convinced them to take a chance on it, so he reached out to Yeat’s team and pitched the idea.
“Cole called me and was like, ‘I’m doing this Minions trailer. What do you think about Yeat doing it?’ And I told him I thought it was genius,” says Field Trip Records co-founder Zack Bia, who signed Yeat and helps oversee his career. “The idea of Yeat and the Minions movie collaborating is just so left field, but at the same time it inexplicably makes sense. There’s the meme aspect of it, and the fact that Yeat could tackle it in a way that would make it something fun and viral.”
Over the past 12 months, Yeat has become one of the most buzzed-about new artists in rap, earning accolades like RapCaviar’s Rookie of the Year award and accumulating hundreds of millions of streams. Thanks to a series of ultra-viral moments, like yelling “this song was already turnt but here’s is a bell” on “Gët Busy,” Yeat’s music has been a consistent presence on TikTok (and every other corner of the internet) in 2022. Despite the attention, though, he’s stayed mysterious, choosing to be selective about opportunities like brand deals, collaborations, and interviews.
“We’ve turned down a lot of things—basically everything, actually,” Bia says. “We’ve always opted to do things our own way—passing on interview opportunities and producing our own magazine, or passing on festivals and opting for our own smaller tour run to create the experience that we wanted.” But the Minions opportunity made too much sense to pass up, so they pushed to make it happen, even though Yeat was on the road at the time and didn’t have much time to do it.
“I had to give him a sharp deadline,” Bennett recalls. “So he recorded it in his hotel room and sent it the next morning. I’m not sure what state he was in, but he was on tour, woke up, and recorded it in his hotel room.” Bia adds, “He turned the song in at the last minute and it all worked out in this magical way. He sent it to me and we were like, ‘This is genius,’ so we just ran with it.”
When the song came in, Bennett was excited to see his longtime friend (producer Lotto) land a major placement like this, and he was relieved that his idea actually materialized. But he also admits he was completely at a loss about what a PG song from Yeat about Minions would sound like. “I was like, ‘I have no idea what he’s going to rap about,’” he laughs. “I was so curious what he was going to say. But as soon as I heard, ‘I count money,’ I was like, ‘Oh, this is outta here. This is crazy.’ And then when the first Minions reference came in, I was like, ‘Oh, this is insane,’ especially when he said, ‘I just pulled up in a Tonka with all of the Minions, we takin’ a picture.’”
Everyone involved with the collaboration knew it would make an impact, but the true power of the idea didn’t reveal itself until it was out in the world and the Gentleminions trend started. “We knew that the internet would get a kick out of it, and we knew that the song would probably perform pretty well, but to say that we expected this to happen? There’s no way,” Bennett says. “To see a trend that requires people to buy tickets and go to a movie theater, and the whole song is released around promoting a movie, was the coolest thing to see.”
The collision Gen Z’s nostalgia for Minions with Yeat’s virality was a perfect storm that surpassed everyone’s expectations. “I think we knew it was going to be a moment, for sure, but things that are this viral, you can’t force,” Bia says. “It has to be democratic in that sense. The right foundation was there with Yeat’s virality. He has such a strong core, cult fanbase, and anything he puts out, kids are making TikToks to it and whatever. Then you have Minions, which is such an internet favorite, with nostalgic, hilarious characters. It was just so ridiculous that everyone jumped on it.”
Brands are constantly trying to manufacture viral moments by appealing to Gen Z these days, but “Rich Minion” is a rare instance of a major collaboration that actually came together in a natural way. And to Bia, it’s because of the relationships that already existed between everyone involved.
“In a time of over-collaboration, I think we’re seeing what happens when there’s something that actually has true synergy and meaning behind it,” he points out. “Cole is actually the real bridge, and someone we’ve been building with for the last year and a half. He’s someone who just did Yeat’s videos, and Yeat’s a fan of the movie franchise. I think it’s a true testament to the moment that Yeat’s been building up for himself online, and the real cult and online presence that he has. It’s cool that in a time when movie theaters have kind of been in their twilight stages, here comes a whole new internet moment that’s actually getting so popular that kids are now getting rejected from movie theaters when people are dying to sell movie tickets.”
For Bennett, the collaboration wouldn’t have been successful without Illumination and Universal trusting him to think outside the box and take a chance on the music. “Seeing Minions, Universal, and Illumination putting their trust in me and letting me do exactly what I want is what made it so fulfilling,” he says. “We’re getting to a point with Lyrical Lemonade where these corporate companies and big figures look at us and understand the impact and influence that we can bring to things. They see the scale and creativity, and it’s just the coolest feeling to be appreciated and trusted.”