Surprise hit on TikTok

Courtesy photo: Members of the band Hot Freaks include, back from left, Sarah Darnall, Celeste Heule, Darin Dahlmeier and Cody Brown, and Leo Vondracek kneeling in the front.

Sarah Darnall talks about Hot Freaks’ song ‘Puppy Princess’ going viral on TikTok

BROOKINGS – Sarah Darnall and her bandmates from Hot Freaks never dreamed a song they put out would become a runaway hit on TikTok years later.

The song, “Puppy Princess,” was written and recorded about a decade ago but didn’t get going on TikTok until earlier this year. As a result, Darnall and her bandmates are talking about getting back together and playing a few shows.


Darnall grew up playing music. 

“I started taking piano lessons when I was probably like 8,” she said.

She kept playing in concert band and jazz band and singing in choir through middle school and high school. But she also had some musical side gigs. 

While still in high school, she played in a band.

“It was me and four friends; we were all going to Brookings High School,” Darnall said. 

“One of my friends kind of was the one who got it together, and he knew I played bass guitar in jazz band in high school, so he asked if I wanted to play bass in his band, so I did,” she said. “That group lasted for probably like two or three years.”

She moved to Minneapolis in 2007 to attend college.

“When I was almost done with college, (2010 or 2011), I got asked to be in a different band through people that I knew from that original band,” Darnall said.

That band was called Hot Freaks.

Hot Freaks

Darnall played bass guitar and sang backup vocals. Another Brookings resident, Cody Brown, played drums. Darin Dahlmeier from Flandreau played guitar. Celeste Heule from Wisconsin played keyboard and sang backup vocals. Leo Vondracek from Wells, Minnesota, was the singer and wrote songs. 

Darnall describes their music as “mostly just pop.”

Early in the band’s existence, Vondracek wrote a song called “Puppy Princess.” 

“And it’s not about puppies or princesses,” Darnall said with a chuckle.

“It’s just a really fun, like poppy, catchy song,” Darnall said. “(It) talks about feeling like you have a crush on somebody, but they don’t have a crush on you and you start to feel bad about yourself, and feel like you maybe don’t fit in. … It sounds like it could be kind of sad, but it’s really fun.” 

“We recorded the song in 2012, and we released it in 2013,” Darnall said.

The band kept playing for a couple more years, and “everyone just kind of got busy doing other things, and a couple people moved away and … it was just kind of an amicable split,” Darnall said.

By 2014 or 2015, Hot Freaks was on a permanent hiatus.

Life goes on

Life didn’t stop for Darnall. She earned a business degree from the University of Minnesota and came back to Brookings to work at Medary Acres and earn a master’s degree in higher education at South Dakota State University.

“I’ve been splitting my time between Brookings and Minneapolis for quite a while now,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, she and her bandmates touched base with each other.

“We were kind of joking, but we were like, ‘Hey, like whenever the pandemic ends, and we can play a show, let’s get together and play a reunion show,’ just because we thought it would be fun and it was something to kind of look forward to,” Darnall said.

Little did they know what was about to happen.

Song takes off

While they were planning their reunion show during lockdown, others were creating videos, posting them to TikTok and using “Puppy Princess” as background music. 

“We had no idea any of this was going on until, like the beginning of August of this year. The song’s been online for a long time, but, yeah, we didn’t know that any of the TikTok stuff was happening until this summer,” Darnall said.

She figures one person used a clip of “Puppy Princess,” and others heard it and liked it, then used it for their videos.

“If you look at the videos that have our song in it on TikTok, it’s people doing all kinds of different stuff, it’s just random. People just liked the song and used it in their personal little videos,” Darnall said.

She thinks people are responding to the juxtaposition of the lyrics and tune.

“I think people really like the lyrics and they kind of connect with … feeling kind of rejected or feeling like you’re not being noticed by somebody that you want to be noticed by,” Darnall said. “It’s kind of funny that the song itself is … so upbeat and catchy but the lyrics are kinda sad.”

Future plans

The online success of “Puppy Princess” has set off a chain reaction for Hot Freaks, starting with getting the band back together.

“We signed a one-song deal with Elektra Records for the song,” Darnall said. “It’s on Spotify, it’s on YouTube. Those are the main ways that people are listening to it now.”

When asked if the band is getting rich or just getting pocket money, Darnall laughed.

“We did get a nice chunk from Elektra for the song – like way more than any of us ever would’ve expected, especially for a song that we recorded almost 10 years ago,” she said.

Success breeds more success.

“We just made a music video, too, that just came out two or three weeks ago,” Darnall said. “We filmed it in September – it took us two days to film it and about a week to edit it and get it all ready to go and then we released it on Dec. 8.”

“I think the song is up to 23 million plays on Spotify,” she said Monday. “And the music video … is up to 102,000 views.”

There’s still that reunion show – or two – in the works.

“Right now, we’re just talking about playing a show in sometime this spring in Minneapolis and possibly Sioux Falls as well and just kind of seeing how those go,” Darnall said.

She didn’t rule out a mini-tour, adding that one of the bandmates is from Wisconsin.

“Be fun to play a show over there, as well,” Darnall said.

Anything more than a few dates would be dependent on the individual bandmates’ lives.

“I think it just depends on how everybody’s feeling and where everybody’s at with just their jobs and everything. Our singer lives in L.A. now and our guitar player lives in New York City, so it’s just hard to know what’s gonna happen,” Darnall said.

No matter what the future holds, having their song explode on the internet has been a remarkable experience.

“We’re excited and grateful and didn’t expect such a cool opportunity to pop up for us,” Darnall said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]


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