For some, Christmas lights are a way to get in the holiday spirit; for others, it's a hassle and tiring process.
For Frankie To-ong, it's a production. To-ong, known as H-Town Frankie, has gained popularity online over the past few years during the holidays for his extravagant Christmas lights.
To-ong’s Christmas lights flash and dance to the beat of songs and viral internet sounds. The lyrics of the songs show on his garage, and sometimes an image or short video show up throughout the show.
These shows, which have gotten the attention of celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, rapper Lil Jon and comedian Mo Amer and have racked up millions of views online, are therapeutic for him.
"It encompasses a lot of things that I like, which are music and technology, and lights and the holiday season," To-ong said. "I like to spend time doing it."
To-ong said the shows started out as just decorating the house for the holidays for his children.
"My eldest is 12 now but when she was three, we moved to a new house and she asked if we could do Christmas lights, and I was like, ‘Yeah let's do it,’" To-ong said.
His first video went viral in 2017 when he did a light show to celebrate the Houston Astros winning the World Series.
"It was like twenty-something million views in 2017," he said. "I was like, ‘Wow, people liked it.' So my motivation sort of became, I would like to show something that people haven’t seen before."
To-ong, who works in IT, said he used to be a deejay in college and was part of a dance crew. And even then he was motivated to always outdo himself.
"We’d perform every year in these annual competitions. And I was in charge of the hype dances and our team would just be awesome," he said. "And people would always say, ‘I wonder what Frankie and them are going to do the following year.' So this is like almost the exact same thing of how I felt in college."
To-ong said since he has gone viral, he often hears from people who have asked him to do a show for their house, but he said he doesn't offer those services right now. But he does teach people how to do light sequences for their homes. There was one exception though.
"My most proud thing that I’ve done is the private light show," he said. "That’s at Texas Children’s Hospital in The Woodlands. And that is not for the public, it’s just the kids can see it from the patient rooms."
‘I can't believe this neighbor'
Originally, he bought pre-packaged sequence lights – the lights that flash – but he taught himself how to program light sequences to music. And doing the light shows was to entertain his children and neighborhood. But since they have gone viral, To-ong said some people have learned of where he lives and crowds have sat outside his house to watch the show, much to some of his neighbors’ chagrin.
"Some of them like it, and then there’s some who, for the rest of the year, I get the bad looks from them," he said. "And I’m like, ‘Hey, you know, I'm trying to keep it controlled here.' So not not everybody likes them, which is understandable."
But To-ong said he does try to respect his neighbors, and even though people know where he lives, he doesn't put his address out and encourages people to only watch the light shows online.
To-ong's videos online show the lights and the song playing but To-ong said it's actually quiet in the neighborhood.
"You have an FM transmitter, which basically you have your computer hooked up to a transmitter that basically tells the audience who’s in cars to tune into [a radio station], and they could hear it from the car," he said. "So it’s not blasting out in the street. It could be, but I’m pretty respectful of the neighbors. On social media, people are like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this neighbor is blasting his music and this specific song that loud.' I just leave it for social media to debate about and wonder if that’s really going on. But I’m not doing that."
To-ong said not all of the songs are rap songs like depicted in many of his videos. At night he usually has the lights sequenced to traditional Christmas songs. And despite what it might look like, he doesn't usually have a higher electric bill during the holiday months.
"You know, the electricity bill isn't anything crazy like the dead of summer where the AC is always on blast," he said. "The pixel lights I use do not exert much energy and I make proper use of timers to shut down anything after showtime."
During the rest of the year, To-ong said his social media is pretty quiet, and mostly depicts his love for Houston sports teams. But To-ong said he is happy with being known for his shows during the holiday season.
"I'm just having fun doing things on my house like I've been doing for the past five years."