Ask almost any student who attended the University of Michigan in the past decade to tell you about “Billy Magic,” and they will regale you with tales of their freshman orientation — of sitting in a stuffy assembly hall and watching “The Michigan Transportation Musical.” The student-directed musical has been shown since 2012 to inform students about the “magic” of the bus system at the University.
But for the past two years, the video has been conspicuously missing from freshman orientation, leaving older students with one question: where did Billy Magic go?
The musical was written by Music, Theatre & Dance alumna Emily Lyon in 2012 through a student-run production company called Filmic. It is a PSA-style musical sharing tips and tricks for getting around campus with freshmen. The musical includes the U-M Blue Buses, the Ann Arbor public bus system known as “TheRide” (AATATA) and other safe transportation options for students.
The video features a charismatic character named Billy Magic who embodies an unparalleled enthusiasm for mass transit and teaches his co-star “the Kid” about it. Billy has ascended to “meme-status” among students who watched the video at orientation, appearing in various memes, posts and accounts on social media, even dominating the splash screen of campus Facebook group UMich Memes for Wolverteens for a time.
The last time new students were introduced to Billy, however, was in the summer of 2020, though orientation was virtual. The video was not played at freshman orientation in 2021, and did not make a return this summer either.
The musical’s absence will be felt by the community, upperclassmen say, though it is unclear how many students still remember Billy on campus today. LSA senior Noor Khan watched Billy Magic when she first came to campus as a freshman three years ago. She said it is hard to think the past two years’ incoming freshmen have missed out on what was, for so many years, an instrumental part of orientation.
“The fact that the freshmen for the past two years haven’t had that experience is a little crazy to imagine because I feel like, as small and short as that clip was, it was definitely a part of Michigan culture,” Khan said.
Engineering junior Ethan Kopicko does not remember Billy Magic, though he would have included the Michigan Transportation Musical as part of his online orientation materials. He said he learned to navigate the University’s bus system through the third-party app, Reddit, instead of with Billy’s help. He said he watched a video about the transportation system, which he thinks might have been the Billy Magic video, but is not certain.
“I didn’t go out of my way to look at what the University was saying about (campus transportation) because my solution for a lot of stuff has been literally looking on Reddit,” Kopicko said. “That’s where I got my information from.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily that Billy Magic was removed from this year’s orientation since the video includes outdated information from 2012 that may confuse incoming students. Still, Fitzgerald acknowledged the impact of the video and the historic role it has played in orientation.
“It’s amazing that The Michigan Transportation Video, originally released in 2012, still has such a huge fan base among students,” Fitzgerald said. “We truly appreciate the love that everyone has for Billy Magic and all of those involved in the video.”
Kopicko is not the only one to have sought external resources when attempting to navigate U-M busing. In 2021, Engineering sophomore Efe Akinci created an unofficial app, M-Bus, which tracks Michigan Blue Buses and lists expected arrival times. The app had 650 downloads after just one day on the Apple App Store.
According to LSA freshman Alyssa Peek, instead of watching Billy Magic’s performance this year, the University provided her with QR codes for information about utilizing the Blue Bus system at orientation. She had never heard of Billy.
“They just told us about the different apps and that was it,” Peek said. “They said ‘Download these two apps and you will find your way to the buses. It was short and sweet.”
Fitzgerald added that the orientation team collaborated with Logistics, Transportation & Parking on the orientation presentation this year to create a section that focuses on buses and other transportation options. The presentation includes information about the U-M Blue Bus system, TheRide and other on-demand transportation services such as SafeRide, according to Fitzgerald. It’s all of the same information, just without the “Magic.”
Khan said she will not forget about Billy anytime soon. Almost ten years’ worth of U-M students will have graduated with the shared memory of Billy, ensuring that for them at least, he will remain a cornerstone of campus culture.
“Billy Magic was kind of a symbol, a bit of an icon, that you experience during your freshman year,” Khan said. “I haven’t seen that video in three years, but I vividly remember it.”
Daily Staff Reporter Sarah Williams can be reached at email@example.com.